Breaking Views, the financial commentary site recently acquired by Reuters, tries to say something clever about bank art collections. But in the process they show just how much confusion there is about the subject. Under the pretext that government bailouts should mean greater willingness to show the bank’s art collection to the public, Breaking Views then does a 180-turn and complains that much of what these banks hold is not up to snuff or not curated and catalogued well enough. All of that may be true. But Bank, and other corporate art collections are like real estate. The quality of what the bank owns covers a broad range from things of great value to incidental possessions.
Deutsche Bank is believed to own the largest corporate collection in the world, with some 60,000 pieces of contemporary art. UBS owns 40,000 pieces, and JPMorgan Chase 30,000. Combined, that approaches the Museum of Modern Art’s trove. Banks have various explanations for their hoarding instincts: lots of walls to cover, clients to impress, corporate identities to build. Or perhaps just some past director was a devoted patron. […] At least some banks take care of their treasures. JPMorgan, whose collection was started a half-century ago by David Rockefeller at Chase Manhattan, has a well-regarded curator. But many banks don’t even know what’s boxed up in the basement, having inherited artwork in takeovers. […] As a result of the financial crisis, the attitude may be changing. Royal Bank of Scotland has begun plans to show its vast and long-cloistered stash of art, including works by L. S. Lowry and David Hockney, to the public.
Royal Bank of Scotland has actually shown shrewder discretion in art than banking. In the largely disastrous acquisition of ABN Amro, R.B.S. allowed the Dutch bank to pass its 16,000-piece collection to a foundation while retaining access to it.
Banks Hoard Troves of Art (Breaking Views/New York Times)