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Brightening up the Workplace: Corporate art commissions in the 21st Century

Thursday February 1 2018

The Rape of Proserpina, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1621-1622, Galleria Borghese, Rome

Casting our minds back into the Renaissance, art commissions came from the Kings of France and Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor and the princes of the Italian city-states, who vied with each other to commission art from the leading artists of their day. Titian, Michelangelo, Jan van Eyck, Raphael, Rogier van der Weyden, Durer were all commissioned by royalty. But, art commissions were not confined to the elite. The corporations of their day commissioned art for their workplaces too. The Guilds in Florence adorned the grain market and later their church, Orsanmichele, with statues by Donatello and Ghiberti. Simultaneously, in London the various guilds, of mercers, goldsmiths, drapers, fishmongers and the remaining 100 other worshipful companies, started commissioning what was, in effect, corporate art, to demonstrate their power and influence.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and though there may not be quite so many princely courts, there are still many corporations commissioning art for the workplace. Numerous studies have shown that art in the workplace improves the wellbeing of employees. Further, those corporations with impressive art collections have valuable assets, not only in monetary value but brand value too. Walking around the City of London, looking into the soaring reception atriums of law firms and investment banks, the walls are adorned with striking works of art. In fact, some organisations now have a corporate art department responsible for commission artworks for their offices. A drinks' reception with a wonderful corporate art collection on display will attract a better response than the thought of an evening with another set of grey walls as the backdrop. Mary Findlay, Art Curator, Deutsche Bank London, explains, "Our collecting concept is about supporting art of our time, work that is being created by leading and emerging artists of the moment".

For up and coming artists, this is another, increasingly lucrative, sales channel and a way for them to establish their name. For the past decade, ING has sponsored an annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries to identify the best rising talent. Likewise, Bloomberg sponsors 'Bloomberg New Contemporaries' which offers prizes to the best graduates from British Art Schools every year. Art benefits everyone, art entices, causes reactions, creates opinions, and possibly, more importantly, colours the world and gives us all a feelgood factor. The more art is seen, whether in a corporate environment, from the street on in a traditional gallery, it sparks conversation. Something else to talk about at the water cooler!

By Charles Barber, Director of Sapienza Travel