Facing a Cash Crunch, British Airways Looks to Sell Off Its Star-Studded Art Collection

The airline will sell at least ten works in its collection, which includes pieces by Bridget Riley and Peter Doig.

British Airways planes parked at Gatwick Airport as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

Amid ongoing financial troubles, British Airways will sell off at least ten items in its corporate art collection, which includes works by big names like Bridget Riley and Peter Doig. Sotheby’s has been called in to value a number of works held by BA for a potential sale, according to the Evening Standard, which first reported the story.

The airline is known for its collection of at least 1,500 pieces that includes esteemed works by artists such as Richard Deacon, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Callum Innes, Anish Kapoor, Chris Ofili, and Fiona Rae.

The Bridget Riley being sold off could be valued at “well into seven figures,” an unnamed expert told by the paper. For now, the painting remains in the airline’s executive lounge at Heathrow airport. (The airline owns several works from Riley’s “Egyptian” series, though it was unclear which exact work was being considered for sale.)

In the 2012 book Corporate Art CollectionsAngeline Mayhead, the airline’s global head of lounge development, described the importance of the collection to the BA brand: “The collection is managed and curated by a passionate team… and we see it as an enduring and sustainable way in which to make BA’s premium tongues feel welcoming and inviting, authentic and vibrant.”

The art to be sold off will be sourced from both BA’s many lounges and its corporate headquarters.

BA is trying to protect jobs and avoid laying off staff as it faces a cash crunch in the wake of the worldwide lockdown. Industry observers do not believe that the airline industry will return to pre-crisis traffic numbers anytime in the near future.

According to Forbes, British Airways’s parent company IAG reported a £1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) loss in the first three months of the year. In April, the airline furloughed 30,000 staff, according to the Guardian, and it was reported this month that the company is considering cutting 12,000 jobs, according to CNN.

The suggestion to sell off the art collection is said to have come from staff ideas on how to minimize the toll of the necessary cost-cutting. The Evening Standard reports that BA may replace the artwork it sells off by securing loans from galleries rather than buying art outright.


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