Updated: Jan 28
Art collections are a melange of artworks by individuals or institutions. Most of the world’s oldest museums grew out of private collections by royalty, aristocracy, wealthy individuals and/or donations in the society. These museum collections are available for the public to see in their institution. However, there are corporate collections too, collected by organisations like companies, banks and governmental and semi-governmental bodies. These artworks are put up in office spaces, to acknowledge the cultural importance of art, among other reasons.
This practice of corporate collecting was started by David Rockefeller in the 1950s for the Chase Manhattan Bank. As an art enthusiast and the director of the bank, Rockefeller suggested that an art collection be bought to decorate the office space and inspire employees. In his keynote address to the National Industrial Board Conference in September 1966, he said, “The arts are a vital part of the human experience, and surely our success as a civilised society will be judged largely by the creative activities of our citizens in art, architecture, music and literature… The corporate community as a whole has a long way to go in accepting the arts as an appropriate area for the exercise of its social responsibility.”
This undeniably started a trend, and even a competition, in the corporate world. Now, the JP Morgan Chase art collection has a diverse assemblage of artworks from Sol LeWitt to Robern Rauschenberg in addition to pieces by lesser-known artists that are culturally significant to the company. Over the years, these organisations have also developed a team of curators and art advisors that looks into acquisitions for the companies.
Peeking into the art collections of corporations
1. Deutsche Bank – Housing the Greats
The corporation indulges in the theme of works on paper and is focused on buying artwork through the primary market – when the artwork becomes available for the first time either directly from the artists’ studio, gallery or an art exhibition. The company does not buy artwork from auction houses and focuses more on artwork by living artists. Starting corporate collecting in the 1980s, Deutsche Bank now houses the biggest art collection in the world – 57,000 artworks spread across 900 offices.
Their collection includes:
a. Vik Muniz’s portrait of Marlene Dietrich made of diamond dust accumulated from thousands of diamonds. The artist did this series to make portraits of famous celebrities from the silver screen and cast a glittering image on their persona.
b. The corporation also owned Gerhard Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild” which is one of the largest abstract paintings made by the artist and has been described as “chromatically astounding”. He is now the most valuable Western artist in the Asian market after the Sotheby’s auction held on 5th October 2020.
c. An untitled artwork made in 2000 by James Narres, a contemporary artist who is known for creating art with single, continuous brushstrokes creating fluid and abstract forms, also sits in their workplace. The artist paints directly overhead to avoid drips of paint in the artwork or “other signs of gravity”.
Their Wall Street office has a different theme for each floor so that employees and clients can better appreciate the artworks in a specific context such as “Drawings by Sculptors,” “All About Eve” (figurative works), “Off the Grid,” and “Theories of Relativity” (works highlighting differences in scale).
2. UBS – Redefining Impressive Collections
UBS has a corporate contemporary art collection in over 700 offices around the world. The bank believes that “artists are spokespeople of our time.” Their collection which started in the 60s has represented artists from over 70 countries. The merger of investment banks PaineWebber, Union Bank of Switzerland and Swiss Bank Corporation formed the foundation of the UBS art collection. Artwork collected by Donald Marron, former PaineWebber chairman and MoMA board president, surged in price over the years after the merger. These major works included art by William de Kooning and Jasper John among others.
Mary Rozell, Global Head of the UBS art collection says, “Our artworks are doing their job in client-facing spaces around the world,” comparing it with the museum practice of keeping artworks in storage. The impressive collection includes famous artworks like:
a. Andy Warhol’s “Chicken Noodle, from Campbell's Soup I”
A scathing commentary on consumer culture and mechanical reproduction, Warhol created a series of silkscreen prints that highlighted cans used almost daily by people including “Onion (Made with Beef Stock)” and “Green Pea”.
b. Liu Wei’s “Liberation No. 3”
Focusing on the transformation of developing cities and the urban landscape, Wei uses geometric and architectural forms in his artwork. His artwork hangs at the bank’s reception area opposite another abstract work by Carlos Cruz-Diez, known for his kinetic work and op-art.
c. Thukral & Tagra’s “Attractively Awful”
The collaborative duo, in “Attractively Awful”, a series of three prints, creates the imagery of Indian goods from the past and present that represent the aspirations and dreams of the common man. They are well known for intersecting values and traditions with a new age symbolism.
3. Microsoft – Encouraging the Up and Coming
Launched in 1987, the Microsoft Art Collection focuses on emerging and mid-career international artists around the globe. With an aim to provoke the mind of employees in thor office space, the company buying artworks that also show promising value in the years to come. They have a tendency to create installations from the melange of works.
As a particularly interesting idea, the designers turned a new office building into a Bauhaus building - a movement that was associated with bringing art back in contact with everyday life. With all the walls painted bright red, bright yellow and bright blue, Microsoft decided to adorn the walls of the building with only black and white artworks. This intersection of architecture, design and art has made the office into a unique art installation.
Interesting artworks from their collection include:
a. Paula Scher’s “The World”
An information-laden map that gives personality to the countries around the world with the text superimposed in and around the borders of the world map that communicates the information overload we face every day. With a deep interest in typography, she’s also been called the “titan of postmodern design”.
b. Jaq Chartier’s “Extension”
The artist explores scientific methods through experimentation with paints and pigments. Drawing inspiration from colour field painting, process art and minimalism, the artist has had her work in the collections of other corporates too. Her work commissioned by Microsoft is a progression of colour that plays with natural and artificial light from different viewpoints.
c. Yunhee Min
A master colourist who works with rainbow hues in geometric shapes, Yunhee Minn explores colour and rhythm.
Art is only an investment for corporations – increasing valuations of the artworks leading to higher net worths in addition to the yearly profits. But, there’s another reason for putting up artworks and commissioning art installations in workplaces too – it lends to the cultural identity that the company wants to be associated with and brings a human touch into the corporate, concrete jungle. Curators select artworks for these collections such that they communicate the company’s beliefs and aspirations; every corporate collection is distinct in this communication.
With most people working from home during the pandemic, the artworks are now isolated, their colours and ideas unable to reach company employees. Check out our blog on locations from famous paintings and fulfill your wanderlust in the pandemic!