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Wednesday, 03 September 2014 12:09

Austrian Tycoon Buys Essl Collection of Modern Art

Austrian tycoon Hans Peter Haselsteiner has come to the rescue of home-improvements millionaire Karlheinz Essl by buying a modern art collection that Essl had tried in vain to sell to the state to prop up his BauMax business empire.

A spokeswoman for Haselsteiner, whose family foundation has a 25 percent stake in construction group Strabag, confirmed a report in newspaper Die Presse on Tuesday that the Essl collection had been bought.

A new firm owned 60 percent by the Haselsteiner family foundation and 40 percent by Essl family vehicles is paying more than 100 million euros ($131 million) for the collection, the paper said. The money would help shore up the BauMax group.

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The Essl Collection which is one of Europe's finest collections of contemporary art is to be liquidated. The 7,000 works will be sold off in London, this October after Karlheinz Essl the owner of the BauMax hardware store chain suffered near-insolvency. The collection was organised as a non-profit private foundation and is an important part of Austrian cultural heritage and of great international cultural value. Agnes and Karlheinz Essl’s passion for art has given the collection its unique signature.

The main focus of the collection was Austrian art from 1945 with works by artists like Maria Lassnig, Valie Export, Arnulf Rainer, Max Weiler, Markus Prachensky, the artist of the Viennese Actionism like Hermann Nitsch and Günter Brus, new painting of the 1980s to the younger generation of Austrian artists such as Elke Krystufek and Clemens Wolff.

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Austria turned down an offer to buy a collection of modern art belonging to a home-improvements millionaire, who claimed that 4,000 jobs in his struggling company were at risk if the country did not do so. Officials had previously stated that they were prepared to purchase Karlheinz Essl’s collection if it would help save jobs, but have since decided that his BauMax DIY store chain could reach an agreement with creditors.

Essl’s collection, which includes works by important Austrian artists as well as internationally-recognized names such as Gerhard Richter and Anish Kapoor, is housed in a museum in a suburb north of Vienna. The works are estimated to be worth around $344 million. The Austrian government was met with criticism when initial talks about acquiring Essl’s holdings began. Critics felt that the collection was of inconsistent quality and that the money could be put toward more important causes.

BauMax employs around 10,000 people in Austria and in eight other countries. The company has been struggling with restructuring after a considerable expansion into eastern Europe and Turkey.

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