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Art Premier introduces Museum Rental Programme

Why not have a museum masterpiece over your mantle?

A Paris-based company is launching a controversial service to rent out paintings from museums. Art Premier says its Museum Rental Programme offers cash-starved museums “an innovative way to raise badly needed revenue”. It claims to have recently arranged loans of over 300 paintings, including works by Bruegel, Jordaens, Reynolds, Millet, Monet and Léger. These have either gone to decorate private offices or for exhibitions abroad.

“Museums and galleries cannot simply pick up the phone to big business and offer them their surplus works for a year or so at a price,” explained an Art Premier spokesman. The company is therefore offering this service, taking commission (20%, half paid by the lender and half by the borrower). For borrowers, the price of a single work is around 7% of its insurance value for a year, with higher rates for shorter periods and reductions for taking a group of pictures.

Among institutions which are now in discussions with Art Premier is Dulwich Picture Gallery, which will be closed for Lottery-funded improvements from January 1999 to May 2000. Although ninety of its most important paintings will be touring America and Japan, there are hundreds of others which will be in store. Director Desmond Shawe-Taylor told The Art Newspaper that although he is talking with Art Premier, “no decision has been made.” If a deal does go ahead, the likely borrower would be a French public collection.

Culture Secretary Chris Smith appears to have given the green light for such arrangements. He recently pointed out that many museums have substantial “assets” in store, and renting them out could be a “wholly positive way of raising money.” Others are less happy with the idea. National Art Collections Fund adviser Vicky Dyer is worried: “If a painting is on a bank director’s office wall, how many people will see it? This is all part of raising money every way you can because the government isn’t going to give more.”

Art Premier is unwilling to name names, and the company admits that borrowers do not usually want to advertise the fact they are paying for art loans. But company president Mike Ennis did tell The Art Newspaper about the type of deals he is arranging. In Britain Art Premier is negotiating with four public collections, with two deals “pretty solid” and two in earlier stages.

In France, Art Premier claims to have signed contracts with three museums and five private collectors. This has led to a number of loans to the US. A major American insurance company borrowed a collection for six months to show on the top floor of its Manhattan skyscraper office. A charity borrowed a group of pictures for six weeks during its anniversary celebrations. Another borrower in New York was a club, which took a collection of museum-quality works for three months. A single picture from a French private collection was lent to an American museum for six months, to fill a temporary gap.

Art Premier has dealt with a number of Swiss private collectors who wish to rent out paintings. Although one picture has gone to Japan, again the US is the main market. Art Premier has found that loans to America are usually the most profitable for lenders.

In Russia Art Premier has a deal with one of the major museums. “It is unusual, in that the contract runs for fifty years, involving works which have never been shown this century. The programme involves us in restoring the pictures and then renting them out to foreign museums,” explained Mr Ennis. According to Mr Ennis, they are of “aristocratic” subjects, many of them royal portraits which were denigrated by the communist government. A group of paintings is currently being restored, and it is hoped that ten will be placed in American museums by the end of the year.

Mr Ennis admits that Art Premier’s plans have not met with universal approval. “It has been a little difficult to get Europeans accustomed to the idea of art rental. The arts/business relationship is better established in America,” he explained.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Rent Beuys'