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Austria’s Essl Museum to shut its doors after 17 years

Contemporary art collection will be kept in storage but there will be no more exhibitions

The Essl Museum in Klosterneuburg, Austria, one of the world’s largest private museums, will stop staging exhibitions from 1 July.

The museum has been “forced to cease exhibition activity” due to a lack of support from the central Austrian government, according to a statement posted on the museum’s website today, 5 April. The province of Lower Austria pledged  “an essential contribution” if the central government had guaranteed the same level of funding. “Unfortunately, there has been no positive commitment from the central government,” the statement says.

The founder of the museum, Karlheinz Essl, first offered the collection for sale to the Austrian government in 2014 to raise money to inject into his struggling DIY store chain, Baumax.

Although the museum will be closed to the public, it will continue to manage the collection, serving as a depot, archive and conservation facility. While six employees will remain at the institution to oversee the collection, 38 will be let go, Essl said at a press conference today.

Founded in 1999, the Essl Museum houses the vast contemporary art collection of Karlheinz and his wife Agnes. Among the 7,000 works are pieces by major Austrian artists such as Hermann Nitsch but also international ones such as Gerhard Richter, Anish Kapoor and Anselm Kiefer.

When the state turned down the collection in 2014, the construction tycoon Hans Peter Haselsteiner set up an investment vehicle to buy the majority of the works for around €110m. Prime works from the collection, including five pieces by Sigmar Polke, were sold at Christie’s on 13 October 2014.