How One Wall Street Bank Put Together One Of The Biggest Art Collections In The World

Wall Street has become one of art’s biggest patrons, with the major corporate collections that some investment banks have gathered over the years.

J.P. Morgan, UBS, and Deutsche Bank were listed in Forbes’ best corporate art collections in 2012. Deutsche Bank was included as the largest corporate art collection in the world.

And it’s not just banks. Numerous Wall Street titans through history, including J.P. Morgan, Leon Black, and Robert Lehman, have also been active collectors in the art industry.

We reached out to some knowledgeable sources on Wall Street to find out exactly what it takes to amass these priceless works.

Liz Christensen is an art curator at Deutsche Bank, who started 25 years ago as an independent art advisor. At that time, Deutsche Bank in the U.S. was smaller office in Midtown. She said as the bank grew larger, her responsibilities grew with it. Now she is involved in advising, collecting, educating around, and organising exhibitions. There are about eight curators for the bank worldwide.

“There was a historical precedent back in the 80s — early 90s. A lot of corporations, including banks, were buying art,” Christensen said. “It was almost fashionable at that time, there was a bit of an economic “tech” boom, and the art boom went with it. And then there was a little bit of a bust and the art bust went with that too. So there is a correlation, at least in terms of the market.”

Deutsche Bank has 57,000 works in its collection, spread across over 900 offices.

“It’s something that we’re quite proud of, that Deutsche Banks considers art as part of its identity. Supporting art as a creative endeavour is an important part of being a good corporate citizen, and giving back to not only to society but to the places, the cities, and communities where the bank is doing business,” Christensen said.

We reached out to J.P. Morgan and UBS, but both declined to comment.

Dating back to 1980, contemporary art from the collection is spread throughout the Deutsche Bank buildings.

Shirakami #1, #3, #5, #7, 2008 by Tokihiro Sato. All works Deutsche Bank Collection.

They're located in elevator lobbies, reception desks, and conference rooms, each with a nameplate of the artist.

Marlene Dietrich, 2004 by Vik Muniz. All works Deutsche Bank Collection.

In addition to the collection, Deutsche Bank is also involved in in-house exhibitions, galleries, speakers, guest curators, and an online magazine.

Brücke, 1928 by Hans Finsler. All works Deutsche Bank Collection.

The theme of the collection is works on paper, which includes print making, collages, photos, drawings, and some sculptural works that incorporate paper.

Mass Movement, 2009 by Evan Hecox. All works Deutsche Bank Collection.

The bank only buys art from the primary market, so they don't go through auction houses. There's a focus on living artists, in order to support the economy of art.

Abstraktes Bild (Faust), 1980 by Gerhard Richter. All works Deutsche Bank Collection.

Ideas are a key word behind the collection, so the curators focus on conceptual work more than decorative work.

The Gates, Project for Central Park, NYC, 2003 by Christo. All works Deutsche Bank Collection.

The bank rarely sells artwork, and tries to refresh by using works already in the collection.

Song Containers, 2010 by Jennie C. Jones. All works Deutsche Bank Collection.

If artwork becomes very valuable and is sold, the money goes back into buying new art.

Manhattan, 2008 by Jihyan Park. All works Deutsche Bank Collection.

The collection is run off an operational budget, which differs depending on branch and region, and changes year to year.

Untitled, 2000 by James Nares. All works Deutsche Bank Collection.

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