Corporate Art: What You Need to Know About How Corporations Make Their Art Buying Decisions

How do corporate art curators and art consultants decide what to buy for their art collections and how do you approach them? In the world of business art buying, there are two driving forces to be aware of – money and environment.In many ways, buying art for a company is really not very different from the guidelines and procedures that a company uses in all of its buying decisions. The main criteria is – are we getting the right thing for the right price? It is therefore useful to try to get inside the mind of the corporate art curator or art consultant and understand how he or she decides what art to purchase for the collection.First, whose money is being spent on art? An individual, a partnership, or a privately held company all have more leeway for making decisions about how to spend their money. They might even do something that others would consider rash, speculative, or just plain daring.A corporation, on the other hand, has to be accountable to its stockholders, as well as anyone else who has a mind to, will notice anything that seems “overindulgent” in the budget, or in the decor.Things have changed from the early days when corporations bought art somewhat indiscriminately and in large quantities, and it is now rare if one person alone has the complete authority for making art purchases in a corporation. The trend today is to have art selection committees made up of interested employees, as well as art people, and administrative staff. You may feel that it is counter-productive for art to be bought by a committee, but actually a committee adds checks and balances to the process. A committee can also represent different “user groups” — the people who have to live with the art on their walls — around the corporation. In some cases it is a courtesy or a reward for certain people to be on the committee. In other companies, committee members might be brought in to add a particular expertise.For example, Microsoft Corporation reflects the new approach to corporate art collecting. The collection, which now numbers over 4,000 objects, is selected by a committee of nine employees that are rotated regularly. The decision was made to align the collecting activity with the profile of the company, so the focus of the collection is on collecting contemporary art by living artists.But every business is different. Some corporations think more locally or regionally; some have large numbers of branches around the world so they think more globally.In the case of many office buildings, the art is purchased later and is simply hung on the walls. But it does make for better buildings if the art is considered an integral part of the building’s design from the beginning. Architects who build office buildings usually think in terms of functionality. Architecture is about space and form, and incorporating art does not always enter into their awareness. This can be a frustrating reality because an art work always adds to a building’s atmosphere an design — the art creates the environment of the office building.After money, the other main factor in choosing art for a corporation is environment. Size is a serious consideration. In the workplace, if the art is too small, it is easier to remove, eg steal. Tabletop sculptures, for example, are not a common feature. in corporate art collections. Most office spaces need larger art than in domestic settings because the areas are larger, as well as the viewing distances. But, if the art is too large or heavy, it becomes a problem to move, and in an office environment, change is a major activity – eg moving departments in response to the needs of the business. New doors may be created for new departments, or a company may be switching from an office plan that features private offices, to one that uses office cubicles – a nightmare for a corporate curator because there are fewer walls available to hang art.Corporations are workplaces and the art has to be able to survive the rougher conditions. This means avoiding art which cannot survive the extremes in temperature and humidity, since heat or air conditioning are turned down at night and on weekends.If the art can be damaged by too much light — anything on paper such as photographs or prints – soon the works will be completely faded because you usually can’t control the amount of light in an office environment. Inks and dyes will fade under the bright light conditions needed for office work. And of course, there are no guards to warn employees “not to touch the artwork.”The form of the art should also be considered. Works of art with many projecting points or “spiky” portions that extend out from the work of art, are not a good idea because they can easily be broken off or damaged, or injure someone. You can’t have things that are hazardous. People in an office environment are often not paying attention to what is around them and may bump into them.In fact, you have to realize that some locations may not be suitable for artworks. After all, an office environment is not meant to be a museum. In placing art, you have to think about how it can be integrated into the workplace – not take it over!So keep these guidelines in mind when you approach a corporate art curator or art consultant with examples of your artworks.

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