Bold Choices by Big Business: Corporate Art Surprises at Bonhams
“Trust me,” glows a scribble of Barbie pink neon in characteristically erratic Tracey Emin scrawl. This brazen act of creativity is not what you would think might catch the eye of a multinational corporation. In a clever twist to kick off the New Year in style, a lavish exhibition at Bonhams declares it’s time to shift our perception of how businesses act as players in the contemporary art scene.
In the auction house’s expansive basement gallery on New Bond Street, we are afforded a glimpse at an impressive set of corporate art collections belonging to law firms, energy providers, telecoms and more. The big surprise is a unilaterally bold approach that defines the assorted display of leading and emerging artists on view. You expect, having made a reasonable assumption of the resources available to such companies, that quality will be excellent; what take you back, in a world in which brand reputation and cautious decisions come highly prized, are the daring aesthetic and thematic choices. From the rebellious carvings in Cornelia Parker’s stone tablets to the critical lens of Chinese photographer Zhang Xiao and the haunting imagery of Otto Dix, there are challenges to confront here both with the eye and the mind.
There are also pieces that offer complete and total pleasure – the kind of art that induces a whimsical sigh and that melts you to the bone. Take the time to stop and stare at a still-life simply called Carnations by Scottish Colourist Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell, all bright light and invigorated brushwork. Stand back and admire the stunning stereoscopic image drawn from a snapshot of a 1950s hiking trip in Norway by Ebbe Stub Wittrup, a monumental illusion somewhere between hazy dream and fond memory.
Bold choices are everywhere and perhaps it is not so hard to conceive why after all – there’s something of a hint at the risk-taking and ahead-of-the-curve thinking that we associate with industrial entrepreneurialism. What matters most of all is how important this activity is for art and its makers. Peter Harris, co-author of new book ‘A Celebration of Corporate Art Programmes Worldwide’, likens these businesses to great patrons of the past such as the Medici family in the Renaissance. At a time when funding cuts are deep and sweeping, continued investment in emerging artists and new practices from the corporate sphere is essential to the vitality of the art world.
“Trust me” hits the nail on the head. Daring, bold and bang on trend? Big business has a new mantra: “Trust me, I’m a corporate collector.”
Highlights from Corporate Art Collections runs from 13th – 24th January at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street. The exhibition is open to the public from 9am – 4.30pm on weekdays only. Admission is free of charge.