Don McNeil, curator of RBC Wealth Management‘s art collection, guest blogs here about art and corporate collecting. The Blanton has 40 contemporary works from RBC’s corporate art collection on view until Aug. 12.

Art on display in RBC's board room

Artist Willie Cole’s Man Spirit Mask, 1999,
on display in RBC’s board room.

Visitors coming to see The Human Touch: Selections from the RBC Wealth Management Art Collection at the Blanton should be aware of something: this is a group of artworks normally viewed in a very different context. When the artworks are not on tour, they are displayed throughout the RBC office complex in downtown Minneapolis.

It is now commonly taken for granted that art belongs in museums, but this was not always the case. Before museums were invented, art was part of the places where people gathered to live, work, govern, and worship. In short, it was integral to daily life, not something to occasionally visit.

This is the one characteristic shared by all contemporary corporate art collections. Regardless of the reasons corporations begin collecting, they all return art to the place it held in the beginning—incorporated into everyday life. This, however, is probably just a fortuitous result. It’s not the reason most corporations begin to collect art, which are as varied as the corporations themselves.

Modern day corporate art collections date from around the turn of the 20th century. In the early years, collections were built largely for advertising, promotion, and image-polishing. Later it was recognized that art in the work environment helped to attract and retain employees, make rental properties more attractive, and demonstrate community involvement.

Two paintings on view in RBC office

On view in the RBC office: Kehinde Wiley, Untitled Study, 2004 (left)
and Carlos Vega, New Life, 2006 (right).

The surge in corporate collecting that occurred during the ’70s and ’80s can be attributed to the “bigger is better” philosophy embraced by business during that period—specifically as it was expressed in new building construction, expansion, and suburban migration.

Today, many corporations, including RBC Wealth Management, believe that having art in their work environments provides one simple benefit: it helps employees perform better, which contributes to an improved bottom line. This is through an increased awareness of the intrinsic value of art, and its power to shape, define, and help understand the world in which it was produced.

This is why most corporate collections feature contemporary art. It is art produced by artists living and working in the world in which corporations operate. Those artists and their art help corporations understand the audiences they serve. Art also helps support one of the key goals that many corporations hold in high regard—that employees be innovative in all they undertake, challenge the status quo, and stay open to new ideas, cultures, and expressions.

RBC Wealth Management’s collection started in 1991. It wasn’t until 2005 that the tour program began. The company very much enjoys sharing its collection with the communities around the country where it has branch offices. While on tour, though, the artworks are missing from the walls of the home office.

After the tours are over, we all look forward to the art getting back to work.

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