IBM learns the art of cost-cutting

Drastic situations call for drastic measures; just ask IBM. After sacking great swathes of its sober-suited managers and selling off billions of dollars worth of property, the troubled computer giant is taking a further step in its painful re-organisation: it is putting its art collection under the hammer.

This is more than just a couple of daubings by the chairman's children. The collection of around 300 works of art includes several American and Latin American masterpieces and is expected to fetch in excess of $25m when it is put up for auction in New York in May.

"We've sold corporate collections before, but IBM's is in a class of its own" Sotheby's says.

Paintings by George Bellow and Maurice Prendergast are expected to fetch around $1.5m. Diego Rivera's Baile en Tehuantepec is regarded as an icon of Mexican art and should attract bids in excess of $3m.

Big Blue says it is selling the paintings because the collection - stashed away in its offices - had not received the public exposure it deserved. The cash, of course, will come in handy.

This is a company that in the past 12 months has sold off 25 offices, factories and research labs, saving around $1.75bn. Even the former New York headquarters has been sold for $75m and its swanky Madison Avenue tower block fetched a further $200m.

The roots of Big Blue's art collection date back to 1937 when Thomas Watson, then head of IBM, decided to put some works together for the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Not one to do things by halves, IBM commisioned works by artists in all 79 countries in which it operated. Now, it seems that most of the works are deemed surplus to requirements.

Though the collection of paintings being sold only accounts for around 10 per cent of IBM's entire collection, it accounts for the lion's share of its value.

IBM UK is keeping its collection, which includes more than 4,000 works. However, many of them are prints and the total value is thought to be only £250,000.