9 Banks With Significant Art Collections

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November 30, 2020

For a few centuries now, businesses and large corporations have been investing into collections of fine art. It is considered that the collection by Monte dei Paschi bank in Siena formed during the Renaissance in 1472, now counting over 30,000 works, is the first corporate collection in history. Initially, banks were commissioning art to decorate their walls or preserve the memory of the history of the bank. Over the years, the objectives of the bank art collections changed significantly, placing banks among the most important art patrons in the world today.

Arnold Witte, an associate professor in cultural policy at the University of Amsterdam, whose research focuses on corporate art collections, says the bankers "stepped in like the new Medici".

From the 1950s onward, bankers needed to create a new and positive image for themselves, and I think bankers like [Chase Manhattan’s] David Rockefeller were really aware of the fact that they could use art to that end. 

As the Bloomberg article highlights, even during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, when the entire art world is in halt, banks have continued to collect, lend, and exhibit art and have sustained their arts programming.

It was the Chase Manhattan Bank's Art at Work collection, founded in 1959, that has set a new standard for the dedicated acquisition of contemporary art. Inscribing the bank's history into art became a way of telling the company's story. While some of these collections are more singular, other are made up of several different collections and are a product of a series of mergers and acquisitions.

The works are mostly sourced from the primary market with a focus on living artists, supporting artists and the gallery system that supports artists. These works are always displayed in their offices, but many banks also have dedicated exhibition spaces and loan these works to significant art institutions and smaller arts organizations. These loans have increasingly become a key component of museum exhibitions around the world. In this way, corporate collections, that have been conceived of as prestige-builders, have become something much larger than that.

Created in 2007 by and for professional corporate curators, the International Association of Corporate Collections of Contemporary Art brings together the curators of corporate collections from around the world in order to reflect on the future and the responsibilities of corporate collections. Their mission is to ascertain the sustainability of companies' commitment to art lever the artistic and patrimonial value of these collections, enforce visibility, recognition and reputation, commence an educational dialogue with stakeholders (staff, clients, general public), and enhance the importance of contemporary art in our corporations and society.

Without further ado, here are some of the most important bank art collections around the world.

Featured image: The UBS Art Gallery in New York, via UBS.

Banco de España

Inherited from its predecessor banks or later acquired or commissioned, the art collection of the Banco de España, which has main headquarters in Madrid, spans the end of the 15th century to the present day, including gems of pictorial art and paintings of great historical value. It also holds pieces from the second half of the 20th century, such as sculpture and photography.

The collection highlights include the Banco de San Carlos paintings before the 19th century, holding works by various artists who were commissioned to paint portraits of the King, the Prince and Princess of Asturias and the first directors of the Bank; a set of portraits commissioned from Francisco de Goya; royal portraits from the 19th and 20th century and portraits of other personages which merit special consideration; numerous landscape paintings by artists such as Daniel Vázquez Díaz, Mompó and Miguel Ángel Campano; modern works by Picasso, Tàpies, Togores or Pancho Cossío; abstract and contemporary paintings by Antonio Saura, José Guerrero and Pablo Palazuelo; and a selection of sculptures and photography; among others.

Featured image: Banco de España, image via Wikimedia Commons.

Caixa Foundation

Growing out of the commitment to bring art and culture to the people, the collection of Caixa Foundation has grown since 1985 to include over thousand works. Their art collecting seeks to preserve the memory of the present, connect Spanish art to major international trends, and bring contemporary art to the public and promote awareness and study in this area.

Spanning works created since the 1960s to the present day and media such as painting, sculpture, photography, film, installation and video art, the collection features works by artists such as Joseph Beuys, Bruce Nauman, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Ilya Kabakov, Paul McCarthy, Steve McQueen, Pierre Huyghe, Marlene Dumas, Damián Ortega, Olafur Eliasson and Dora García. The foundation often organizes exhibitions around Spain that serve as a means of bringing the collection to the public.

Featured image: Genevieve Cadieux - Hear Me With Your Eyes, 1989. Courtesy of Caixa Foundation.

UBS

Having one of the most impressive corporate collections in the world, the Swiss bank UBS owns 35,000 pieces of modern and contemporary art. Spanning artworks from 1960 to today in different media, such as paintings, photographs, drawings, prints, video works and sculptures, the collection is on display in UBS offices globally and in the UBS Art Gallery in New York. While parts of the collection have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Modern in London, the majority is displayed in employee only areas.

The collection includes many masterpiece by some of the most influential artists of our time, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lucian Freud, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Christopher Wool, Christine Ay Tjoe, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Yang Fudong, Andreas Gursky, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman and Liu Wei, among others.

Haegue Yang - Sonic Rotating Geometry Type F - Copper and Nickel Plated 48, 2015. UBS Art Collection © Haegue Yang Photo: Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin and Nick Ash

JPMorgan Chase

Dating to David Rockefeller, then president of The Chase Manhattan Bank and the father of modern corporate art collecting, the JP Morgan Chase Art Collection began in 1959, today counting more than 30,000 works.

One of the oldest and largest corporate art collections in the world, and at the same time dynamic and evolving, it features modern and contemporary painting, sculpture, works on paper and photography by artists such as Sol LeWitt, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. At the same time, it focuses on emerging, developing and under-recognized artists globally.

Featured image: Ping Zheng - Rainbow Over Dry Land, 2019. Oil stick on paper, 19 3/4 × 25 3/4 inches. Acquired in 2019. JPMorgan Chase Art Collection. Courtesy the artist and Kristen Lorello, NY.

Bank of America

One of the largest and finest collections in the world, the collection of the Bank of America focuses on contemporary art, reflecting the diversity of artistic expression in America and internationally. Comprised of around 60,000 objects, the collection is on view in several public galleries that the bank owns, as well as in their corporate offices.

It is strongest in post-World War II American art and includes works by noted artists Ed Ruscha, Frank Stella, Joan Mitchell, Thomas Struth and William Eggleston. The bank often loans the works to museums around the world. In 1998, Bank of America acquired the Hewitt Collection, about 60 works by noted 20th-century African-American artists including Henry Ossawa Tanner, Elizabeth Catlett and Charlotte native Romare Bearden and gave it to the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture when the center opened in 2009.

Featured image: N. C. Wyeth - Eight Bells, (Clyde Stanley and Andrew Wyeth aboard Eight Bells, 1937. Oil on hardboard, 20" x 30" (48.895 x 76.2 cm). Courtesy of Bank of America.

Royal Bank of Canada

A longstanding supporter of the visual art community, Royal Bank of Canada has amassed a significant art collection with a focus on creating and inspiring cross-generational conversations. Through their activities, they seek to celebrate the evolving threads and narratives that explore and redefine Canadian art.

The collection highlights include Shaan Syed's Double Minaret, (Turquoise); Minaret (1); Minaret (4) from 2017, Stan Douglas' Artist’s Cabin from 2009, Robin Cameron's Untitled Chine Collé 5, 7, 8 & 10 from 2015; Marigold Santos' The Space Between the Beauty and the Pain from 2018, Paul P.'s Untitled (et al.) from 2009–2019 and Moyra Davey's Newspaper, Coffee (Trees) from 2015, among others.

Featured image: Marigold Santos - The Space Between the Beauty and the Pain, 2018. Acrylic, pigment, gesso on canvas, 101.6 cm x 101.6 cm. Courtesy Royal Bank of Canada.

Deutsche Bank

For the past 35 years, Deutsche Bank has been enabling access to contemporary art worldwide with its substantial collection, in exhibitions, and through cooperations around the world. The journey through their collections stretches at more than 700 Deutsche Bank locations.

The refurbished Deutsche Bank Towers house a selection of artworks that reflects the new orientation of the collection. Each floor of the Towers is devoted to one artist, with around 100 international positions from more than 40 countries on view. Among featuring artists are Peter Doig, Gavin Turk, Paola Pivi, Elizabeth Peyton, Kara Walker, Marcel Dzama and Cao Fei.

Featured image: Jakub Julian Ziólkowski - Ohne Titel / Untitled, 2008. Courtesy Foksal Gallery Foundation and Hauser & Wirth.

European Central Bank Art Collection

Continually expanding, the European Central Bank Art Collection comprises around 480 paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and art objects, focusing on young contemporary art from the EU member states. They continue to acquire new works, mainly through Contemporary art from the Member States of the European Union annual exhibition series, which showcases the diverse range of each country’s artistic output. The collection is on display at the three buildings in Frankfurt am Main and the offices in Brussels and Washington. Through their ECB Art App, you can browse their collection from the comfort of your home.

Featured image: European Central Bank, via Creative Commons.

Collection Société Générale

Initiated in 1995, the Collection Société Générale brings together nearly 350 original works and 700 lithographs, editions and serigraphs, constituting one of the most important collections of contemporary art brought together by a bank in France.

This rich collection features works by artists such as Takeo Adachi, Liu Bolin, Sonia Delaunay, Sol LeWitt, Vik Muniz, Thomas Ruff, Takis, Antoni Tapies, and Andy Warhol.

Featured image: David Hockney - Self-Portrait III, 2012. Mixed media, 94 x 71 cm. Courtesy Collection Société Générale.