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December 2012

German museum wants to swap its Giacometti for another Giacometti

The Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg wants to sell the sculpture La Jambe—a key work in its collection—so it can purchase a painting by the artist

Wilhelm-Lehmbruck-Museum in Duisburg, Germany

Raimund Stecker, the director of the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, western Germany, has announced that the institution intends to sell a key work from its collection—Alberto Giacometti’s La Jambe (the leg), 1958. The plan has proved controversial because the formerly public museum, which is now run by the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum Foundation, is partly reliant on public money and because the work was a gift of the Federation of German Industries, a public body.

Stecker plans to buy a painting by Giacometti with the proceeds of the sale to complement another sculpture by the artist, Femme au chariot (woman with chariot), around 1945. Stecker says: “In this way, the most important phase in Giacometti’s artistic development would be represented through these two works, more significantly than in any other place.”

According to the foundation’s statutes, works of art may be sold as long as “one or more works are acquired in exchange that are historically continuous”. Since sculptures by Giacometti generally fetch higher prices than his paintings—an edition of La Jambe sold for $11m at Christie’s New York on 7 November—Stecker says he plans to use the rest of the funds to buy a sculpture by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to improve the museum’s Expressionist collection.

The museum’s recent financial troubles have raised doubts over the motives for the deaccession, however. Last month, Christiane Hoffmans, the arts editor of the German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, wrote: “The reason for the sale is obvious: the Lehmbruck Museum is a foundation, and in times of low interest rates, the foundation’s capital poorly covers the running and exhibitions costs. But is it not one of the basic tasks of a museum to preserve the collection?” Stecker says: “The [claim that there is a] causal relationship between our financial problems and the present purchase offers is untrue.”

The sale, which is being discussed by the museum’s trustees, will not go ahead unless the original donor, the Federation of German Industries, gives its approval, Stecker says.

• Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper with the headline "Why Lehmbruck wants to get legless"

Appeared in The Armory Show special edition, 241 December 2012