Asia Corporate Art
Posted on February 15, 2013
At Deutsche Bank in Singapore, a large artwork by local born artist Jimmy Ong sits right outside the trading floor. The subjects in the artwork seem worlds away from people who make their living in an investment bank, until you realise Lottery Man, its artwork name, credited beside the male subject in charcoaled writing.
In artworks, the ethnic profile of the subject is important to global corporations, where they usually look to their own roots first when starting a collection. American companies in Asia often have Western art first and then amass Asian art as a statement.
Jonathan Stone, Christie’s International’s business director of Asian art says, “In Japan (offices) you will see modern Japanese art, this is where they start,” which indicates the importance of artwork as the link to which people feel the closest to from where they expand.
Art within the four office walls, is an aspiration statement about a company and its arrival in a particular business setting.
“For American companies in Asia you see Western art then they start Asian art as a statement.” says Stone. So it’s not surprising that a large number of corporates doing business in Asia, favor works from local artists or those from the Asia continent. As such, essentially art reflects conscious corporate decisions, commitments to its focuses, and its own awareness amid the realities of doing business.
In the distinction from private collecting, corporates steer away from individual taste and expert advisory, and take a heavier consideration of how visitors perceive the artworks. After all, the audience base is wider that its people working inside. “When they display their artworks in the office space, their clients, working partners, and staff can understand and relate the arts with their local own culture,” said Catherine Kwai at Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery in Hong Kong, who specializes in art consulting for clients such as United Airlines and Credit Suisse Private Banking. True to the superstition leaning culture in Asia, some Asian businessmen prefer artwork to convey energy and happiness, avoiding reflections of negativity.
Accessibility and democratization
The market for art, after all, isn’t as esoteric as one might imagine with the extent of participation being more “democratized” these days, as in the words of Stone. Corporate art collections often interchange at a museum or gallery for a temporary period, and increasingly companies allow members of public into their office spaces for art tours. Shielded by glass panels against the tropical hot sun at One Raffles Quay in Singapore, a local artists’ initiative held in January 2013 integrated Deutsche Bank into a public walking art tour. The artworks sprawl into the offices from wall exhibits and even on boardroom tables. A display of fountain-pen-ink-written documents, soaked in the same ink till completely blackened, spreads neatly across the power meeting table on the 17th floor of the bank. The display by Shubigi Rao, titled “Blotting the Ledger”, gives sense of how the documents are literally destroyed by its own work, a perhaps critical look at the the values of financial institutions.
Buy, hold or sell
Auction houses and dealers are quick to point the commercial viability of companies dabbling with art, despite firms steering away from making a buck. Lehman Brothers certainly never saw that silver lining coming after the firm’s largest ever U.S. bankruptcy. Its art collection liquidation proceeds, totaling some US$12.3 million, was procured at a cost of close to US$2 million. But to be sure, art is indeed a growing business on the sell side. From boutique art galleries to fine auction house Christie’s, total dollars in Asia spent for corporate art buying trended upward since 2009. Private banking, the prime suspect industry for purveying fine art, finds that 83% of its managers consider art assets to be as an important part of wealth management, according to a white paper released by Deloitte Luxembourg in conjunction with ArtTactic. Moreover, the same study reveals more than 56% of art advisers polled to offer services to private banks and family offices.
However truth be told, it was emotional value which counted as the most important objective for art acquisition, according to the same white paper by Deloitte Luxembourg and ArtTactic. The liking of any object or art form often often resonates with the idea of beauty, and an attached sense of emotion, quite the atypical asset in the corporate world. Fortunately that soft trait makes sense for social events, with more than 60% of private bankers considering art as part of client entertainment, demonstrating its aesthetic priority over investment value objectives.
Indeed, it would be extremely difficult to juggle both objectives, procuring artwork that satisfied taste and simultaneously growing in asset value. Kwai at Kwai Fung Hin says that from her experience, “it is difficult to build a collection with future appreciation value that shares the aesthetic appreciation by the masses.”
First there were celebrity partnerships, then charity drives, and now art has joined the bandwagon for corporate image building. Annie Yeo, a spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank, says, “we hope that the artwork creates dialogue and allows the art scene to be more vibrant.” Translate: For companies to support the art industry, that means good news for local artists. In that way, the subjects in the Lottery Man had their chance at a bigger stage from where they came from. ∗