The value of corporate art collections

Financial institutions across the continent have accumulated collections of art, each for their own reasons, such as Standard Chartered Bank.

Entering the lobby of Standard ­Chartered’s new offices in the City of London, a visitor is faced by an original Thai rice barn, lifted intact from its home among the paddy fields of south-east Asia and sitting improbably in the cavernous, marble-clad lobby hall of a bank in ­central London.

Looking around, the visitor will realise that the rice barn is only one of a large collection of artifacts from Asia, Africa and the Middle East – statuettes, masks, ­implements, textiles and more, all reflecting the daily life of people in Standard Chartered’s core markets.

Once past the barriers, however, the collection switches to figurative art, taken from what over the past decade has developed into a large collection of contemporary art. But the character of the collection remains focused on ­ordinary people.

One painting is a close-up study of Rhianna, a Korean girl; another is Mimie, a Ghanaian woman resplendent in bright colours and a smile to match; a third is a picture of a Chinese boy on the Great Wall, drinking from a can of Coca-Cola, in a painting that could easily be subtitled ‘East meets West’.

It is increasingly common for financial institutions to have corporate art ­collections. Each will have its own selection criteria. Many will reflect the taste and the budget of the directors buying the art, and may for example focus on ‘important’ pieces by noted artists.

Until about ten years ago, the directors at Standard ­Chartered had a fine collection of ­paintings of Asian ­landscapes and harbour views, some more than 150 years old. But it was essentially a private collection because they mostly hung in the directors’ offices.

However, the directors decided the collection should become a public one, for the enjoyment of all staff and ­visitors. The focus turned to figurative art, portraits of people from Standard ­Chartered’s core markets.

The subjects are of people from around the world, reflecting the fact that of the bank’s 85,000 staff, only 2,200 are based in Europe. The main collection, held in London, comprises 500 paintings and up to about 500 ­photographs.

David Stileman, chairman of the Americas division at ­Standard Chartered Bank, is the man mostly responsible for ensuring consistency in the selection criteria. He says: “We wanted the collection to be a visual expression of the Standard Chartered culture, and a representation of our key markets of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, rather than a collection of valuable paintings.”

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