As part of the excellent Art Collectors London Meetup, I took a tour of Deutsche Bank’s private collection at their London office a few weeks ago.
I knew that corporations were partial to buying contemporary art for their lobbies and hallways, but I had no idea of the extent of Deutsche Bank’s investment: tens of thousands of works across hundreds of offices and branches throughout the world.
The tour started off with a bang – we walked into a small meeting room with a number of Francis Bacons on the wall.
Admittedly, I initially thought they were paintings and so was a little disappointed on finding out they were ‘just’ first edition lithographic prints. Though, of course, I’d probably have been even more disappointed if there were actual Bacon paintings hidden away in a Deutsche Bank meeting room rather than in a public gallery.
It was quite surreal – imagine running your conference call about some new initiative with Brad from IT, all the while having Bacon’s grotesque forms staring down at you. I began to wonder what effect the art had on employees, specifically, but also the wider question of how art can affect us incidentally.
So much of our experience of great art is in the highly unnatural scenario of walking in relative silence in a bare or old-looking gallery, in which focus is pretty much forced on the paintings. What happens when this kind of art is taken out of that context and presented in essentially the same way as the generic landscapes or abstract paintings we see in doctors’ waiting rooms?
Surely, some of their potency is lost. Without familiarity, and with the assumed pressures of work bringing you to the room, I imagine a lot of the time such paintings wouldn’t register at all.
Yet, I do believe paintings – at least those at their best – have the powerful ability to evoke an emotion or mood at quite a primitive level of human experience. Artists use colour, form and composition to create such feelings; the fact a work appears on the wall of an office rather than in some grand gallery space won’t necessarily detract from this.
Just think of colour theory in the work place – seeing a Bacon will evoke a mood purely by virtue of its red, yellow and flesh tone palette, let alone its warped representations of people. The next logical question is then – are the paintings selected with this potential effect in mind?
It might even be beneficial to include striking, visceral works of art in a context in which bold and gutsy decisions need to be made. Or perhaps a Schiele or Munch could be strategically placed in the rec room to disturb employees and so compel them not to dawdle and get back to work! It’s an interesting thought experiment that I recommend you indulge in – think of one of your favourite paintings and the effect it has in general, but also specifically what effect it would have in a work or other non-gallery environment.
Some other interesting works in these meeting rooms were from Gerhard Richter, Gabriele Orozco, Marcel Dzama and Cao Fei.
The most impressive work of the night was, unsurprisingly, in the lobby area – though not the Anish Kapoor or Damien Hirst. Stretching across the wall facing the main entrance are 12 massive paintings by Keith Tyson, called 12 Harmonics. These were created specifically for the Winchester House reception area (you can view a brief video of 12 Harmonics being installed here).
These paintings are richly symbolic and you can read them in many different ways. They have a so-called “numerical essence”, which can manifest in the number of elements displayed (e.g., three arms appearing in the third painting) or at a less obvious, more conceptual level (e.g., benzene molecules comprising carbon in the sixth – carbon has an atomic number of 6).
There are also references to day and night, the four seasons – even the signs of the zodiac. The experience of walking from one end to the other reminded me of densely layered, multi-narrative films like The Fountain or Cloud Atlas. These paintings certainly felt impactful and memorable enough to warrant appearing in the lobby of a large multinational bank.
You can book a tour of the Deutsche Bank collection here – though I’ve been told it’s easier to do this as a group. The waiting list is also long – the organiser of the Art Collectors Meetup had made the first request a year ago.
At the very least, you can always just check out 12 Harmonics by wandering into reception and pretending to ask for directions!