“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” said Pablo Picasso. But, as Steve Coomber discovers, deep in the dusty engine room of the corporate world you are as likely to find a Monet as money.
The late 1980s was a boom time for auction houses around the world. A remarkable series of art purchases, many by Japanese corporations such as the Mitsukoshi Department Store and Nippon Autopolis, culminated in the sale of Vincent van Gogh’s the Portrait of Dr. Gachet for £49.1 million, at Christie’s New York in 1990. Portrait of Dr. Gachet was bought by Japanese industrialist Ryoei Saito, at the time chairman of Daishowa Paper Manufacturing. The painting was shipped to a secret location in Tokyo, locked away in a climate-controlled vault, and has not been seen in public since.
This is the popular image of corporate art: trophy art – large, expensive paintings either adorning the offices of senior executives, or more frequently languishing unseen in a bank vault. Increasingly, however, this view is misguided. More and more major corporations are embracing the notion of art for art’s sake.
The lure of art is explained by Gerry Griffin, of the Business Communication Forum (BCF) and author of The Power Game. “First, art can be quite a good investment,” says Griffin. “It is also associated with innovation and breaking the rules, thinking outside the box. Companies like the sound of that, and use art to say there is a different way of looking at things. Plus there is the corporate social responsibility side with companies becoming involved in worthy projects which are still related to what the company does or where it operates in some way.”
A new aesthetic
Few companies embrace the concept of corporate art like Deutsche Bank. Art permeates the corporate infrastructure. Deutsche Bank buildings are an introduction to the history of art. Whole floors are named after artists. Visitors to the company’s headquarters in Frankfurt can take a ride in the lift to the Horst Antes floor or the Joseph Beuys’ floor; both famous German artists. In the London HQ, Winchester House, executives hold meetings in the Graham Sutherland, or Francis Bacon conference room.
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