By Nina Pether
In recent years a generational shift has occurred in the world of corporate art. Businesses are updating their addresses to state of the art buildings designed by iconic architects including Lord Norman Foster, Harry Seidler and newcomer Clive Wilkinson, and traditional corporate art collections are being replaced by innovative installations and changeable exhibition series. The reason for this transformation? To cultivate an image of innovation and success – a vital requirement in a dynamic and volatile commercial environment where corporate identity is crucial to maintaining a competitive edge.
In Australia, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte, Allens Arthur Robinson and Macquarie Group are some of the organisations that are leading the way in this new approach to corporate collecting. Their corporate art collections are being integrated into the branding strategy as their global footprints expand to include company logos, contemporary office space and art. There is a marked difference in the levels these firms have gone to in order to revamp their image. Some have employed leading art consultants and given them free reign on artistic direction, while others have a more conservative approach to the collection and exhibition of their collections.
Deutsche Bank, an international investment bank, is leading the way in the collection and display of their art. In their Sydney office at Deutsche Bank Place, the art collection is incorporated into the infrastructure of the aluminium and glass-clad building designed by Lord Norman Foster.
Art consultant, Virginia Wilson, says ‘the bank’s move in 2005 to Deutsche Bank Place was seen as an opportunity by the firm to get up to speed with the renowned international collection of contemporary art’. Artists were commissioned to create site-specific works and Wilson identified areas that would be the most receptive areas for the installations. Australian contemporary artist Nike Savvas, created the concept for Cascade, a waterfall installation in a staircase flowing from top to bottom. Varying shades of blue aluminium discs reflect the light creating a waterfall effect that is visible from the open plan offices.
Previously, the bank’s collection had been dominated by the works of traditional Australian artists including Arthur Boyd, John Firth Smith and John Olsen, conflicting with the bank’s contemporary direction. These older works were replaced with state of the art installations by experienced artists from around the world, more congruent with the bank’s image as an innovative market leader.
Norwegian contemporary artist, Anna Karin Furunes was commissioned to do a work on a sound proof door in an executive space. Working from a photograph of a European winter landscape, aluminium was hand punched to recreate the scene, another example of the innovative manufacturing techniques used to transform the interior architecture into art.
There is an unmistakeable presence of art throughout Deutsche Bank, which Wilson attributes to the firm’s boldness to bite the bullet and integrate a collection into the infrastructure. She says, ‘It is about the integrity and commitment to having the art, as most of it cannot be sold if they renovate or move premises’.
Wilson has endeavoured to push the boundaries of how far art can be taken in a corporate environment, and whilst each work is put through a selection committee for approval, there are some controversial pieces. Tour of Duty, a photographic image of a helicopter transposed on to a glass wall is part of a series of photographic works making a political statement on the war. Initially receiving pushback with concerns surrounding its military theme, the helicopter was chosen because it is an icon of our times.
Deutsche Bank’s endeavour to transform their art collection has been well received in the art world. ‘I tell staff they should be proud of it because amongst my peer group it is incredibly well regarded’ says Wilson. Internally it has created an inspiring environment in which to work, and is strategically displayed for the enjoyment of clients in reception and meeting areas.
Another firm leading the way in corporate art collecting is accounting firm Deloitte. Art Advisor Barbara Flynn has made company collections for ABN AMRO (RBS), UBS and Credit Suisse, each fine-tuned to the particular company. Understanding that accountants might prefer a methodical and considered way of collecting, Flynn dissuaded Deloitte from going to the market to buy a collection of Australian works all in one go when it came to thinking about the art for its newly refurbished office floor at Grosvenor Place. She recommended that the firm undertake an exhibition series instead, which she argued would be a unique form of corporate support for art in Australia like no other company initiative. Since 2005 the New Australian Art exhibition series has challenged stereotypes of all sorts, combining Asian-born, Aboriginal, emerging, mid-career and senior artists, who benefit equally from inclusion. The art on view is sourced from the artists’ representatives from among Sydney and Melbourne’s commercial galleries.
The firm holds two exhibitions a year, each long-running, and purchases artworks from these, to form a permanent collection. The exhibition space is the firm’s main visitors’ floor which receives upwards of three thousand visitors per week, an audience largely unaware of contemporary art. One side of the floor accommodates the temporary shows, and the other holds meeting rooms with the permanent collection. ‘We intentionally structured the way art is presented on the floor to serve as a reminder to Deloitte executives and staff of the important role played by their support, which has both a permanent face as well as a dynamic, changing exhibition component’ says Flynn.
The permanent collection consists of works by living Australian artists including John Barbour, Mikala Dwyer, Rocket Mattler, Tracey Moffatt, Simryn Gill and Noel McKenna and explores a variety of mediums including painting, sculpture, photography and video installation. The works are selected by a panel of art specialists and Deloitte executives, with a strong representation of young people who undertake a conscientious process led by Flynn, involving careful vetting and passionate discussion of the relative merits of each work.
Flynn has free reign on the artistic direction and Deloitte is happy with the results so far. The list of artists who have been showcased is long and impressive, indicative of the intentional broad-mindedness of the series. Stephen Birch’s installations of everyday objects, Susan Norrie’s and Ricky Maynard’s political commentary, Julie Dowling’s complex paintings of cultural history and humanity, and Zehra Ahmed’s social commentary via new media; are just a small sample of the 250 artists who have been involved.
In the context of a sporting nation, art is now the platform for Deloitte corporate entertaining and has proven attractive to prospective employees, who regard the firm’s support for art as an important point of difference. So far Deloitte does not have a global strategy for collecting and exhibiting art, however Flynn believes that the success of the initiative in the Sydney office may set a trend and influence other offices. She admires Deloitte’s boldness in having embraced the exhibition series and is proud of what has been achieved thus far, including recognition in 2010 with an Honourable Mention, Christie’s International Awards for Best Corporate Art Collections and Programmes.
Deutsche Bank and Deloitte are examples of how the role of the art consultant has been crucial to reinforcing a company’s chosen philosophy with art and ensuring their collection is particular to the organisation and, in the case of Deloitte, like no other initiative. Modest budgets have not restricted creativity, if anything creativity has been enhanced as consultants are encouraged to think outside the box of traditional corporate collecting.
Australian law firm Allens Arthur Robinson has a more traditional approach to collecting.
Since the mid-1970s it has built a substantial collection of Australian contemporary art. There are over 1,500 works that appear before the firm’s staff in its national and international offices. Most of the paintings have been acquired for modest prices and for their vibrancy in enlivening office environments. The firm ensures that more people than the staff, and visiting clients, enjoy the works by: conducting internal tours, having many of the works available online and regularly loaning works to galleries.
The Allens collection reflects the passion of one of its former partners, Hugh Jamieson who was the driving force behind it. In 1993 during an introductory speech made by Jamieson for an exhibition of selected works, he said:
‘Artists encourage us to confront the new, not only through the colour and vitality of their works, but also by the messages they convey. By supporting working artists – through the purchase of their works and, more recently by commissioning temporary site-specific projects for our offices – the firm is encouraging the development of cultural expression; by providing a platform for this expression, the firm makes a statement about the sort of Australia it believes in’.
In the Allens Sydney reception floor, the walls are lined with works by Rosalie Gascoigne, David Aspden, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Dale Frank and Ildiko Kovaks, works which had been purchased early in the artists’ careers. The firm’s strategy is to continue to support emerging artists, visiting artists at their studios and following their careers. .
Allens is also located in Deutsche Bank Place and uses the building’s formidable architecture to showcase not only its contemporary art collection but also commissions artists to create site-specific works for its project space. This space is visible from the glass lifts and highlights works in the glass vitrines of its tenancy.. Here, artists create new works that remain in-situ for a minimum of twelve months. During that time the works are photographed, scholarly essays are written about them and a catalogue is created to mark the event. Works by Nigel Milsom, the most recent artist to be commissioned, are currently displayed in this space. These paintings are predominantly black and white and reflect Milsom’s interests in still-life imagery, advertisements and photography. Potted orchids, martial arts figures, hawks and doves in flight make a visual statement, illustrating the firm’s preference for art over company logos and signage. Allens sees this as another opportunity to support emerging artists by promoting their work in this way.
The curatorial approach to the collection is straightforward. There are thematic, and stylistic strategies to the hang in the Allens offices. Artists are grouped together because of their relationships not only to figuration, geometric abstraction, colour field and abstract expressionism to name a few, but to each other. At other times thirty years of an artist’s practice may be presented in a particular hang which is the case for artist, Helen Eager.
The curators of the Allens art collection are Ewen McDonald and Maria Poulos. Poulos sees her role as disseminating the artwork and educating staff and visitors regarding the collection. As a result, many initiatives have been started within the firm including internships with the Sydney University wherein post-graduate students spend a total of twenty days with the curators. Artists are also regularly interviewed regarding their practice for the purpose of educating staff.
The firm has stuck firmly to Jamieson’s legacy of collecting and although partner, David Maloney overseas the selection process, there is no committee involved in the collection strategy influencing the diversity of the collection. The collection reflects the cultural development of Australian painting.
When Macquarie Group relocated its head office to No.1 Martin Place, it was an opportunity to display their art differently and in so doing update their image. They began collecting in 1986, when the Managing Director at the time, Tony Berg, also a keen collector, was impressed by a Swiss Bank. In 1986 Berg decided to take it a step further and develop an art collection that would identify with the firm and reflect its identity. The theme of the collection was and still is the land and its psyche, offering interpretations of Australian landscapes. Helen Burton, the manager of the Macquarie Group Collection, says, ‘We generally support emerging artists and if they progress and are successful we will follow their career; this is how we add back to the community’.
In the reception area of the client space, a large work has been commissioned by Australian artist, Savanhdary Vongpoothorn. Currents is largely influenced by her Lao heritage and represents the interconnectedness of different cultures, which translates as a rich and diverse landscape of interweaving plant and animal life.
Bronwyn Oliver was also commissioned to do a copper sculpture Cursive which represents the signature of a banker. The corridors are lined with paintings by familiar artists including; Ann Thomson, Emily Kngwarreye, Euan Macleod, Luke Sciberras, Susan Norrie, Louise Hearman, Rosalie Gascoigne, Fiona Foley, Tim Maguire and William Robinson.
An internal art committee manages the selection process and an art consultant supplements their information. ‘The Committee go out and propose works to the other members saying it fits the bill. There is often a lot of debate as to whether it fits the theme and is an Australian landscape’, explains Burton. Until his untimely death Nick Waterlow was for many years the external consultant to the Macquarie Group Collection, and encouraged these bankers to have faith in their own taste – the level of input from those on the committee is testament to this.
‘We buy pending on our needs but generally we buy steadily throughout the year’ says Burton. In each office globally a proposal will be sent with a selection of works that are a mini representation of the collection. They will include different media, ages and scales. ‘Art has become part of the Macquarie signature. In any office around the world Macquarie is recognisable by their logo and their art’, says Burton.
These corporate art collections have become more than just wall decoration and symbols of philanthropy – they are defining and represent the way in which an organisation wants to be seen. As a result the collections rival that of most museums. Whilst these varied and impressive collections are not, in some cases, accessible to the wider community, they have encouraged debate and have enlivened the communities within these organisations creating a more inspiring and stimulating environment in which to work.
Deutsche Bank http://australia.db.com/australia/
Allens Arthur Robinson http://www.aar.com.au/
Macquarie Group http://www.macquarie.com.au/mgl/au