You Oughta Be in Pictures - and Other Art

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You oughta be in pictures--and other art

For an industry persistently regarded as conservative and cautious, banking can now lay claim to being in the vanguard of one venturesome activity--art collecting.

Actually, art collecting has an attractive track record. Sotheby's Art Index, compiled by the famous auction house, says art has shown an annual rate of return of 19% over the last five years. With such figures, it's not surprising that many banks are looking at art as more than just decoration.

Why buy? At least 130 banks have amassed collections significant enough to be listed in the International Directory of Corporate Art Collections. Corinne Shane, president of InvestinArt, a New York firm which counsels businesses on art acquisitions, notes there are numerous reasons for banks to collect art.

"Ask any CEO or art consultant and they will cite anything from improving workplace conditions for employees to sound public relations for the bank as the reasons why they have gotten into corporate art in such a big way," says Shane. "They agree that the prestige of a well-respected collection enhances and softens their image."

Huge budgets aren't a prerequisite to collecting, adds Shane. For example, limited edition prints, signed and numbered by some of the nation's most important artists, can be acquired in the range of $2,000--versus the six-figure prices the same artists put on oils.

Themes vary. The marketing potential of art is enormous. A substantial number of bank art collections concentrate on local and regional artists as a salute to their markets. For instance, Western art, including Native American art and artifacts, has been the focus of the collections at Valley National Bank of Arizona, Norwest Bank of South Dakota, and United Missouri Bancshares in Kansas City, while Wells Fargo Bank enshrines this genre at its San Francisco and Los Angeles history museums.

On the East Coast, Midlantic Corp., Edison, N.J., focuses on artists who either live in or paint the mid-Atlantic region, while Barnett Bank, Jacksonville, Fla., continues to add to its well-regarded "Florida Collection."

Some banks concentrate on single themes. A delightfully different collection is the "Also Ran Gallery" at First State Bank of Norton, Kan. This consists of portraits of unsuccessful presidential candidates.

Others concentrate on a single artist--the murals of marine artist William A. Coutler at Union Bank, San Francisco, have earned much critical praise.

Banks have also concentrated on specific schools. First Bank System of Minneapolis focuses on post-1980 artwork, while Republic National Bank of New York inaugurated its Miami office with a collection of Latin American art.

Double unveiling. Banks often use their art collections to help publicize new facilities. Indeed, at Security Pacific National Bank in Los Angeles, the art acquisition policy is based on a percentage of the overall budget for building and renovation, according to Tressa Ruslander Miller, vice-president and director of cultural affairs. …