Bank of America sends its art on tour

Twenty-seven exhibitions drawn from the corporate collection will travel to US and European museums

NEW YORK. The Bank of America, the second largest bank in the US, has announced plans to lend pre-packaged exhibitions to US museums free of charge. The bank’s collection, one of the largest held by an American corporation, includes thousands of works, around 1,500 of which are museum quality says the company. These are mainly postwar American paintings, prints, photographs and sculptures acquired over the past three decades through mergers and acquisitions of other banks.

Most of the exhibitions will be conceived by the bank’s curatorial staff and devoted to modern and contemporary art, American impressionism, the Wyeth family, Warhol portfolios, African-American art, Western American art, photographs, and illustrated books by Matisse.

The bank has booked 27 shows through 2009 and is in discussion with venues for 2010. Some of the participating mus­eums include the Inter­national Center of Photography in New York, the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, and the Napa Valley Mus­eum in Yountville, California.

“The scale and scope of this programme is unmatched in the art world,” says Millicent Gaudieri, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors. “Not only do these exhibits have extraordinary curatorial value, but they help museums by covering most of the associated costs,” she says.

Rena DeSisto, the bank’s arts and culture executive, would not disclose the programme’s cost but says it will be funded through the bank’s marketing division. It remains to be seen how the downturn in the US economy will impact the programme. “At times like these our investments for the community are almost more important,” says a company spokesman, noting that museums are economic engines that help communities thrive, which is good for business.

However companies such as IBM and Reader’s Digest were generous lenders before shareholders demanded that art assets be liquidated to offset losses in recessions. Sotheby’s appraised the bank’s collection around a year ago and last November sold four works, including a painting by Andrew Wyeth, for over $700,000 in total; this was donated to charities in New York. According to a bank spokesman, the museum lending programme is not a prelude to a sell-off. “We have no plans at this point for a large sale,” he says, “but the collection is big enough so there will be opportunities to deaccession certain pieces.” Proceeds would not necessarily be donated to charity. He also says the bank would consider museum requests for donations. In 2001 they gave three 1850s “Election” paintings by George Caleb Bingham, valued at $45m, to the Saint Louis Art Museum, then added two related engraving plates and 13 printing proofs last year.

The largest exhibition in the new programme consists of 80 modern and contemporary works by artists including Milton Avery, Elizabeth Murray, Frank Stella and Ed Ruscha. Curated by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, it opens there on 28 June (until 21 September). Shows travelling to Europe include the Wyeth exhibition slated for the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London in 2010, and an Edward Steichen survey currently at the Palazzo Magnani in Reggio Emilia, Italy (until 8 June), which then goes to the Reina Sofia in Madrid (24 June-22 September).

The bank is also paying undisclosed fees to more than 70 US museums to allow free admission for bank cardholders the first weekend of every month for the next year.

In the last two years the bank has also become a major sponsor of exhibitions, including the travelling shows “Americans in Paris”, “Matisse: Painter as Sculptor”, “Turner”, “Frida Kahlo”, and “El Greco to Velázquez” at the Metropolitan Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and other institutions. The company’s first European sponsorship was last year’s “The Unknown Monet” at the Royal Academy in London. Ms DeSisto says the bank will underwrite “Francis Bacon” at Tate in September and “Degas” at the Royal Academy in 2009. Jason Edward Kaufman

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