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The connection between the world of art and business
Over last few decades, the world's wealthiest companies and banks have created art collections, which are the envy of many leading museums. An interesting new report ‘Will tough times trigger corporate art selloff?’ by AP writer Jill Lawless establishes the link between the art and corporate world – both in good and bad times…

Corporations collect and invest in art for various reasons. Turning a profit is perhaps the least important of this. Some major companies like to see backing talented artists as a way of fulfilling corporate social responsibility, or philanthropy purpose - artworks can be lent to galleries and museums for special shows. Then there are corporate entities that use art for the purpose of flaunting their wealth. The former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, Fred Goodwin, often boasted about the David Hockney in his plush office. Sometimes, artworks are used for enlivening the drab work environment.

It was in the 1970s that Deutsche Bank of Germany started collecting art. The bank now has a trove of over 56,000 works, by artists like Joseph Beuys, Nan Goldin, Jeff Koons, Lucian Freud, and Henri Matisse. These paintings are proudly displayed on the main office walls across branches in close to 50 countries.

However, when companies fall, it can result in an art market bonanza. For example, Germany's HypoVereinsbank disposed a blue sponge painting by artist Yves Klein last year from its collection for 6.2 million pounds through Sotheby's. When Commerzbank took hold of Dresdner Bank, it also acquired an Alberto Giacometti sculpture ‘Walking Man’ that became the most expensive work ever when it went for 65 million pounds at Sotheby's auction in London earlier this year.

Lehman Brothers auctions at Sotheby's (New York) and Christie's (London) reportedly raised over $10 million for the creditors, only a fraction of the debt worth $613 billion held by Lehman after it collapsed in late 2008. Their multimillion-dollar art collection boasted works by Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst and others. Bankruptcy administrators of Italian airline Alitalia disposed a collection of Futurist works for more than 1 million euros. Sotheby's sold nearly 1,000 photos by lens masters like Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange during a bankruptcy court-approved sale of defunct camera-maker Polaroid’s collection.

The trend of corporations purchasing artworks in good times and disposing them off in bad is quite an old one. IBM president Thomas Watson, Sr. gathered works by artists like Frida Kahlo for decorating the IBM pavilion at New York’s World Art Fair in 1939. Decades later, the cash-strapped company sold its rich collection for $31 million through Sotheby's. Art experts feel it’s unlikely to see big firms selling off works in bulk owing to the negative publicity such events would generate, as it clearly raises a red flag that they obviously must be going broke.

Top companies around the world are sitting on immense artistic riches the public seldom get to see. The JP Morgan Chase Art Collection, founded by David Rockefeller, has over 30,000 pieces, including works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol. In Britain, the banks RBS, HSBC and Barclays all have large caches of art — unlike BP PLC that despite drawing environmentalists’ protests accusing it of using art sponsorships to whitewash its oil-stained image, does not have a large corporate collection of its own.

There are many exquisite artworks in the possession of industry doyens and business tycoons that encapsulate India’s myriad creative expressions. One among them is Adi Godrej. His art-loving wife Parmeshwar has further kindled his interest in quality works. An ardent admirer of artist M F Husain, the business doyen has a collection of exquisite paintings. Love for art apparently runs in the family. Another renowned businessman Malvinder Singh has built a sizeable collection of modern & contemporary art. He has a penchant for photography acquired from his late father Parvinder Singh. This avid art collector has broadened his vision and love for art with Religare Arts Initiative that aims to bring creative expressions closer to the masses through understanding and appreciation.

A first-generation entrepreneur, Rajiv Savara along with his wife Roohi, has compiled a museum-worthy selection of works from the late-19th and mid-20th centuries onward. The Roohi & Rajiv Savara Family Collection is appreciated for its focus on artists who the collector couple believes will, ‘five decades hence, define pre-Modern and Modern art of India.’ The comprehensive collection is an outcome of their insight, erudition and instinct to collect finest of artworks. Another celebrity business couple that cherishes a classy art collection is Parvez and Roshni Damania, including paintings by MF Husain, Satish Gujral , FN Souza, Ram Kumar, Paritosh Sen, Sakti Burman, Jogen Choudhury, Bose Krishnamachari etc over time.

Mention must also be made of entrepreneur Harsh Goenka for whom collecting art is an emotional response to finer aspects of life. His exquisite collection comprises abstract art, figurative works, installations, new media art and, of course, the portraits that transcend several key milestones of Indian art history. The R.P. Goenka collection of miniatures is among the most coveted and treasured ones in India.

Taking the glorious tradition ahead, Harsh Goenka launched the RPG Academy of Art & Music. It has been organizing an annual art camp in Mumbai, for almost two decades. Traversing the boundaries of business, RPG Enterprises has enhanced its reputation as a socially committed organization. The group generously contributes toward the welfare of various meaningful social causes. It is actively simultaneously involved in promotion of the sports and arts through RPG Academy of Art & Music.

An experienced advertising professional, philanthropist, international bridge player, communication & brand building expert, all rolled into one, Kiran Nadar also actively promotes Indian art and artists. Having shaped the NIIT brand, which grew out of businessman Shiv Nadar's vision along with Rajendra Pawar, she also serves as the Trustee of SSN Trust and Shiv Nadar Foundation. The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), her brainchild, aims to function as a site of mellifluous confluence rather than just a compilation. It treasures a wide array of works, which highlight the vibrant visual trajectories of modern & contemporary art, especially in the post-Independence phase.

Kumar Mangalam Birla is also a known art aficionado. The business doyen believes that art is a matter of private choice. He is most emotional about his father, Aditya Birla's paintings – the 'reproductions' of various classics. Tina Ambani’s captivating collection - not limited to a particular genre or a school - spans modern & contemporary Indian art. The works document a vast array of themes like history, culture and lifestyle with meticulous attention to detail and spellbinding intricacy.

A news report in the New York Times by writer Vikas Bajaj mentioned how the valuable works of art at the prestigious Taj hotel were restored, partly soothing the scars of the three-day siege in Mumbai in 2008, when the city’s landmark was ravaged by fires, gunshots and grenade explosions. Until the early 1990s its Taj Gallery was one of just a handful of places where admirers and collectors could go to see and buy contemporary art in Mumbai. Other divisions of the Tata Group, which started and still owns the Taj, also contributed significantly to India’s modern-art scene by buying works, especially in the 1950s and 1960s.

The connection between the world of art and business is indeed strong and a deep-rooted one…