ARTIST Robert Ballagh has accused Bank Of Ireland of "cultural vandalism" over its decision to auction off some of its art collection next month.
The 67-year-old said the bank's sale of 155 pieces, expected to fetch €1.3m, will "flood the market at a time when it is totally depressed".
"By doing this they are . . . saying 'We're not interested in maintaining our collection and we're getting rid of it'," Robert Ballagh told the Irish Independent, claiming artists should close accounts with the bank in protest.
The painter admits that he has "personal reason" for being opposed to the sale, as one of his own works 'Woman With Barnett Newman', part of a larger artwork 'People Looking at an Exhibition', is to be part of the sale.
"I had an exhibition at the Hendrix Gallery in 1972 at which the Bank Of Ireland bought the entire exhibition. What that did was create a canvas which was 36 feet long and 8 feet high. Elements of this work are going to be auctioned off on a piecemeal basis.
"I would argue that it is cultural vandalism to break this up. It will never be put back together again; it will never exist as a unique piece ever again.
"I would argue that this is a very iconic piece representing Irish art at that moment in time," he added.
Works by Paul Henry, Louis Le Brocquy, Basil Blackshaw, Patrick Collins and Norah McGuinness will also go under the hammer, with the proceeds going to community-based arts organisations. Auctioneers Adams on St Stephen's Green are not charging a commission.
Robert Ballagh claims Bank Of Ireland, which has now received €3.5bn in state support, could have done more to ensure the art had gone to a public collection.
"They have made no efforts to negotiate with public collections, or to do anything to make these pieces available. I think they owe the public a lot," he said.
However, Dan Loughrey, head of corporate communications at BoI, defended the sale saying: "Bank Of Ireland invested in artists, including Robert Ballagh, at a very early stage of their careers -- when that was critical.
"What we're doing is taking works with an established value in the marketplace and using that to support a new generation of emerging artists.
"With regard Mr Ballagh's work in the auction, it's our understanding this is a sequence of works intended either to be standalone pieces or to be seen together. We reject any suggestion of cultural vandalism.
"The remainder of the collection will be sold over a period of years, in a very responsible way, so it doesn't depress the market."
Art from the bank's collection will be auctioned on Wednesday, November 24.