I have worked in a number of corporations throughout my career, and I found it quite odd that many of them had these remarkable art galleries.
It really took me by surprise, but nevertheless being an artist myself I was extremely happy to explore these galleries. I never really enjoyed working in corporations so the opportunity to spend my lunch hours surrounded by art was fun.
Perhaps I was distracted by the art, but I never really asked myself why a bank or a telecommunications company would want art; until now.
Why do they do it?
As expected, they don’t really buy art because the like it, but there are other reasons to acquire art.
It turns out that art has been one the best performing asset classes over the past few decades. This is a great way to increase the balance sheet with minimal effort. In fact it’s very much like buying property in that you buy it, hold for a long while and then sell it at a profit.
However art is much better than property because it’s shielded from negative side effects like property bubbles.
In fact, one art piece highlights that bad things can happen to it and still go up in value.
A piece by Banksy was shredded live to an astonished crowd after a private collector purchased it.
And Banksy himself remotely shredded it! And the piece actually went up in value!
Art getting Shredded. Art going up in Value.
However, despite art being a great investment, you still do need to know what to buy.
Often corporations will use artwork as a means to build an identity for themselves. The right collection of artwork can do wonders for a company trying to set the right tone for the investors and shareholders.
It makes sense. After all corporations are non-physical legal constructs that have no personality. So how do you get a personality if you’re a corporation. You buy it of course!
This is where art comes in real handy.
The goal of public relations is too make a company look good.
Buying art services this goal nicely because not to only do you get an investment, but companies can also claim that they support the arts.
This is yet another great way buying art helps a corporation.
Whats wrong with it
Think of the last world famous traditional artist since the start of the millennium. I suspect you can’t think of a single one. Perhaps Damien Hurst comes to mind, but who else?
The last set of well known artists are from the seventies and sixties; Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack and Chuck Close to name a few. However, don’t you think that is strange in a world of Instagram, social media and 24/7 media saturation.
You would think that now we would have a plethora of world famous artists.
It’s not really surprising if you consider that corporations started buying art during the sixties, and that’s when things went downhill. Corporations like Seagram and Chase Manhattan Bank were the first to lead the charge in this regard.
SaveGerhard Richter's Abstraktes Bild sells for £30m in Londonthe GuardianDetail of Abstraktes Bilde, which set a new record for the highest price fetched by a work by a living European artist.
Corporate culture doesn’t allow for striking art to be produced. It wants art that is tame, that isn’t controversial. I believe this is the main reason as to why art has lost its sharpness and hence its significance.
When you hear that this painting by Gerhard Richter called Abstraktes Bild sold for £30.4 million. The first thing that comes to mind is that you’ve got to be joking! We fail to see the historical and artistic importance of the piece itself, specifically because it has been over shadowed by the price speculation.
Corporations have distorted the value of art.
Art is now only seen through the lens of money rather than that of beauty.
Why we should be acquiring art
If corporations are left to dictate the direction of art through their purchasing power, then art itself will die. It will not be a public good and it will not serve society; and that would be a sad day.
We ourselves should buy art from actual artists, musicians and storytellers.
We should buy from these individuals and groups because we want to see beautiful or compelling things in the world.
When we do this, we enrich our society with depth and meaning. We flavor our daily lives with subtlety and nuance. We deepen our reflection on other worldviews and perspectives.
Art and Society are very much intertwined.
If corporations buy art for the wrong reasons, the perhaps we ourselves should acquire it for the right reasons.
And if we buy art, then who knows, maybe we ourselves will be inspired to bring something beautiful into the world too.