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Austria/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.3 Other relevant issues and debates

"Platform Baukultur", the Austrian initiative for architectural policy and building culture fosters architectural policies in Austria and in 2007 presented the first Austrian Report on Building Culture, commissioned by the former State Secretariat for Art and the Media and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Labour, together with the Federal Real Estate Agency (BIG). It contains several recommendations in the fields of public awareness, production, economy sustainability etc. The second Architectural Culture Report (2011) concerns itself with issues of economic and ecological sustainability in construction, municipal spatial planning and schools for the 21st century. The Architectural Cultural Report is published every five years by the Federal Chancellery.

A further issue that repeatedly gives rise to debates is the restitution to their former owners or their heirs of artworks plundered by the Nazis during the Nazi period, to which Austria has committed itself. The "Commission for Provenance Research" systematically check the government's collections since 1998. The Law on the Restitution of Art Objects from the Austrian Federal Museums and Collections (Art Restitution Act, also 1998) made it possible to return cultural objects to the original owners or their legal heirs. In 2009 the Law was amended and extended to moveable cultural goods.

In 2006, five famous paintings by Gustav Klimt from the collection of the Vienna industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, who was driven out of Austria by the Nazis (already in Bloch-Bauer's lifetime, during the Nazi period, the pictures had been moved into the hands of what later became the Belvedere Gallery), had to be returned to the legal heir, Maria Altmann.

The Leopold Museum Private Foundation is exempted from the Law on the Restitution. To solve the long open discussion about restitution from this major Austrian collection too, in 2008 the former Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture agreed with the Leopold Museum Private Foundation to set up an independent provenance research, which presented its first reports in December 2009. These can, however, only be considered as recommendations and have no legal relevance. In 2010 the end of one of the most famous cases of looted art aroused attention. After a twelve-year-long legal dispute and the payment of EUR 14.8 million to the heirs of Lea BondyJary, the Jewish art dealer persecuted by the Nazis, the Egon Schiele painting "Wally", which had been impounded at a New York Schiele exhibition as art looted by the Nazis, was to return to Vienna.

The Austrian National Library also accepts its responsibility for the systematic plunder of the belongings above all of Jewish citizens, but also of other victims of the Nazi regime, and has drawn up a comprehensive provenance report. Since December 2003, 43 580 objects have been restored to their legal owners.

In 2006, the Jewish Community Vienna and the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism established a database of the heirless restitution objects, which is intended to give heirs the opportunity to identify and claim plundered objects. 

Chapter published: 02-02-2016

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