Why Do Corporations Buy Art?

Why Do Corporations Buy Art?


There are some obvious reasons why corporations
buy art, like to decorate their walls with images other than stock photography and inspirational
quotes. But in the last few decades the number of
large corporations forming significant art collections has ballooned, and it’s not
just because they’ve got walls to fill. What are their motivations? And is this an entirely virtuous endeavor,
or is there something murky afoot? (Spoiler alert: something murky is afoot.) Before we question it, let’s celebrate the
good parts! Like having art on the walls. Corporations that collect are acknowledging
the significant impact art can have in improving the daily wellbeing of their employees. Your employer might acknowledge your humanity
by offering you occasional breaks or stocking the tampon machine, or it could do so by more
extravagant means, offering free food and drink, nap rooms, or installing a slide, and
yes, by adorning office lobbies and walls with art. Like other workplace perks, art can help attract
and retain employees, inspire them, maybe even improve their productivity. Even if you don’t like the art, it might
still stimulate ideas, or at least give you and your colleagues something to gripe about
together. Art on the walls can serve the clientele,
too, communicating a variety of messages, like maybe a Hudson River School painting
in a wood paneled law office says: “Hey! Not only do we have money, but we’ve had
it a heck of a long time! You can trust us.” Or maybe an enormous painting by Jean-Michel
Basquiat snatched for millions at auction might say: “We grew our pile of money super
fast, and we can grow yours fast, too.” Or something like this might say: “Look
how hip and ahead of the curve I am. I am hip and ahead of the curve in other ways,
too, which I could share with you.” Or it might be more literal: The headquarters
of the Campbell’s Soup Company was long decorated with expensive antique soup tureens,
a way of saying, “We make soup.” (They also collected a Warhol, of course.) Along with architecture and furnishings and
branding, art can communicate corporate identity. Not who they are, necessarily, but who they
want to be seen as. This why a bank that’s over a hundred years
old actively commissions new works from emerging artists for their buildings. The image they, and lots of companies want
to project is not one of the stodgy past, but of the now. Hence a pretty narrow focus on modern and
contemporary art. Art can be a super direct way of making you
think that, say, a warehouse full of quiet coders is actually the next transformative
tech company with its finger on the pulse of tomorrow. Corporate art collections usually have had
organizing principles. Like the Folger Coffee company collected silver
coffee pots. Most take a more subtle approach, like South
Africa’s Standard Bank tends to collect work by artists based in Africa or in other
countries where they conduct business. Many collections originate with art-loving
founders or leadership, like David Rockefeller, who in 1959 began the collection of Chase
Manhattan Bank. He was a lifelong patron of the arts, who
served on the board of the Museum of Modern Art and whose mother founded the museum. While some considered this new practice frivolous,
others soon followed suit, and Chase became the model for other companies worldwide. By the mid-1990s about half of all Fortune
500 companies were collecting art. Today, collections usually still begin with
someone higher-up’s personal interest in art, but they’re quickly dispatched and
overseen by experts and advisors, many of whom have art history backgrounds and curatorial
credentials. These experts help craft a collection that’s
intended to project the company’s vision and mission and values. It can be seen as an extension of marketing
and communications efforts, improving or shaping their public image over time. The Norweigan energy company Equinor not only
displays its collection in and on its prize-winning architectural marvel of a headquarters, but
it has also hung its art works on its North Sea drilling platforms. Companies might buy and display the work of
local artists to invest in their communities and cultivate support. It can be a way of saying: “Hey, we might
be a giant multinational corporation, but we also know what’s going on here in your
town.” More and more companies consider their collections
to be part of their social responsibility policies—a way to interact with the wider
community, spread the proceeds around, and maybe lessen the chances of a proletariat
revolution. Corporate art isn’t always kept inside offices,
either. Many collections are made available to the
public through rotating galleries, or full blown museums, like the Cartier Foundation
for Contemporary Art that opened in Paris in 1994. Or Panasonic’s Shiodome museum in Tokyo that
displays some of the company’s hundreds of works by French Fauvist Georges Rouault. Companies also share their art through loans
to public institutions. And we’re not just talking about individual
works: Sometimes entire museum exhibitions are devoted to single corporate collections. This can spread brand awareness, cultivate
an aura of sophistication, give them a fancy party to invite top clients to, and let other
people know that they aren’t soulless overlords but conscientious philanthropists. Oh, and showing art in a venerable museum
can definitely increase the appraised value of a work of art! Which is why museums usually tread carefully
in this area. But it’s often worth the risk, because there’s
a chance the art could later be donated to the museum, or that the company might sponsor
other shows. And that brings us to the money. Business are for-profit entities with profit-driven
missions, and art is an asset class. Like stocks and bonds and precious metals
and real estate. Art is a risky investment, one that may or
may not pay off in the future, but there are worse ones to make (boats). Art is often considered an expense during
building projects, like architecture and interior design. But unlike wallpaper, a painting isn’t necessarily
going to deteriorate over time. Hired experts play their part here, making
educated bets on artworks that both align with company identity and have a reasonable
chance of appreciating in value. Liz Christensen, the curator of Deutsche Bank’s
art collection explained it this way in 2012: “We’re not buying for investment. But we’re not buying for not investment.” And then there’s taxes. The tax strategies corporations use in the
collection of art vary widely by country. But for companies in some places, purchasing
expensive art can be a strategy for delaying or even avoiding taxation. Because art is usually considered a business
expense, every hundred million dollars of your company’s profits you spend on art
is a hundred million dollars you don’t have to pay taxes on, which often has the effect
of discounting art purchases just as it does with other corporate purchases. Put another way, almost all individuals buy
art with money that has already been taxed. Almost all corporations buy art with money
that has not yet been taxed. So it’s not about avoiding taxes, but it’s
not about not avoiding taxes. Most corporations do not buy art for pure
speculation, to turn around a sell it for a profit a few years later. They tend to keep their work for a while,
which makes artists and galleries more likely to sell to them. But they do indeed sell works sometimes, like
German Commerzbank sold a single Giacometti work at auction in 2010 for 65 million pounds! The contents and valuation of a corporate
collection are usually kept private, that is until the company falls on hard times or
gets sold or dissolved. Then the stakeholders or creditors have to
decide what to do with it. Like when the Seagram Company sold to Vivendi
Universal, Vivendi acquired its entire collection of modern art and decided to sell it all at
auction. With the exception of one work, a beloved
monumental Picasso curtain that had hung in the Seagram Building since 1959, which Vivendi
was persuaded to bequeath to the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Because corporations are balancing a number
of interests when collecting! They want to be good community partners and
seem like good community partners, but never at the expense of their own financial interests. Abraaj Capital, based in United Arab Emirates,
collects and directly funds emerging artists, many of whom live and work in the Middle East
and have been historically overlooked. Abraaj sponsors and runs an annual art prize
and purchases works by the finalists to build their collection. The artists win–they get funding and recognition–and
Abraaj wins because they’ve not only cultivated good will, but also given their collection
artists an accolade that can boost their market value. While art collecting seems to be a resoundingly
positive practice for corporations, what does it mean for everybody else? It’s great that companies are responsible
for bringing new and innovative works into the world, not only supporting artists, but
also a host of other art professionals who help make it happen. The art world has grown tremendously because
of it, with some of the rewards trickling down into communities. But what happens when private collections
are larger and even more impressive than public ones? And what does it mean when corporate leaders
no longer give their art to museums with public-focused missions, and make their own art palaces instead? Whose interests do these companies have in
mind when they’re selecting works, and when they’re deciding who can see it and how? For the most part, you’re not going to see
controversial or challenging work on corporate walls. You’re not going to visit your local bank
and come across, let’s say, a haunting, unforgettable cut paper installation by Kara
Walker, evoking and subverting the imagery of America’s slave-owning past. I like pleasant art, too, but wonder what
effect large-scale corporate buying has on gallery owners when they select which artists
to show, and on artists as they determine their own directions and try to make a living. Corporate collections don’t tend to include
nudes, or anything violent. Some avoid any kind of human representation
whatsoever. Companies have come a long way in embracing
the work of a diverse range of artists, but they’re never going to buy or encourage
the creation of work, like, say, this. Which I think we can all agree should be encouraged
to exist. No matter how good their intentions, Corporations
answer to their shareholders and not to you. Their collection may be to some extent open
and available now, but what about in the future? Having art and funding its creation makes
a company seem not just more trustworthy but more … human. Less like a purely profit-focused entity,
and more like something or someone you can feel good giving your money to. How do we feel about art being used so flagrantly
and effectively as a tool to get us to buy goods and services? Here’s what it leaves me thinking: If big
corporations have acknowledged the centrality of art to well being, why can’t our federal
and local governments? And if companies have figured out that art
is an extremely powerful tool, when will the rest of us realize it, too? Thanks to all of our patrons for supporting
The Art Assignment, especially our grandmasters of the arts Vincent Apa, Josh Thomas, and
Ernest Wolfe.

100 thoughts on “Why Do Corporations Buy Art?

  1. Yep… I recently interviewed a corporate art consultant. Companies either buy or lease artworks. The leasing leaves the artwork with a nominal value close to the end of the lease term, and the CEO can buy the artwork at an incredible discount for himself. Oh and the phenomenon of private collection being bigger than public collection is not a new thing. The public collections we see these days almost all derive from old royal collections and other private collections.

  2. People buy art to express themselves and it is not just companies. It is not just art because the demand is high for it. You can buy objects that make you reflect at the local dollar store and "ordinary" people do this. Just because it is not exposed to rediculous supply and demand practices of auction houses does not make it any less of an art piece. I have not acquired much of a taste for buying art though.
    I do appreciate the iconic architecture images from the video. Those are pieces of art that reach a lot of people but do not necessarily have to mean much at all. They can be iconic and as opposed to a person earning millions for a painting splattered with a bit of low effort paint or a mangled statue made by a famous lunatic, now worth 30 million, the buildings actually have some kind of functionality and scale to justify their price above and beyond sheer supply and demand. As opposed to buildings that exist at a time where buildings are otherwise uniform looking, following the same design trends, conventions, and best practice construction methods making for similar designs.

  3. If I was the buyer for Chase, I'd buy that piece with a Chase bank on fire in a heartbeat. Corporations being self effacing is all the rage.

  4. Would you consider making a video about how do museums buy art in the USA (outside of donations by artists / collectors) ?
    Anyway i adore your channel, lots of love and bises from France !

  5. Go Sarah! Don't hold back! – – Being in NYC as someone trying to find an entry-level museum position, these corporate and gallery/corporate pleasers gigs are everywhere and hard to resist when the market is otherwise so barren. The non-profit and for-profit art worlds feel verrry different.

  6. Honestly I don't mind the potential negative aspects of corporate collections, there are artists who enjoy expressing themselves through "safe" art and this is one avenue in which they can make money. And as far as those artworks not being available to the public I think it's kind of a mute point, yes it's somewhat of an issue but arguably their collections are still more accessible than my little collection but I'm never going to feel bad about buying art and hanging it in my room. I'm not dismissing the negative aspects of corporate collections you mentioned, I just think over all it's a net positive. And maybe I'm naive but I choose to believe that behind every corporate art purchase there is at least one person, maybe more, who genuinely enjoys the art their company is buying even if the reason the expense got approved was just taxes or PR.

  7. Befor watching: if you spend your money you dount have to pay as mutch taxes? And Kind of still have the money as an investment.

  8. So first she says it's a problem that corporate art-buying might affect what galleries show and what direction artists take their work. In other words, boo-hoo, boo-hoo, precious flower artists can't just do whatever they want but still get rich, they have to actually interact with the world and please their customer/employers like all other human beings have do. Oh, the humanity! But then says that state and local governments should also start buying art. Huh??? If you're so worried about artists having to please corporations who need good PR, what do you think it's going to be like when they have to please the government???

  9. I would love to hear your opinion about Alice Walton's (of Walmart fame) acquisitions of many notable American artworks for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR where I grew up. Lots of people around the country voiced concerns about this very subject, referring to the museum as a "product of Walmart's corporate money," which isn't entirely untrue considering the source of her family's wealth and the fact that the company sponsors the museum to make it free for the community.

  10. I especially love the conclusion! Awesome video again! Thanks! ⭐️⭐️❤️
    (Of course being the brother, brother-in-law, son and grandson of artists, I do have a particularly interested view…)

  11. 5:42

    Frescos: _ triggered_

    Every Company in Italy's Tourism Industry: How can we do our part to prevent global warming whilst simultaneously extinguishing the sun?

  12. All art is propaganda, thus putting something tacky on the walls may propagate their business. That is the simple answer.

  13. I felt this video was too naive. When you teach MBA students that maximizing selfishness maximizes good and the only truths that matter are the ones that can be shown in Excel, you don't get benign corporate art collectors.

  14. So glad that Ruben Nieto's work was given a mini shout out here! I had him as a mentor during my time in a program at the modern! Always really enjoyed his work

  15. Don't get me wrong, art has a lot of somewhat controversial uses and you can also say that art is used to show or promote X thing.

    But honestly, a lot of businesses and corporations buy art because…they make their office look cool and "modern." And for many companies, that's basically it. Making the company look cool and legit.

  16. Is there any chance sources and references can be included in the description? I find all of the information so interesting and would love to read deeper into a couple of themes!

  17. What happens when you're so taken, entranced, overwhelmed, excited, bubbled up with so much like for some art that you just want to get down and roll around in or on it? Not that you might actually do it, but you just love it so much you think about how much fun that would be and how good it might feel. (and how embaressed you might be if anybody saw, or even knew you wanted to do that?)

  18. And what about the conservation of art? I've become mezmorized by the Youtube channel called "Baumgartner Restoration" and can't get enough of Julian Baumgartner's smooth, warm, cool expressive, calm approach. He's like the Mr. Rogers of art conservation. You just imagine yourself there calmly doing what he's doing as he takes a painting worth probably umpteen million dollars that some ridiculious fool has allowed for the past forty years to hang inside a locker room full of young boxers training in the only ring in the world that requires you smoke a pack of cigarettes during every training session and has hung the painting next to a friendly dart board where coaches are allowed to toss a few games of darts whenever the boxer they're training has to have a medic come and cut open their blackened eyes that have sealed shut and let the blood squirt out and then told to perform the sign of the cross in front of the painting before they're allowed to go and shower off in the steamy steamy shower room that pumps tons of steam into the locker room every time the door to the shower room swings open and closed. And yes, cooly and calmly you, like Julian, imagine yourself carefully unhinging that incomprehensible mess from something and rub some miracle chemical on it and strap it to a heat table for a couple of weeks and voila! Suddenly the virgin Mary can be seen winking at you again in all her original glory and splendor when she thinks Jesus isn't looking. Just as the artist that painted it intended.

  19. So, I love this video. But honestly I love all the videos on this channel. What makes these special I think is the way Urist Green looks at art concepts as systems and then explains how these systems operate, emphasizing the simultaneous truths that happen within those systems. That kind of stepping outside the system, where the good stuff is placed right next to the bad stuff and looked at as an often messy whole, is in short supply right now. And very cleverly it also happens to mirror the way artists actually work.

    So, in short, thank you Sarah.

  20. What about a dedicated video to Marina Abramovic? That would be great! (Please include the scandals as well, it could be very interesting to see).

  21. In Sweden, any public building project has to budget a small percentage of the total construction cost for art. This is pretty cool, but city council don't always have the best taste. At least it feels like an attempt was made.

    This becomes a little bit odd when, apparently, the nuclear power plants have really cool and really expensive art. Unfortunately it's only accessible to the power plant employees for Chernobyl reasons.

  22. This is such a great video. And reminds me of that scene in 'An absolutely remarkable thing' where April sees the Cindy Sherman work in that PR firm.
    I'm so conflicted about the whole idea – I love it that art is valued, but when a corporation buys it for 'not not investment' and 'not not tax evasion' purposes, is the art really the thing that is valued here or is it only the physical manifestation of a system used by the powerful? I know there's a middle, and both can be true at the same time, but when you start seeing art in such a way it takes away so much, and I don't know if it's worth it.

  23. Not really honest about calling that 'murky'? I mean many collectors have collections for more reasons than just because they love art. And why should buying art be virtuous? (OK I know it wasn't all that serious posing it like that but still)
    Here is my point: A business is a business so you need a business pretext…. like 'business class' on planes is a pretext. You need a business excuse to spend that money. investing in art makes business sense. Sure all your explanation and insight is spot on… but calling it murky? No, not all about 'just art' but also not not about 'just art'.
    Do make sense?

  24. Not really honest about calling that 'murky'? I mean many collectors have collections for more reasons than just because they love art. And why should buying art be virtuous? (OK I know it wasn't all that serious posing it like that but still)
    Here is my point: A business is a business so you need a business pretext…. like 'business class' on planes is a pretext. You need a business excuse to spend that money. investing in art makes business sense. Sure all your explanation and insight is spot on… but calling it murky? No, not all about 'just art' but also not not about 'just art'.
    Do make sense?

  25. One thing I saw when I first started applying to jobs after university was this: corporate offices are some of the best galleries for abstract art I have ever walked into. I was consistently surprised at how interesting so much of the abstract art I saw during interviews was, and even m ore so surprised to find just how much of it was by local artists or artists somehow connected (usually family) to someone important at the company.

  26. 2:02 I've been tangling with the concept of integrity, and I keep tripping over the threshholds of front doors. (*cussword of choice*, yes, it has two h's). That front, that projected image, is a statement of intent. The incongruity we love to spot and magnify is failure to attain that set of aspirations. "Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice." – No one knows

    Your work is your work. You work there. Erhem.

  27. "[…] a way to interact with the wider comunity, spread the proceeds around, and mybe lessen the chance of proletariat revolution" damn she really went there

  28. this is my favorite channel on youtube.

    also – a company you didn't mention, but I think makes an interesting case in this situation – Epic Systems in Madison, WI. They have an incredible art collection almost completely from local artists (one thing you can do as an employee is get the owner's checkbook to go to the biggest art fair in Madison and pick out a few pieces). They also currently have an artist-in-residence (Ikeda Manibu) who you can watch working once a week. The campus is also buck wild – themed buildings after children's authors, harry potter, farm-life, &c. I walked through the campus recently with a contractor, and not only are the buildings whimsical as heck, they're also immaculately constructed. It's truly one of the strangest places I've been.

    full disclosure, I work there, which is why I know all of this.

  29. To your last comment – there's a great book by David A. Smith called Money for Art that discusses the struggles the US has had since its inception in funding arts. I'd also be curious to see an episode about places in the US that have successfully created government funding for the arts, such as Minnesota, which established by referendum a fund that draws from a sales tax specifically designated to the arts. That's one reason Minnesota Opera has such interesting new works all the time—they don't have to depend so much on donors who want the same old productions over and over again.

  30. Great video! But, ah, am I the only one who noticed the stack of tomato soup cans on the shelves, just to Sarah's right? She spoke about Campbell's, mentioned that they bought a Warhol…and then my eyes latched onto that stack of cans and WOULD NOT let them recede into the background again for the rest of the video…!

    Have they always been there, and I've just been oblivious? Or were they added on purpose as a sly reinforcement of the idea that art is "on purpose" but you gotta think about WHAT purpose sometimes…

    Heck, either way, I still really enjoyed the video. It's amazing how much I have learned about HOW to think about art from this channel. A couple of years ago, I wouldn't have been able to notice the cans unless they were directly pointed out, and I likely would not have thought of Warhol either. I'm so glad I found Art Assignment <3

  31. Late Stage Capitalism be all liek : Have a Discovery Zone slide! Aren't you happy? Huh? Happy. Dental? Uhhhhh- Talk to Bob.

  32. 'Hey. We know you'll never afford the art here so we'll buy it and show it to you via us :D'

    Is it being thoughtful or darkly thoughtful lol?

    It's like a high level flex on the low class too.

  33. I love this video so much! i am so glad you are investigating this so thoughtfully, Not enough people talk about the money in the art world! I so love how you make us question what role do corporates play in museums too. I really would love love love for you to also do something on the lines of art criticism and journalism.. and why it plays such a role(good and bad) in curating what art is perceived as important and what is not… in a whole eco system around arts and how they all function individually, but also as a part of the bigger universe.

  34. because its for the "community",
    see this picture on the wall,

    they could have build a bridge for that money,
    but F them,
    I don't need to pay taxes now

  35. My dads wants to commission a painting by me for his offices (it’s not a very big business) and although he says he doesn’t mind what the painting is of, I’m pretty sure he wants something low-key. I am going to paint the bank on fire

  36. "If big corporations have acknowledged the centrality of art to our wellbeing, why our federal and local governments?"
    SPILL 👏 THAT 👏 TEA 👏

  37. Paraphrased AA question: Why can't our local governments acknowledge the centrality of Art?

    Real life answer: The Boston Public Library has been doing this for over 125 years and counting, come visit!

  38. Historically, art and wealth has been bed fellows. Organized religious institutions, schools, governments, nobles, etc funded almost all commissions. They did all for the reasons your video mentioned (along with using images to teach an illiterate people). BTW, I love the comment "Who they want to be seen as." I would like to expand the comment into "Who they want to be seen as, or what they think they are." Truly, that's why people make and/or purchase art.

  39. Representation of physical appearance. In order to keep people in the mindset that appearance is everything. The lies corporate manipulation of our governing bodies to keep us in a consumer mind that is superficial at best

  40. Damn!
    Where was this video when I was struggling with an art dealing / art business class back in the winter of 2018?! 😛

  41. Actually, governments do realize the power of art. When George W. Bush was about address the UN about the War on Terror, they had their copy of Guernica by Picasso covered up because of what it meant.

  42. A great and thought-provoking episode! And the delivery – especially with all those deadpan and humorous asides 😀 – was exquisite. I’d never considered this particular angle of art collecting as well as corporate behaviour and how much it can go beyond just ‘stuff on walls’ into influencing the market, locking away art from the public, and the commoditization (not not thinking about value :P). Good, bad, both columns? Going to take a while to consider it all… Whenever our clients speak about art and include art in the project I’m going to have a new lens through which to think about it now. Thank you for another great episode!

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