State sells Warhols as critics mourn ‘black day’

A state-owned company sold two classic Andy Warhol pieces on Wednesday for more than expected, but critics say they should never have left public hands.

State sells Warhols as critics mourn 'black day'
Photo: DPA

Casino business Westspiel, which is owned by state bank NRW.Bank, sold the two Warhols, "Triple Elvis" and "Four Marlons" to anonymous bidders at Christie's in New York on Wednesday evening.

The total for the two pictures at $152 million (€120 million) was €8 million more than the bank's target price – and made the original cost of 388,000 Deutsch Marks (around €740,000 at 2014's prices) look like pocket change.

The two artworks show repeated images of Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando taken from movie stills.

The "Triple Elvis" is one of twelve created by the artist, while just two of the Marlon Brando prints were made.

They were sold for $82 million and $70 million respectively – still somewhat short of the all-time record for a Warhol set in 2013, when "Silver Car Crash" was sold for $105 million (€84 million).

Westspiel said it was „very happy“ with the sale price, which would allow it to "properly fulfil its public tasks in the future" and end its dependence on taxpayer support.

More than €80 million will go towards the financial restructuring of the bank and the construction of a new casino in Cologne.

A 'black day' for culture?

But the German Culture Council, which represents more than 200 cultural associations, called the auction a "black day" for art.

"North Rhine-Westphalia has done us a disservice," Culture Council director Olaf Zimmerman said on Thursday.

"Now Pandora's box has been opened. We're worried that now other communes or states in difficulty could follow this example."

North Rhine-Westphalia finance minister Norbert Walter-Borjans said that the rest of the money would go towards "the public good", although he could not confirm whether it would be spent on supporting the arts.

He said that taxpayers could be happy that "the North Rhine-Westphalia state won't sell anything from its museum, and neither will communes."

Walter-Borjans overcame resistance from many in North-Rhine Westphalia to the sale, including Culture Minister Monika Grütters.

26 state museum directors wrote in an open letter in October that "a precedent is being created that communes, publicly-owned companies and the future might follow.

"Public property and museum property would no longer be safe."

A Westspiel spokesman countered that none of the museums in North Rhine-Westphalia had asked to borrow the works in decades.

They had been exhibited on loan or in touring retrospectives outside the state in recent years.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Why are some parts of Germany still not vaccinating people in their 60s?

Germany has no doubt accelerated its vaccine rollout. But despite the progress, some people in priority groups - such as the over 60s - are still not getting their jab in some parts of the country.

Why are some parts of Germany still not vaccinating people in their 60s?
People queuing at a a special vaccination campaign at the Ditib Central Mosque in the Ehrenfeld district of Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaiser

After a painfully slow start, Germany ramped up its vaccination campaign, breaking European records on the number of shots administered to people in one day.

Yet despite all of this, there appears to be a lottery on where things are moving quicker in the country.

Now as Germany gets ready to lift the priority list on June 7th – meaning that all adults will be able to apply for a vaccine appointment, no matter their age, health condition or job – there are worries that not all members of risk groups are being vaccinated.

Although Dortmund, in North Rhine-Westphalia, has opened up vaccination appointments for priority group 3, people aged 60-69, who are also in this group, are not able to book an appointment at a vaccination centre.

They have been invited to “special vaccination” drives using the AstraZeneca vaccine on certain days in April and May but according to Dortmund’s city vaccination plan, this offer has now ended. They were generally available on a first-come-first-served basis and ran out quickly.

“As soon as further vaccine for this group is made available, further appointments may be booked,” says the plan.

Dortmund city’s vaccination plan shows that over 60s in priority group 3 are currently not able to make an appointment. Screenshot from

That’s the case despite over 60s being able to access a vaccine in many other parts of the country, including Berlin and Baden-Württemberg.

The Local Germany reader Richard, who is 65 and has lived in the Dortmund area since 1999, said he was concerned that people in this age group were being forgotten.

Although priority groups should be able to book a vaccine appointment with their GP, or another doctor, many GPs are not carrying out vaccinations or giving out appointments. 

Richard said his doctor told him it wasn’t possible for him to make a vaccination appointment until mid-June when everyone can apply.

“I have followed the requirements and requests of the government in patiently waiting my turn, but with this opening up of applications to everyone on June 7th, I feel that my being a good citizen and not trying to jump the queue as many people have has been thrown back in my face,” he told The Local.

Richard said he is keen to get a jab soon as he suffered from severe bronchial asthma until he was 14 which means he still gets shortness of breath when he catches a cold. Furthermore he suffers from panic attacks and works in the live music business which may require full immunisation for travel when it gets back on track.

A person receiving a vaccine in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

“It seems that many Germans think that the healthy 60+ category is already being inoculated, but in Dortmund that is simply not the case; as of this morning, it is still not allowed to book an appointment.

“With under three weeks until the doors are thrown wide open, I am really concerned that I and every healthy fair-minded 60+ person are now being forgotten.”

The Local contacted the North Rhine-Westphalia health office for a comment.

Why is there such a lottery when it comes to getting the vaccine in Germany?

Despite a clear acceleration of vaccine delivery in Germany, there are still people who belong to ‘risk’ priority groups who have not been vaccinated yet.

Other readers of The Local have also reported that they’ve struggled to find information or get an appointment even though they qualify for a shot.

This could be down to bureaucratic failures in states or local regions when trying to secure appointments. It’s also not particularly helpful that each area in Germany has a different way of doing things, and processes change at short notice.

The vaccine rollout in Berlin is different to neighbouring Brandenburg, and so on.

Another factor is the behaviour of people. It appears you are more likely to get a vaccine if you push for it, or have the time and resources to contact lots of different doctors – but Health Minister Jens Spahn has urged people not to put pressure on medical staff.

You might know a person with a contact for a vaccinating doctor, or you might be lucky enough to receive an appointment from your own doctor, be it a GP or a specialist. 

This points to a long-standing problem with Germany’s organisation of the vaccine rollout: it isn’t very logical, and a lot of it depends on luck.