Leaving the outer-office walls bare makes a company seem unfriendly; covering them with satin sunsets brands it as tasteless. The safe solution: museum-quality art -- from quality museums.

For example, the Boston real-estate-investment firm of Aldrich, Eastman & Waitch was lent 20 original prints and paintings in exchange for a $5,000 donation to a local museum. "For a relatively modest contribution," marvels AE&W president William Helm, "we get art that would require an enormous investment if we were to buy it." Not only that, but when the firm moved to larger quarters, museum experts came in and designed wall space and lighting for free. An extra benefit: good public relations generated from hosting after-hours art shows.

Here's a sampling of museums that lend within their regions:

Decordova Museum and Sculpture Park
Lincoln, Mass., 617-259-8355

Single-year loans to corporate members who donate $3,000. No fee but may charge $50 to install extra-large work. Evaluates space and security, including exposure to smoke and sunlight. Considers borrower's taste in offering a selection of the museum's choosing, drawn from collection of contemporary New England artists. Transports, installs, labels, and insures. If work is stolen, borrower pays a $250 deductible. Lends photos, paintings, prints, mixed media, wall constructions, reliefs; no sculpture.

Los Angeles County Museum Of Art (LACMA)
Los Angeles, 213-857-6500

Does not lend from museum collection; instead maintains special rental gallery representing emerging California artists. Typical piece rents for $50 for two months. Minimum term is six months, renewable up to five years. If lessor opts to buy, payments are applied to sale price. Lessor is charged installation fee of $50 and insurance. Photos, oils, prints, sculpture available.

Whitney Museum of American Art
New York City, 212-570-3600

Loans from museum's collection are available to corporate members for donation: $2,500 gets one work for a year; $25,000 gets 15. The museum inspects your office to determine safest public-view locations; arranges transportation, installation, and insurance. Paintings, prints, and sculpture include prominent artists such as Calder, Hopper, Pollock, deKooning, Johns, Rauschenberg. A well-kept secret currently tapped by a mere 21 companies, 10 of them with less than $50 million in sales.

Orlando Museum of Art
Orlando, Fla., 407-896-4231

Original prints leased from classy post World War II collection (Motherwell, Warhol, Lichtenstein). Rentals start at $200 each for 11 months and include installation, insurance, educational material. Museum recalls all rented works every March, then puts them up for grabs again in April. About 60 are rerented by businesses. -- Michael P. Cronin

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