Different strokes for different corporate folks
Corporate art collections vary in size, medium, importance, and agenda. Deutsche Bank has one of the longest histories of corporate art collecting and is arguably one of the finest. Headquartered in Frankfurt, DB has acquired thousands of works by young and emerging artists before their prime, including Gerhard Richter, James Rosenquist, and Joan Mitchell. Incidentally, many of the works in the collection have become icons some accruing in value as much as $1 million.
I had the privilege to tour the collection located in downtown Manhattan at 60 Wall St with the Whitney Museum Contemporaries where we previewed two floors filled with art, including a special photography exhibition by Hannah Collins. In collaboration with famed chef Ferran Adrià, Collins is the first photographer to merge art and the culinary world. As a self-proclaimed foodie, this was a delightful surprise for me but I was more interested in viewing the art on the executive floors where dual shows “Prints and Multiples” and “Original Works” were on display. Curated by Liz Christensten the shows featured an impressive selection of works on paper from the bank’s permanent collection.
Prints are often overlooked in the art world as collectors and dealers tend to favor painting and sculpture; however, in this instance of print adulation, a few dozen of the bank’s finest prints and multiples were carefully selected from over 3,000 works in the collection and proudly displayed. On the main wall of the lobby hung five of Andy Warhol’s Ten Jews screenprints from 1980 including Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Sarah Bernhardt, Franz Kafka, and Sigmund Freud and I wondered where the other five. As I turned around, a majestic and colorful expressionistic drawing by Eve Hesse - Untitled, 1963 – gouache and watercolor, in perfect condition hung on the opposite wall breaking up the Warhol seriality. As an early work, it is not instantly recognizable like her other works, but no less contemporary. There were other surprises, too, by Alex Katz and Imi Knoebel, who was prominently featured in the recent Art Basel Miami edition at Michael Werner Gallery.
DB’s collection began with German-speaking artists and eventually evolved into a more international scope. The bank in the Americas in particular, focus specifically on works on paper, hence the ‘Prints and Multiples’ exhibition on the executive floor. Richard Prince’s All the Best series from 2000, for example, displayed kitschy images of semi-nude female celebrities with fake autographs. Apropo of the artist’s typical hi-lo style, Katie Holmes, Gwen Stefani, Cameron Diaz, and Denise Richards are among the young ingenues who grace the bank’s heavy wood-paneled hallway. I walked away wondering about the placement of these female sex symbols displayed within the context of a large financial institution. .
Contemporary art has distinguished Deutsche Bank since 1978. A full-time dedicated staff at each location around the world convenes semi-annually to discuss and hash out the latest matters concerning the collection. The North America branch is headed by Liz Christensen who valiantly manages all the art activities with just two assistants. Their Artwork Program includes lending to museums, acquiring, and maintaining artwork and their Exhibitions Program includes sponsoring and commissioning artists, giving awards, and curating exhibitions around the world.
Unlike most other corporate collections, however DB has most of the art on view but unfortunately not on view all the time so many historical masterworks are kept away from public view. However, the bank has embraced the 21st century and is working on developing an app, a virtual reality program that can be downloaded where viewers can “walk” around all the floors and preview the art much like you can did when you visited the VIP art fair. The bank also has a dedicated magazine called DB ArtMag to cover their artists – another example of their commitment.
I left hungry for more art and with a feeling of justice, in a way. Having Deutsche Bank recognize and actively support prints and works on paper as an estimable and essential medium in the art world will hopefully change people’s perception about limited editions and help breakdown misconceptions about its artistic value.