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    Hirst May Exit Corner Office as Lehman Mulls Collection's Fate

    Date: 17 Sep 2008 | | Views: 4326

    Source: Bloomberg, by Lindsay Pollock

    Artworks by Takashi Murakami, Andreas Gursky and Jasper Johns are among the lesser-known assets in Lehman Brothers' meltdown.

    Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. owns about 3,500 contemporary artworks that have been displayed in the investment bank's offices around the world, and the fate of the collection is unclear.

    Depending on Lehman's bankruptcy proceedings and whether portions of its businesses are acquired, some or all of the art may be sold. Lehman inherited a separate collection when it purchased money manager Neuberger Berman in 2003, and that art -- about 900 works -- is likely to belong to a new owner if Neuberger is sold.

    ``In these situations, you can't just sell things off willy nilly,'' art adviser Judith Selkowitz said of the collection. ``They want everything orderly.''

    Randall Whitestone, a Lehman spokesman, declined to comment.

    Auctioneers are experienced at liquidating corporate art collections. Sotheby's has sold art for International Business Machines Corp. and Christie's International has disposed of photography for bankrupt futures trader Refco Inc.

    New York art dealer Debra Force said she wouldn't be surprised if Lehman took the auction route.

    ``The administration may decide that from a PR or visual standpoint, it doesn't look well to have all this art around when the company is bankrupt and people are losing their jobs,'' she said. ``It becomes a bone of contention.''

    Luster Fades

    The luster has faded for corporate art collections in general.

    ``The golden age of corporate art buying was in the 1960s and 1970s, when fabled collections like IBM's were made,'' said Christie's Americas President Marc Porter.

    Stacey Gershon, an art adviser and former senior curator of the JPMorganChase collection, said corporate art has a perception problem.

    ``It just doesn't jibe with the new lean-and-mean attitude on the street,'' she said.

    Corporate collections are often linked to the tastes and interests of the chief executive officer. David Rockefeller at Chase Bank hired curators to ferret out lesser-known artists, while Donald B. Marron at PaineWebber favored established names.

    Avid Buyers

    Lehman Chief Executive Richard S. Fuld Jr. and his wife, Kathy, are avid art buyers for their personal collection. Kathy is vice chairman of the board of trustees at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. MoMA said the couple has promised to donate to the museum a gray-hued 2005 Jasper Johns painting and a 1947 Louise Bourgeois drawing called ``Femme Maison'' from their personal collection.

    Art adviser Janice Oresman was hired to build up Lehman's holdings in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    ``Lehman was a pacesetter,'' she said. Her acquisitions included a large Louise Nevelson sculpture and paintings by Wayne Thiebaud, along with contemporary prints by Jasper Johns and Frank Stella. Johns's prints have sold recently at auction for as much as $50,000.

    The Lehman family name itself has a collecting legacy. Renoirs and Rembrandts owned by Robert Lehman, grandson of the firm's founder, are installed in the Robert Lehman wing at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    Neuberger founder Roy Neuberger bought art for his personal collection and installed it at the money manager's offices.

    He eventually donated those works, which included paintings by Edward Hopper and Helen Frankenthaler, to the Neuberger Museum of Art at the State University of New York in Purchase.

    Bare Walls

    This left Neuberger's office walls bare. Arthur Goldberg, an art collector and now-retired partner at Neuberger, was in charge of the company's art purchases from 1990 to 1998.

    ``They gave me a budget and let me buy what I wanted,'' said Goldberg, who declined to speculate on the current value of Lehman's collection. He bought works by Marlene Dumas and Damien Hirst before those artists were well known. This week, a Hirst sculpture of a calf immersed in formaldehyde sold for $18.6 million at Sotheby's in London.

    Neuberger's corporate collection is fairly well known. A group of about 55 paintings, drawings and sculptures toured four museums, including the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle and the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida in 2003 and 2004. Works include a Jim Hodges spider-web-like sculpture and Candida Hofer photographs.

    ``My hope is that the collection will continue,'' Goldberg said. ``But my pragmatic feeling is that whoever acquires Neuberger and Lehman will look at the thing as an asset and not as art.''

    (Lindsay Pollock writes on the arts for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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