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  1. Wealth
February 16, 2009

Art pays

By Spear's

When companies are as far in the hole as banks, selling an art collection can’t raise enough cash to service the executive jet.

There is a good article on Wealth Bulletin asking what banks should do with their art collections: after all, according to the article, Deutsche Bank has 53,000 pieces (valued at £75m in 2004, including the Hirst below) and UBS has 45,000 (approximately £100m) and they could no doubt stand to sell some, as well as profit from their loss.

But there are several compelling reasons to keep the art. When companies are as far in the hole as global banks are, losing so many billions that their calculators can’t display enough the full figures, selling an art collection – in a falling market – is hardly likely to raise enough cash to service the second executive jet.

Less tangibly, but perhaps less credibly, an art collection says something more about a bank, something beyond ‘We know the price of everything and the value of nothing’ (which is clearly not even true any more since they can’t even price their toxic assets).

Art is not (meant to be) a stock market, where prices fluctutate daily on rumours and warnings: it should be a good deal more enduring. Even if – as would terrifically gauche on the bank’s part – the art deals with financial themes in an obvious way, the work should still be hoping to speak to the future too.

The ownership of art – and its display, of course – says that a bank cares about things beyond its own walls, feeling and thoughts more profound and more sophisticated than an abacus can say. Even if this is an illusion, it is an illusion which dignifies the bank. Selling up is selling out.

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