Banks used to conduct business behind Roman columns suggestive of solidity. Today, instead, they like to conjue cheery domesticity by luring their depositors with coffee pots and toasters. Government Services Savings & Loan has taken another tack.

In an unpretentious, thoughtful way the Bethesda insitution has allied itself with art. Its first exhibition, now on view among the potted plants and cash drawers at 7200 Wisconsin Ave., it a well-selected print show of works by local artists. Other exhibitions, of 19th-century marine paintings, contemporary photography, architects' rendering and early Western art, are scheduled to open there in the months to come.

Lots of art, both good and bad, has been seen in banks. What makes this program different is its seriousness, its class. All the exhibitions will be accompanied by catalogs, and if the first is any indication, all will be well-in-stalled.

"The whole idea," says marketing director Katleen Butler, "is to have a small museum here. You know how dreary banks can be - orange carpets, chartreuse chairs, half-dead plants and logos - instead, we've redesigned this place to look as much like gallery as possible."

The institution has hired an "exhibitions director," painter Sidney help from Arthur J. Phelan Jr., who was already there.

Phelan, the boss, the chairman of the board, seriously collects 19th-century America painting. So, too, does his bank. Upstairs in the offices hand works by Bierstadt and Moran, oils of old sailing ships, and a little sketch of Emanuel Leutze working on his U.S. Capitol mural "Westward the Couse of Empire Takes Its Way."

Scheduled exhibitions will draw, at least in part, from Phelan's strong collection of Western and marine art. The institution also owns early scenes of Washington, bought here and there at auction, but its shows will not be limited to 19th-century art.

The 20th-century artists whose prints are now on view include Gene Davis, Jacob Kainen, Mark Leithauser, Jonathan Meader, Lou and Di Stovall, Ed McGowin, John Sirica, Sam Gilliam, Ming Wang, Rockne Krebs, Jim Sundquist, Kevin MacDonald, Pietro Lazzari and others. All prints are on sale (prices range from $75 to $1,500). The bank takes no commission. "We've even opened small saving accounts for each participating artist. The money isn't much, but the principle is one of zero exploitation."

Government Services will spend about $1,200 on each exhibition. The next, which opens June 15, will include works by Washington women painters, among them Helene Herzbrun and Gay Glading. Government Services eventually will offer shows in its Hagerstown and Wheaton branches. The institution's assets which stood at just $10 million in 1969, have since grown to more than a quarter of a billion dollars. Will the art shows help its business? "Who knows?" says Kathleen Butler. "At least we'll cut down the complaints of people standing in line."