by Elizabeth douglas

Corporate Art Becomes Marketing Tool

Jul 01, 20012 mins
Consumer Electronics

Art is all about the message, from the cave dwellers’ paintings to the latest video by Nam June Paik. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the focus of corporate art has shifted as communication goals have changed.

Companies once viewed paintings and sculpture in their offices as evidence of good taste, power and influence. Now they’re marketing tools and vehicles for conveying the company mission. The responsibility for buying art usually falls on an executive with specialized art training who often consults other managers, a committee or outside experts.

Evidence of increasing professionalism in corporate art procurement comes from the National Association for Corporate Art Management, a nonprofit association of art professionals. Former President Margaret Kelly Trombly, who is vice president of The Forbes Magazine Collection in New York City, says today’s corporate curators often have specialized training in art history and administration. That’s certainly true of Michael Klein, a former New York City gallery owner who is now curator of the Microsoft collection, which includes approximately 2,700 pieces.

Some corporate collections have survived and thrived. JPMorgan Chase marked the 40th anniversary of its remarkable collection, founded by David Rockefeller, with an exhibition at the Queens Museum in New York City called “Art at Work.” The Forbes collection, which includes FabergŽ eggs, paintings, toys and manuscripts, is now in a New York City museum. Sara Lee just donated 52 paintings to leading U.S. and foreign museums.

Other companies are moving from collecting to sponsoring. Several blockbusters at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts might never have happened without corporate funding. “Monet in the 20th Century,” sponsored by FleetBoston Financial, attracted more than half a million viewers.

Besides the obvious, such exhibitions deliver opportunities for special viewings for clients and prospects, as well as cocktail parties or formal dinners. America’s fine art museums clearly have learned to speak the language of business.