Art in the boardroom

Companies across the US are using art to help humanize the space for employees and enhance their public image. To these ends, they are spending more than $300 million a year on building collections of paintings, sculpture, and other works.

Corporate collections are also building company assets as their value appreciates each year and giving commissions and income to thousands in the art community.

Experts at the recent 1980 World Art Market Conference in New York referred to the dynamic evolution of corporate art collecting over the past two decades and noted today's higher standards and the demand for quality works.

"We've come a long way from the time that executives thought that office art consisted of toothpick prints," said one consultant to the business world.

Corporate art collecting is said to date back to the early years of the century when the Santa Fe Railroad gave free train tickets to the Southwest to artists in return for a painting that could be used for company advertising. Most of the hundreds of collections now in existence, however, have been developed in the past 25 years. IBM was one of the first corporations to collect art, followed by other giants such as General Mills, Container Corporation, and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Jack Boulton, vice-president and director of the art program at the Chase Manhattan Bank, told the World Art Market Conference that he was now overseeing an art collection that was begun by the bank in 1959 and now includes more than 5,000 paintings and photographs, as well as sculpture, textiles, and folk art. These works of art come, he says, from 96 different countries and are now displayed in 86 overseas banking locations and in 200 locations in the United States. Chase was one of the first corporations to buy the work of young contemporary artists. Quality has been the company's measure of acceptability.

Since most people have had little art education, Chase Manhattan plans to exhibit new acquisitions in the company cafeteria and to employ teaching methods that will help employees learn more about the art and the artists.

This art director says he has taken corporate officers on a tour of Soho and uptown art galleries to introduce them to new art and artists. This helps them feel more knowledgable and "comfortable" with the types of art that the bank is collecting and that one day may hang in their own offices. He has made sure that every employee is invited to the exhibition of American folk paintings which the bank is currently sponsoring at the Whitney Museum of Art in Manhattan. Mr. Boulton sees his company's comprehensive art-acquisition program as an essential part of a broader "corporate cultural policy."

The Pepsico Corporation, headquartered in the village of Purchase, in Westchester County, N.Y., is making its contribution to the community and to the concept of corporate art collecting, with a landscaped sculpture garden. The garden features 25 major works by such artists as Henry Moore, Giocometti, Rodin , David Smith, Louise Nevelson, and Alexander Calder. Chairman Donald M. Kendall began the collection 10 years ago and has supervised the selection and placement of the museum-quality sculpture. The garden is part of a 114-acre setting, and it is open daily to be enjoyed by the 1,300 employees, as well as the public.Surrounding schools bus children in to see the art, and the sculpture garden is now listed as a major tourist attraction in the county. Mr. Kendall's collection has not only "enhanced the environment" surrounding Pepsico, but has been a symbol of outreach to the community.

Another example of corporate collecting was cited by Jean H. Johnson, manager of the fine arts department for the Southeast Banking Corporation in Miami. As head of this "in house" art department, she has for five years been in charge of purchasing and installing art in 72 banks around the state and of keeping an inventory intact as the works of art rotate from time to time. Ms. Johnson has authority to select art up to $5,000 in value. She works with a corporate arts committee when choosing art of higher value. She says exposure to corporate art has stimulated the interest of employees in attending art classes and going to art museums and that art museum memberships have increased as a result, enriching the community as well as the workers.

Ms. Johnson and her department are also involved in various community philanthropic programs. This year she has helped coordinate programs that took both art and artists into local hospital wards in an effort to help patients.

Not all corporations are so orderly and well organized in their art collecting. Some collections have been assembled by people who had little training for the job, and their collections must now be reviewed by "evaluation committees" who are giving them more professional reassessments. A good many corporate art collections have been started but have fallen into disarray because no permanent person or department was placed in charge of them.

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