An art bet for the big game: US museums wager loan of painting on outcome of Super Bowl

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On the line in the 12 February Super Bowl—the championship match of the US’s National Football League, which this year pits the Kansas City Chiefs against the Philadelphia Eagles—is not only the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy but also the (temporary) fate of a major artwork. The foremost art museums in each team’s city—the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA)—have wagered a loan of a work to the rival city’s museum on the outcome of the match.

Under the terms of the bet, the museum in the winning team’s city will receive a prized painting on loan from the losing city’s museum, to be delivered by a curatorial delegation from the losing institution.

“When the Eagles soar to victory, we will warmly greet our friends from the Nelson-Atkins and treat them to unforgettable cheesesteaks here in Philadelphia,” says Sasha Suda, the director and chief executive of the PMA, in a statement. “They have such a remarkable collection, and we will be thrilled to share a piece of it with our visitors.”

Not to be out-boasted, the Nelson-Atkins director and chief executive Julián Zugazagoitia said, “We expect to offer our Philadelphia friends something they’ll long remember after the Chiefs make short work of the Eagles.” He added, “We won’t let them leave, of course, before they can taste the best of our Kansas City barbecue.” The city claims to be the barbecue capital of the world.

Museums have placed similar bets on the outcome of the Super Bowl, on and off, since 2010. Last year, Southern California’s Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens and the Cincinnati Art Museum wagered loans of their respective portrait paintings by Robert Henri on the outcome of Super Bowl LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals. In the end, the Cincinnati Art Museum sent its Henri painting, Patience Serious (1915), west after the Rams beat the Bengals. The PMA last put a work on the line in 2018, but after the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in that year’s Super Bowl, it received John Singleton Copley’s portrait Mrs. James Warren (Mercy Otis) (around 1763) on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This year, the Nelson-Atkins and the PMA have not chosen specific works for the bet. Instead, according to spokespersons for both museums, the losing institution’s curators “will huddle to decide” on the work to be loaned after the big game.

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