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Perspectives by Georgina Adam

The most successful corporate art collections, without doubt, are those which reflect the vision of one person. Art bought by committees just doesn’t work. In the case of the Aspen collection, the driving force has been CEO Chris O’Kane, who initiated the idea of collecting art and who still takes a close interest in the collection, with the Contemporary Art Society responsible for developing it.

It is immediately clear when one views the collection that O’Kane’s overriding interest is in two-dimensional art-painting, photography and prints – and the figurative. There are exceptions, of course: he has acquired sculpture, such as the delicate Lynn Dennison paper-and-wire cut out pieces in London, or the bold Charlotte Mayer and Bernard McGuigan sculptures in Bermuda. There are many abstract works. But overall we sense a love of colour, vigour and the natural world – an interest in the life-affirming possibilities of art.

Each collection also reflects the country it is based in. This is a deliberate policy, to seek out and display local artists, so reflecting the cultural landscape of its location as well as contributing to the local community. In Singapore, for example, Yeo Shih Yun’s Chinese ink-on-paper works continue a tradition that goes back centuries. In the New Jersey office a unifying theme is the world of film and television, with Jim Gaylord melding film stills to create multi-layered, dynamic semi-abstracts. In Dublin Simon Burch’s photographs document the gradual disappearance of Ireland’s central peatlands. Not everything is by local artists, however: Bermuda has two beautiful works on paper by the French-born, New York-based Louise Bourgeois – who died at the age of 99 last year – as well as photographs by Nan Goldin, also New York-based.

Collecting art for a corporate collection has its constraints, with considerable sensitivity required in dealing with themes such as sexuality, violence, race and religion. There are also constraints imposed by the office environment, with conservation and security dictating some choices. Along with other corporate collections Aspen does not display art that could be challenging to visitors or to those working in the offices.

It is often questioned why corporations collect art at all – particularly in times of economic turbulence. Those companies who do collect say the benefits are considerable and indeed some groupings – those of Deutsche Bank, for example – are an important part of the firm’s image. As well as putting back into the local community, an art collection stimulates creativity, affording visitors and employees a moment outside the box. It demonstrates a firm’s willingness to be open to new cultural experiences and innovations, and is also a way of making a bold statement about the values of the company. For instance, the two large-scale portraits of women by Alex Katz which greet visitors in London are a potent message about the firm’s position on gender equality.

Questions are often raised about the economics of art collecting, particularly as headlines increasingly focus on the massive prices commanded by a few top artists today, especially in the contemporary field. It is worth pointing out that these huge prices are the tip of the iceberg and that most works of art sell for prices far below the stratospheric levels of a Koons, say, or a Francis Bacon. The Aspen collection deliberately focuses on young, emerging talent and has been able to acquire works by artists at reasonable prices, some of whom subsequently have become stars. The Chris Ofili watercolours or the Fiona Rae paintings in London are good examples of works that certainly have been a good investment. While the object of the collection is certainly not investment and indeed no good collection can be built up on the basis of investment, many of the artworks should prove to be good holders of value. And that value can be measured in many ways: artistic, creative and innovative, as well as only that of price.

About the Collection

Aspen CEO Chris O’Kane explains why he is the driving force behind the collection.

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Expert Eye

Head of Consultancy at the Contemporary Art Society Fabienne Nicholas curates the collection.

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