Switzerland: The museum Hallen für Neue Kunst in Schaffhausen ordered to restitute Joseph Beuys’ installation Das Kapital Raum 1970-1977

Posted on: January 8, 2014 by

In January 2014, the High Court of the Canton of Schaffhausen (Obergericht des Kantons Schaffhausen) ordered the local foundation Stiftung für Neue Kunst, which runs the museum Hallen für Neue Kunst, to restitute one of the central works of the exhibition. The claimants are three art collectors, one of whom has previously served as chairman of the foundation, who had first filed a restitution claim in the Cantonal Court of Schaffhausen (Kantonsgericht Schaffhausen) in 2004.

Joseph Beuys’ installation Das Kapital Raum 1970-1977, with an estimated value of 4.5 million Swiss Francs, comprises various objects such as a ladder, a grand piano and several black boards occupying the better of two rooms. It was initially created by the artist for the Biennale in Venice in 1980, after which the installation was dismantled and reassembled in the Hallen für Neue Kunst in 1984 by Joseph Beuys with the assistance of Urs Raussmüller, one of the key initiators of the museum.

Clarification of ownership was the key question for the High Court: Does the installation belong to the foundation Stiftung für Neue Kunst or to the three art collectors, who had engaged and funded Urs Raussmüller to establish a collection for contemporary art for them, initially containing the installation in dispute?

According to Urs Raussmüller, the installation was recreated in the museum as Beuys took inspiration from the surroundings in Schaffhausen. He argues that a significant part of the value of Das Kapital Raum 1970-1977 has to be attributed to the Hallen für Neue Kunst and therefore, the foundation was also in ownership of the installation.

In 2010, the Cantonal Court of Schaffhausen had rejected this opinion: the installation had been established in its fundamental conception at the Biennale in Venice and had not been significantly modified in the course of the dismantling and reassembling. As a result, the three art collectors had remained the rightful owners and the installation had been merely on loan to the Hallen für Neue Kunst. By cancelling the loan agreement the claimants were entitled to restitution. In January 2014, this ruling was affirmed by the High Court of the Canton of Schaffhausen as the court of second instance. (It is worth noting that rules on copyright and heritage protection had not been part of the court proceedings.)

The foundation now has 30 days to decide whether it will challenge the ruling before the Swiss Federal Court of Justice.

Sources: ‘Hallen für Neue Kunst müssen Beuys-Werk herausgeben’ published on Tagesanzeiger on 6 Jan 2014; ‘Obergerichtsentscheid “Das Kapital”: Stiftung muss Kunstwerk herausgeben’ published on Radio Munot on 6 Jan 2014; Jörg Krummenacher, ‘Urteil des Schaffhauser Obergerichts – Wem gehört “Das Kapital” von Beuys?’ published on Neue Zürcher Zeitung on 6 Jan 2014