AXA Equitable Donates Thomas Hart Benton Mural
Gift to The Metropolitan Museum of Art Honors Commitment to NYC
Inspiring employees and visitors for decades at company headquarters, Thomas Hart Benton’s monumental masterwork America Today is presented as a gift from AXA Equitable to one of the world’s great cultural institutions, where it will be preserved, studied and enjoyed by millions for generations.
A 20th-century icon of American culture, the mural was acquired and restored by AXA Equitable (then Equitable Life) in 1984, at the urging of the City of New York to keep the landmark here on public display. Honoring our commitment and respecting the mural's significance as a national treasure, AXA Equitable’s gift to the Met ensures that America Today remains in New York.
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- Q & A
- AXA & Art
This 3-D computer model approximates the installation of America Today as it originally appeared at The New School for Social Research.
Q & A
Why did AXA Equitable donate the mural to The Metropolitan Museum of Art?
When the mural was purchased in 1984, the company made a commitment to New York that it would keep the painting intact and on public view in the city. Donating the mural to The Metropolitan Museum of Art honors that commitment.
Where did AXA Equitable display the mural when it was the owner?
For 26 years, the company displayed the mural in the lobby of its headquarters buildings. From 1986-1996, the painting was installed in the lobby at 787 Seventh Avenue; from 1996-2012, the mural was on display in the lobby of 1290 Avenue of the Americas.
What triggered the donation of America Today at this time?
At the request of the owner of 1290 Avenue of the Americas, the Benton's masterwork was removed from the building lobby in January 2012 to make way for a renovation, which initiated the project to find a permanent home for the mural.
Why is America Today considered a cultural landmark?
The enduring legacy of America Today is that it introduced a new form of mural painting into American art, one based on the celebration of American life drawn from firsthand observation. Learn more here.
|The New School for Social Research commissions Benton to paint a mural for the third floor of a new Art Deco-style building at 66 West 12th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Benton works on the mural in a loft on East 12th Street. In the fall of 1930, the 10-panel work titled America Today is installed in a boardroom on the third floor of the New School building. The mural is unveiled to the public in January 1931.
|The New School announces the sale of America Today to Maurice Segoura, a Manhattan art dealer, for $2 million on the condition that it not be resold outside the U.S. or broken up and sold as individual panels. Located in a heavily-used room at the New School, the mural is not getting the public attention or physical protection it deserves. New York art museums know the Benton mural is for sale but do not buy it.|
Maurice Segoura informs the New School of great difficulty reselling the mural and starts negotiating with a consortium of museums, making it likely the painting will be broken up.
Herbert Rickman, special aide to New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Barnabas McHenry of The Reader’s Digest Association and art historian Emily Braun work together to find companies and developers with building projects that can incorporate the mural into a new design. Affidavits and testimonials to keep the mural intact and in New York are signed by leading art historians and critics.
Maurice Segoura signs with Sotheby Parke Bernet (now Sotheby's) to sell the mural in May 1984. Almost certainly, the mural will be broken up and sold as individual panels.
Rickman and others negotiate a deal with Sotheby’s: A private buyer, if found, will have until January 15, 1984 to buy out the auction without penalty.
In December, Herbert Rickman happens to meet John Carter, president, Equitable Life, at a social gathering. From Carter, he learns the company plans to build new headquarters at 787 Seventh Avenue. Carter agrees to a meeting to discuss the plight of the Benton mural.
|On January 26, Rickman, McHenry and Braun meet with Carter. Also attending are Benjamin Holloway, Equitable’s chief real estate officer, and Dave Harris, chief of staff. The next day, at a meeting with building architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, Equitable makes the decision to purchase the mural. Carter notes: “We saw immediately that the idea was irresistible.”
On February 1, Equitable officially acquires the mural for $3.1 million – or $3.4 million with tax.
|Two years later, after extensive cleaning and restoration, America Today is unveiled to great critical acclaim in the company’s new headquarters at 787 Seventh Avenue.|
|America Today is moved to 1290 Avenue of the Americas, the company's new headquarters.|
In January, the mural is taken down and placed in storage at the request of the building owner, to make way for a lobby renovation.
In December, America Today is given as a donation to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
AXA & Art
A Commitment to Cultural Philanthropy and Safeguarding Cultural Heritage
AXA Equitable is part of the global AXA Group, a worldwide leader in financial protection strategies and wealth management. AXA Group’s commitment to protecting and transmitting cultural heritage is a natural extension of our business as an insurer.
Our cultural and heritage philanthropy actions are closely linked to our corporate responsibility. AXA Equitable’s donation of Benton’s America Today mural to the Met reflects AXA Group's longstanding contributions to safeguarding cultural heritage. For more information about AXA Groups’s history of enriching public collections with masterpieces, click here.
Also among AXA Group’s member companies is the world’s leading art insurance specialist, AXA Art Insurance.
AXA Art combines its art market know-how and insurance expertise to offer tailored coverage solutions for private and corporate collections, museums, galleries, conservators, artists and historic properties.
Due to its international presence and network of art experts deeply woven into the global arts community, AXA Art maintains in-depth knowledge of the values and trends of the international art market. The company not only helps its clients to protect their cultural assets but also provides expert advice on all aspects of managing a collection including loss prevention, mitigation and conservation.
AXA Art’s mission is to protect the collecting and art community against financial loss resulting from physical loss or damage to the insured objects and to help preserve cultural objects for future generations. As part of this commitment, the company supports initiatives in the art world which cultivate knowledge and education in the fine arts. For more information about AXA Art visit www.axa-art.com