NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Corporate art buying in North American has fallen off since the boom days of the 1970s and 1980s, but even as the economy improves, some companies are buying less art but doing more to put their works out for the public to enjoy.
There are about 1,500 corporations in the world with art collections, with some of the largest held by banks and financial institutions, according to the International Directory of Corporate Art Collections.
Shirley Reiff Howarth, the editor of the directory, said that since 2000, the percentage of collections listed as “ongoing,” or still being added to, has dropped from 55 percent to about 40 percent. Many corporations are limiting new purchases for new buildings, expansions or renovations.
“While the volume of buying has been reduced, educational programs have increased and the collections are used for more than simply enhancing the walls of the company and its image,” Howarth said.
Bank of America, with more than 30,000 artworks created from several mergers, has one of the largest collections in North America.
Instead of buying new art, it focuses on the arts programs it has created, including Art In Our Communities, which has lent fully curated exhibitions to 60 museums worldwide since 2008.
“This is something that resonates with the communities where we [lend] the exhibitions,” said Allen Blevins, who oversees the bank’s collection and art programs.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based company currently has 16 traveling exhibitions, representing 2,500 works. Among them is a show at the Museo del Novecento in Milan of Andy Warhol’s most important silkscreen portfolios.
“The level of appreciation has become more about education,” Howarth said.
At Johnson & Johnson’s sprawling I.M. Pei-designed headquarters in New Brunswick, there are two galleries that feature continuous exhibitions, one for special and touring shows and the other for New Jersey artists. They are open to the public by appointment.
Like other corporations, the medical and pharmaceutical giant also lends its artworks. A drawing by Alice Aycock was featured in a retrospective of the artist at a Long Island museum and a George Segal sculpture was included in a major traveling exhibition.
It also has presented other programs based on employee or community interest, including a show on New Jersey actor, opera star and civil rights activist Paul Robeson that traveled to several U.S. cities.
At Neiman Marcus, one of the few luxury retailers to boast an art collection, the art-appreciation concept is extended to its customers by turning all 42 of its stores into galleries.
At its Paramus, N.J., store, a Roy Lichtenstein screenprint decorates the men’s department and a whimsical display by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly dominates its store windows.
The retailer has about 3,500 pieces in its collection, which was started in 1951 with the commission of Alexander Calder’s large-scale mobile “Mariposa,” now on display at its Chicago store.
Neiman Marcus’ in-house curator Julie Krosnick said the idea from the beginning was to give customers “something that is culturally stimulating and thought-provoking, something that is not about buying and selling merchandise.”
On a recent shopping trip to the Paramus store, Esther Seiger of Monsey, N.Y., said, “You see all this pretty art and it puts you in a buying mood.”
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