Art at Work: An Introduction

By: Sylvia Lehnen

While the phenomenal prices brought in at auctions and the explosive growth of art fairs are grabbing headlines, corporate art collections typically generate little news, despite the fact that their holdings have come to rival those of museums and have become a market force. Corporate acquisitions of an artist’s works can define the artist’s reputation and market.

Some corporations want to downplay their collections—in addition to concerns about security, they view their art collections primarily as financial vehicles that offer the potential for appreciation and the certainty of tax write-offs, while lending prestige to the private offices of top managers. Other corporations see their collections as a way to benefit employees, to support emerging artists, and to serve larger community interests. Regardless of their focus, corporate sponsorship of art has become a major force shaping the art market in America.

Highlighting Corporate Collections seeks to highlight corporate collections that are accessible to employees and the public and the people behind the scenes who make them work. In this issue, Laura Matzer, the director of the Microsoft Art Collection, shares the challenges of moving from being an art educator at a small museum in Texas to managing one of the world’s largest collections. She also provides an overview of the collection and its goals and approaches to various business issues.

Links to other well-known corporate collections include:

USB Art Collection

Progressive Art Collection

Deutsche Bank Collection

Debate about the Role of Corporate Collections

Not everyone sees the growing influence of corporate collections as a positive trend. Author Chin-Tao Wu provides an account of the evolution of corporate sponsorship of the arts since the 1980’s and analyzes the complex relationship between government and corporations. In the process, she examines many assumptions; for example, that corporate sponsorship saves tax dollars. Instead of saving taxpayers money, she contends that favorable tax write-offs actually cost taxpayers more than the simple funding of organizations such as the NEA would have.

Links to books exploring the relationship of corporate collecting, government, and the role of art in society include:

Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention since the 1980s, by Chin-Tao Wu

Art for Work: The New Renaissance in Corporate Collecting, by Marjory Jacobson