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Corporate art goes public

— January 2014

Associated media

Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, 
Short Cut (2003) 
Mixed media. 

Ottagono, Vittorio Emanuele Gallery, Milan. 
Photo: Jens Ziehe. Commissioned & prod. by Fondazione Nicola Trussardi.
 Courtesy the artists, Massimo De Carlo Gallery Milan

A book that celebrates the great corporate art collections and programmes of the world will be launched at Bonhams HQ, 101 New Bond Street, on Monday 13 January  2014, followed by a two-week exhibition of selected works from leading collections, continuing until 24 January.

Authors Peter Harris and Shirley Reiff Howarth have set out to document the best corporate art programmes worldwide – the first time this has been attempted. It has taken them some five years to compile the work. If the art they examine were found in one museum, it would be one of the finest in the world.

The exhibition, to be held at Bonhams’ recently opened galleries, runs from 14 to 24 January and features paintings, prints, sculpture, photography and video art from a selection of major companies in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Scandinavia.

The companies represented are: ABN AMRO Neuflize Vie (France), Canary Wharf, Clifford Chance, Fleming Wyfold Art Foundation (UK), Eon (Germany),Fundacion Telefonica, Fundacion Mapfre (Spain), Hiscox, HSBC (France), Simmons and Simmons, Statoil (Norway).

The exhibition comprises approximately four works from each corporation, with a predominantly modern and contemporary slant. The loans include a René Magritte, a Paul Delvaux, as well as works by Francis Cadell, Tracey Emin, Georg Grosz, Otto Dix, Roberto Matta, Antoni Tapies, Richard Hamilton, Ellis O'Connell and Cornelia Parker.

It is thought that the first corporate collection was formed during the Renaissance in 1472 by the Monte dei Paschi bank in Siena, a collection that survives, and thrives, to this day. By the mid 1990s half of the Fortune 500 companies and another 2,000 companies in the US and Europe were actively collecting art. Estimated to be worth billions, some of the many treasures to be found in this fascinating book have been seen by the public on loan to variety of museums in traveling exhibitions, but others have never been seen before.

The authors note that reasons for corporate art collecting are many and various and while investing time and funds into an art programme can be seen to be outside the range of a company's core business activity there are tangible benefits to them – to use business jargon, corporate art is a 'win-win-win' activity:

The company wins because art in the workplace can boost staff morale and creativity. Art helps a company project it's corporate identity in a memorable way, and the acquisition of high quality artwork establishes a company as a progressive organization -with a dynamic approach to business. The Community wins – both locally and nationally – because it has a local champion endorsing the cultural life of a region.
 The artists win, because they attract commercial patronage and thus establish greater exposure and new audiences for their work.

For more on corporate art collections, see Jenny Kingsley’s article, ‘21st-century Medici’ in Cassone, February 2013.

A new book on Cornelia Parker will be reviewed in February's Cassone.

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