Graham Holdings to sell much of its corporate art collection to accommodate new, smaller headquarters

Over the past few months, observant Washington Post employees have noticed that familiar works of art, some deeply beloved, others as familiar as wallpaper, were disappearing from the walls of the Post’s offices. Now we know why: Graham  Holdings (as the company which once owned the Washington Post is now known) has decided to sell much of the corporate art collection begun by former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham in the 1970s. The company is offering the collection, which is strong on works by local Washington artists, for what it says is a reduced rate to employees. Proceeds will be given to TheDream.US, a scholarship fund founded by Donald Graham to help undocumented students.

“We wanted to do this as a farewell gesture to Post employees and to give corporate and newspaper employees an opportunity to own artworks they have enjoyed and loved,” said Rima Calderon, vice president for Communications and External Relations at Graham Holdings.

The art is much like the family: Unflashy and deeply local in its focus. Artists associated with the Washington Color school—Sam Gilliam, Jacob Kainen, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, among others—are well represented, as are national figures such as Alex Katz, whose work was originally in the Newsweek corporate collection in New York. When the Washington Post sold Newsweek in 2010 (for $1), the art was not included in the sale. Now those pieces are some of the most valuable on offer.

Calderon has overseen the Graham collection since she joined the company in 1991. She describes the sale as one of the sadder but necessary tasks before Graham Holdings moves out of the Post building on 15th Street for new offices in Rosslyn. The move will begin on Aug. 15. The new space will be open plan, and much smaller than the current space, so many works had to be left behind.

“We have very few walls,” she said, which means much less space for hanging the work. Some of the more prized works will be brought to the Rosslyn space, while others, including a collection of photographs by Robert H. McNeill, will be donated to other institutions.

Calderon says the collection reflects Katharine Graham’s longstanding support of Washington artists, particularly through the Washington Project for the Arts, where she was introduced to many of the local artists, and the work that forms the core of the collection. The collection runs a wide range, from historic newspaper images to prints to original paintings by Gilliam, Davis, Downing and Sean Scully, which are some of the most valuable works to be sold. Graham Holdings brought in Hemphill Fine Arts for advice on the collection’s value.

Calderon said there was immediate, and strong interest from employees in the art.

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic.
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