National Bank shows the value of art

The National Bank of Belgium and the Banco de España have joined forces for the exhibition ‘(Un) Common Values, Two Business Collections of Modern Art’. She shows how the two central banks support contemporary artists.

The National Bank of Belgium is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its art collection this year. In 1972, the bank began collecting art from living artists with a connection to Belgium. The art collection has over the years grown into a collection of more than 2,000 works. 80 percent of the works adorn the National Bank’s offices. ‘Employees choose the artwork for their desk. In addition, the works are also exhibited in our meeting rooms and corridors. We lend around 500 works of art every year, «says Anne Bambynek, curator of contemporary art at Danmarks Nationalbank.

The essence

  • (‘U) common values. Two Corporate Collections of Contemporary Art ‘is an exhibition in Danmarks Nationalbank’s Lokettenzaal in Brussels.
  • It shows contemporary art from the collections of Danmarks Nationalbank and the Banco de España.
  • Since 1972, Danmarks Nationalbank has been collecting art by living artists.
  • The collection has about 2,000 works.

Danmarks Nationalbank’s anniversary is celebrated in the former counter hall at the head office in Brussels with the exhibition ‘(un) common values. To Corporate Collections of Contemporary Art ‘. The second collection is that of the Spanish National Bank. He has been collecting art for 240 years.

The title of the exhibition refers to the dilemma that corporate collections are often faced with. Does a company collect on art because it is an interesting investment, or does it do so for the value of the art itself? How do you determine the value? Is it the price of the art market or does it go further?

Guy Bleus, Value Shredder-Demonetization.
© Collection of the National Bank of Belgium. Photo credit: Patrick Van Den Branden

What does the value of the art collection mean for the employees of a company? There is also sometimes a split in this. Sometimes it gets laughed at – especially when it comes to contemporary art. But more often, art is an eye opener. People come into contact with a world that is unknown, but which proves to be a source of inspiration.

Danmarks Nationalbank’s art collection is based on the obligation to support contemporary artists. At the same time, she also wants to make the collection available to the general public. It was not obvious. Visitors can not just walk in and out of the National Bank. This issue has been resolved since 2019 due to the restoration of the disk hall. In that year, the first exhibition was held together with the Deutsche Bundesbank.

Now there is another with the Spanish colleagues. The Banco de España grew out of the Banco de San Carlos, which was founded in 1782 by King Carlos III. It was the first Spanish bank to issue banknotes. Art has been systematically procured since it was founded 240 years ago. The collection now has about 4,000 works of art dating from the 16th century to the present day.

The exhibition seamlessly mixes the collections of the National Bank of Belgium and the collections of Spain.

The modern part has been chosen for the exhibition in Brussels. The exhibition mixes both collections seamlessly. It is divided into three parts. In the first part, ‘Matters of Exchange’, desire is incorporated in the broad sense of the word. The best works are those that have a direct link to money. One is a life-size self-portrait of Guy Bleus from 1982. The image is called ‘Value Shredder-Demonetization’ and is part of a performance the artist staged in the 1980s.

In the picture, Bleus shows himself as a criminal or a prisoner. He wears a suit consisting of 50 notes. The crime has not yet been committed at that time. He plans to destroy the banknotes, but he does not get it. Destroying money is a privilege for the National Bank. In his art, Bleus examines the role of the archive and bureaucracy in society.

Spanish artist Francesc Ruiz will also be working on banknotes. In his ‘Marcar’ from 2016, he flashes to the Spanish designer José Maria Cruz Novillo. It designed 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 peseta banknotes between 1982 and 1987. Ruiz made a grid of enlarged and subtly modified faces of people depicted on banknotes. He asks himself what the value is of a portrait on a banknote. Who thinks of the portrait when buying something with a banknote?


Business art is often an eye opener. People come into contact with a world that is unknown, but which proves to be a source of inspiration.

In ‘I Contain Multititudes’, the second part of the exhibition, inclusion and diversity are examined. The beautiful photo ‘Seduzir’ by the Portuguese artist Helena Almeida – she had a major exhibition at Wiels in 2016 – immediately catches the eye. It is a self-portrait from the shoulders to the feet. You can not see her head. That way, you can guess the identity. That is precisely the intention of the artist. The picture is a tribute to her about deceased sister.

Michael Borremans, Cutters.
© Collection of the National Bank of Belgium. Photo credit: Patrick Van Den Branden

The second part also contains the small painting ‘The Cutters’ from 2004 by Michaël Borremans. In it, he creates two worlds ‘in and out of the box’. Literally almost. It is a reference to diversity and inclusion.

In the last part of the exhibition ‘Paix / Prix’, works of art are shown, where the visitor is challenged. It’s a somewhat vague description, but nonetheless there is also interesting work to be seen there. Spanish photographer Candida Höfer closes the exhibition in an appropriate way. In 2000, she made a series of pictures in the Banco de España. A photo of a huge steel door can be seen at the fair. She leads to the place where the gold reserves are kept. The image is stimulating because it shows what not to see.

‘(u) Common Values, Two Corporate Collections of Contemporary Art’ runs until 18 September 2022 in the ticket hall at NBB, Berlaimontlaan 3 in Brussels.

Leave a Comment