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British Airways Art Collection Hits Sotheby’s Auction Block

As COVID-19 continues to ground aircraft and decimate demand for international travel, British Airways is turning to a non-traditional asset to help them stay afloat. The first piece in currently listed in an upcoming Sotheby’s auction, with several more slated to go up soon after.

British Airways is going to the auction block to sell art, as the airline looks to improve their cash holdings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first piece, Cool Edge by Bridget Riley, will go up for sale on Monday, July 27, 2020.

Cool Edge Expected to Earn Cool $1.01 Million

Finished in 1982, Cool Edge is described by Sotheby’s as one of the artist’s “Pioneering investigations into the optical potential of color and the complexities of illusion and perception.” British Airways purchased the piece from London’s Juda Rowan Gallery in 1986.

For decades, British Airways quietly collected art for use at their headquarters and select lounges. The flag carrier owns pieces from artists including Damien Hirst and Peter Doig. In particular, the Riley piece was the pride of the airline’s executive lounge at London Heathrow Airport (LHR).

“Cool Edge” by Bridget Riley. The painting formerly hung in the British Airways executive lounge, and is expected to fetch upwards of $1 million at auction. Image courtesy: Sotheby’s

However, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing British Airways to reconsider that investment. According to London’s Evening Standard, which first broke the story, Cool Edge is the first of a possible 10 pieces that could end up at Sotheby’s. The auction house expects the Riley painting to be sold at a value between $1.01 million and $1.51 million.

“During this unprecedented time we have made the decision to work with Sotheby’s, one of the world’s leading and most trusted auction houses, to sell a number of pieces,” a spokesperson for the airline told Bloomberg. ““We are fortunate to have been able to showcase a wealth of artists and creativity through our artwork collection, many of which have been a special part of the design of our lounges worldwide.”

Sale Comes as British Airways is “Fighting for Survival”

It is unclear which additional pieces will go on the auction block next, but employees inside the IAG-owned carrier are concerned for the carrier’s financial health. With the sale of the art pieces, some suggest the carrier’s worst days may be ahead, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“We are in a very dark place…We are doing things we have never done before,” one employee told the Evening Standard, on the condition of anonymity. “When the ship is going down we can’t hold on to all these things.”

The financial troubles come from the airline’s fight with labor unions over a proposed plan to cut 12,000 jobs from their payroll. IAG chief executive Willie Walsh said the airline is “fighting for its survival,” according to Bloomberg.

But the plan is meeting heavy resistance from labor union Unite, which calls the plan a “fire and rehire” attempt. In addition to pressuring IAG shareholders, parliamentary leaders are now demanding the airline lose slots at London Heathrow Airport for their labor plans.

SamirD July 16, 2020

I don't think BA is unique in their troubles. The world's economies and airlines are all going to be close to death because of covid. And I have a feeling that their assets will be quietly bought up by a certain country in asia...

lizzie July 16, 2020

Agreed. Plus they blame this predicament on the very people who are about to lose their jobs.

Danwriter July 16, 2020

Insanely high service fees weren't enough to save BA?

schelsr July 16, 2020

Zero sympathy here. BA and their historically, archetypal British, classist, ageist, elitist approach to everything is now coming home to die. Long overdue. The carrier has been grim for decades.