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Germany’s Deutsche Bank began collecting art in the 1970s and now has a trove of more than 56,000 works, by artists including Joseph Beuys, Henri Matisse, Nan Goldin, Jeff Koons and Lucian Freud, displayed on the walls of its offices and branches in 48 countries.

When companies go under, it can trigger an art market bonanza. In December, bankruptcy administrators of troubled Italian airline Alitalia sold a collection of Futurist artworks for 1.2 million euros.

In June, Sotheby’s sold 1,000 photographs by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and other lens masters as part of a bankruptcy court-approved sale of the collection of defunct camera-maker Polaroid.

The tradition of corporations buying art in good times _ and selling it in bad _ stretches back decades. One pioneer was IBM president Thomas Watson, Sr., who amassed works by Frida Kahlo and other artists to decorate the IBM pavilion at the 1939 World Art Fair in New York. In the 1990s, a cash-strapped IBM sold its collection through Sotheby’s for $31 million.

Other sales have been even bigger. In 1989 a pension fund for British railway workers, which had been buying art as an investment for years, sold its collection for $99 million. In 1998, the Reader’s Digest corporate collection sold for $93 million.

Judd Tully, editor-at-large of Art and Auction magazine, says we’re unlikely nowadays to see big companies selling off artworks in bulk because of the negative publicity it would generate.

“It raises a red flag _ ‘They’re selling their art collection, they must be going broke,’” he said.

More likely, companies will sell selected high-value works, with the money often channeled back into corporate art collections.

In June, Germany’s HypoVereinsbank sold a blue sponge painting by Yves Klein from its collection through Sotheby’s for 6.2 million pounds.

When Germany’s Commerzbank took over Dresdner Bank in 2009, it also acquired Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture “Walking Man,” which became the most expensive artwork ever when it was sold at Sotheby’s in London in February for 65 million pounds.

Next month’s Lehman Brothers auctions in at Sotheby’s in New York and Christie’s in London are expected to raise $12 million for the bank’s creditors _ a significant sum, though only a tiny fraction of the $613 billion in debts held by Lehman when it collapsed in September 2008, helping trigger a global financial meltdown.

Korzinek, the underwriter, said he expected interest in the sale to be high _ and not just because of the quality of the art.

“It’ll be interesting to see whether the Lehman provenance increases the value of the collection,” he said. “There will be some who will see these not just as works of art, but a chance to buy a memento mori of the credit crunch.”


Associated Press Writers Ula Ilnytzky in New York and Melissa Eddy in Berlin contributed to this report.

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