Deutsche Bank pulls iconic artworks from its New York City lobby

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ABSTRAKTES Bild (Faust) by Gerhard Richter — GERHARD-RICHTER.COM

A TRIO of large abstract paintings by artist Gerhard Richter, once a signature of Deutsche Bank AG’s cavernous lobby on Wall Street and a crown jewel of the company’s vast collection, has vanished from public view.

The disappearance of the tryptich, with its bold interplay of yellow, red and green, is just one of many recent changes at the troubled German lender, which has undertaken a sweeping overhaul that will eliminate about 18,000 jobs worldwide.

The group of three related paintings, known collectively as Abstraktes Bild (Faust), were acquired in the early 1980s and have never appeared at auction. Art dealers and auction executives peg their current market value at $12 million to more than $30 million.

“The sheer scale of some of these things was astonishing,” said Bill Keenan, a former Deutsche Bank associate in corporate finance who left the firm last year.

Klaus Winker, a bank spokesman, said they were moved to make room for newer pieces, while declining to comment on their whereabouts or whether they’ve been sold.

“We have a special program for the publicly accessible areas in our locations to show young and up-and-coming artists,” he said, noting that works on paper by Nigerian-born Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze were set to be installed this weekend.

Last week, just a few artworks were on display in the lobby of 60 Wall St., the German bank’s US headquarters since 2001. They included To Don Judd, Colorist, a group of seven 1986 lithographs by Dan Flavin.

The bank built one of the largest corporate art collections over four decades, focusing on contemporary works on paper and photography to adorn its offices from Frankfurt to São Paulo. It owns about 55,000 pieces in all.

“The primary reason they did it early on was just a way of doing something for their buildings and their staff and people visiting,” said Alistair Hicks, the collection’s senior curator for 18 years until 2016. “It wasn’t done for money or as an investment, but to play an active role in the community.”

For the first 30 years, Deutsche Bank spent an average of less that $2,000 on individual pieces, Hicks said. In Frankfurt, the refurbished Deutsche Bank Towers showcase works by 60 artists on 60 floors, ranging from stars such as Peter Doig and Kara Walker to lesser known names from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

“The whole point of it was to engage with what’s happening around the world rather than go for big famous names,” Hicks said. “From that perspective it’s a very important collection.”

It’s not clear whether Deutsche Bank plans to sell any of its more prominent artworks to raise cash, as other struggling financial firms have done in years past.

Since 2004, Deutsche Bank has been the lead sponsor of Frieze, an international art fair that originated in London and expanded to New York and Los Angeles. This sponsorship will continue and only grow, according to Fabrizio Campelli, the company’s global head of wealth management.

“It’s a very important platform that plays a very important role for the wealth-management business,” Campelli said in a phone interview. “There’s a genuine interest that’s leading many of our clients to not just be passionate about art and treat it as object of admiration, but also as repository of invested value.”

His unit, which has €213 billion ($240 billion) of client assets under management and 3,000 employees worldwide, avoided the broad job cuts at the investment bank. Wealth management is planning to add 300 jobs through 2021, focusing on relationship and investment managers who generate revenue, Campelli said.

Art helps Deutsche Bank deepen ties with customers.

“At the most basic level, wealth management is a relationship business,” Campelli said. “It’s offered by many institutions, and very often these clients choose the bank they are most comfortable with around relationships. When you share passions, genuine passion with your clients, it can build a much more solid relationship.” — Bloomberg