Corporate Art Collections by Charlotte Appleyard and James Salzmann
Lund Humphries/Ashgate Publishing Group in association with Sotheby’s Institute of Art
In the past, art was commissioned to support a religion or a cultural paradigm, but corporations can not be seen to do that. They generally avoid nudity, religious and political subjects. A stodgy law firm might have a few hunting prints in the waiting room and some portraits of the founder in the board room. But in 1960 companies were ready to step it up. The Whitney Museum in New York held a unique show Business Buys American Art. Corporations bought art to use in their advertising campaigns, color brochures, annual reports, as limited edition gifts to its stockholders and clients, and presented art as awards. Modern art on the walls of their offices gave a view of their company as up to date and even go ahead.
In 2011 there were 900 serious American corporation collections. In China, 5% of the GDP has been promised to go to cultural development by 2016. They see art as a “new pillar of industry.”
How are these collections operated and run and what drives the collection is covered in the insightful book by Appleyard and Salzmann. They looked at what they considered important collections only and recognized that things could and will change, but they define three major areas of corporate collecting.
Curatorial collections that are chosen by one person to enhance the experience of staff and clients are labeled here as “Environmental Enrichment” “Emblematic” collections are those that mainly reflect the identity of the corporation. “Patronage” collections are those that serve the community showing a social responsibility to support the arts. Some of these collections have become galleries separate from the corporation or give an annual art prize. Corporation can also sponsor exhibitions we see in museums.
Collections often have overlapping parts of all three. And they often deal with some of the same issues.
- The art is there to fill blank places. The art work has to fit the space although in special cases, the space is made to fit the art.
- Corporation use advisors, either hired or in special cases, in house, but one person in the corporation is the driving force for acquiring art and helps set the annual budget.
- The art is expected to be inspiring to the staff and clients and not only bring out their own creativity, but also be an ice breaker for networking occasions. In the best cases, artists are brought in to talk to employees so they can engage and relate to the works. In even rarer cases, the staff is allowed to choose which of the art in the collection is displayed in their own offices.
- Both public relations in terms of community outreach and publicity for the company are impacted by the art. Both can enhance the corporation’s image and aid in branding. Art can be a point of differentiation between companies and help define its message. Art from emerging countries might be perfect for companies selling bonds from emerging markets or cutting edge art for companies trying to attract the most creative of a young workforce.
- Art has to be able to stand up physically and emotionally to the office environment. The setting is not the same as a museum who supply with the best lighting, temperature control, security and un-interrupted background.
- Collections do have investment potential and prestige value connected with monetary value. But they represent a tiny percentage of the budget of the company. Most companies declare that their choices are not monetarily driven, only quality drive.
- Should the collection be private or do they have a duty to make it available to the public with all the expense and worry that involves?
- If the corporation spend vast sums on the art collection, how is that perceived by the employees and stock holders especially in hard times?
The book is packed with examples that are well presented and fascinating. Each company has a distinct personality formed by many of these criteria and it is fun to read about each and see the illustrations of the actual art work. They use the old fashion way of grouping all the color photos in sections which is too bad, as it would be good to see the art works next to the descriptions. As a visual aid, these are very high quality images by wonderful artists.
To give you a brief idea of some of the nuggets of information that I gleaned:
- Successful investment is about being able to embrace uncertainty. Cutting edge art embodies that idea.
- Many employees and visitor turn out to purchase works by the same artist shown in the corporation collection.
- One company named all of it conference rooms after artists.
- Corporations that serve the arts have a vested interest in growing a collection. Art insurers, art shippers, art legal services and art accountant.
- A few corporation have the advantage of being able to produce a product collaboration with actual artists (Like Louis Vuitton handbags with Murakami’s faux Vuitton logo pattern)
- Cost cutting choices encourage buying local to save on shipping, displaying less expensive works on paper and photographs which is often safer as the work is behind glass or plastic.
- One now defunct collection allows for a corridor of controversy for those works that were rejected by the staff. Allowing these works to remain was a clever way to create talking points about the work.
- We need to guard against corporations, which see loans of art as an inexpensive way to decorate.
The book makes mention of the tax laws for what is deductible in term of devaluation and donation and also touches on de-accession. There is a very short section on a few things to consider when starting a collection, but this is not a “how to” book. Maybe that is a pity as we should be trying to encourage more corporate collections. Will, expertise and funding rarely come together, but this book is a showcase for those corporations that have created added value through collecting art. The alternative is blank walls and what does that say about any business?