The Naturofantástic collection by Lladró uses a combination of the organic and fantasy to create everyday objects such as lamps, vases, candelabra and bowls. Familiar forms are decorated with marine and vegetal motifs conjured up in the imagination of Lladró artists. The delicacy of white porcelain can be further highlighted with grey, green or blue tones, or with gold lustre combining gloss and matte finishes.
In these tough economic times, when it’s hard to know what’s round the corner, many people are understandably reluctant to put down permanent roots in terms of where they work.
Railway arches, abandoned warehouses, bus shelters – we all know where graffiti is meant to live, right? We also know that it’s generally uninvited and, if the powers that be carry through on their promises, it will be painted over or removed as swiftly as possible. Despite the fame of artists like Banksy, whose work is preserved and sold for substantial amounts of cash, the perennial argument around graffiti rages on. Is it art or vandalism? Is it a vital part of the urban landscape or an eyesore that devalues property? And now, perhaps a more intriguing question has cropped up – does it belong on the walls of offices?Considering how many artists are being commissioned to bring graffiti into the workplace, the answer is shaping up to be an overwhelming “yes” – and it’s not only quirky design companies who are doing it. Multinational corporations are also in on the trend.Feel free to chuckle at the thought of corporate personnel brainstorming in a meeting room with tagged-up tables and chairs and a graffiti-covered wall (good backdrop for PowerPoint presentations, one presumes?). Yet this very scenario can be found at the Rotterdam headquarters of Unilever, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of food and home products. The corporate giant had the job done by a group of Dutch graffiti artists called the LastPlak Crew. Of course, there are the more obvious unions of office and graffiti. The television studios of Nuts magazine employed graffiti artists to paint the length of a corridor leading to its primary offices, which somehow befits a rowdy, lads mag atmosphere.Contributing artist Kev Mundy from UndertheHat, a graffiti graphics and clothing company in Basingstoke, says that positive feedback from the job has led to more work.Most of the projects are in trendier offices, says Mundy, although he has also done graffiti in the Wholesale Warehouse in east London – so it’s not just the cool crowd who see the value of this particular art form.“Omar, one of the owners of the warehouse, takes his clients into his office with graffiti to create a more relaxed and friendly environment,” explains Mundy. “He told me to make it young and fresh with lots of bright colour. The other rooms are stale and old-looking but now that one is quite young and hip.”So when did graffiti transition from an illegal form of self-expression on the street to a viable design element? “I do think that graffiti is in vogue right now,” says Felipe Falé, business manager for office design company Iduna. “It’s being approached as a decoration item but there is more to it. It’s an affirmation of a whole urban aesthetic that needs to be addressed and should have a place in the mind of the modern designer.”At the Ofitec show in Madrid, Iduna showcased its collaboration with Portuguese graffiti artist Francisco Bernardo – plain white storage cabinets sprayed with graffiti images. The ideas went far beyond the visuals themselves though.“We don’t want to see it as a trend. We want to see it as a way of demystifying the graffiti as an act of vandalism, and demystifying the idea of a cabinet as just a cabinet,” says Falé. “It is the irreverence of the graffiti clashing with the architectural design of the cabinet. Graffiti is part of a new language that aims not to obscure or damage the base material, but to raise awareness of its versatility and ability to endure change.”But not all graffiti in work environments has originated with such lofty ideals. Office Projects Ltd in London was inspired to install a tongue-in-cheek graffiti mural after its premises were broken into, laptops and key equipment stolen and spray-painted tags left behind on a brand new wall of storage units.“They made a right mess of the place. We were in the midst of doing a mini-refit so we decided to take the mickey out of ourselves and enhance the graphic wall as a reminder of the urban environment we live in,” says marketing manager David Nagy. “As an organisation, we take what we do very seriously, but we still like to have a little bit of a laugh at our own expense. The great thing about urban art applied in this way is that we can change it easily – in the same way that real graffiti evolves.”However, Elliot Thorpe of graphics firm Genix, who carried out the work for Office Projects Ltd, reveals that the mural isn’t graffiti in the proper sense. Instead, a “graffiti effect” was created from images and self-adhesive vinyl. Thorpe says the demand for such graphics is growing as offices try to tart things up a bit, such as the graffiti-type graphics in Richard Hywel Evans’ offices that nod to the firm’s new East End location.“It’s a reaction to our environment – there is a lot of graffiti around here. It’s a very different feel from where we came from in the West End,” explains sales manager Dickon Hayward. The graphics are abstracted images of the firm’s past projects – though indistinguishable as such. The colour and scale of the photographic images have been tinkered with, then traced over, to create the graffiti-type graphics.“Our office is in an old warehouse building and it was a real ramshackle place when we moved in,” says Hayward. “In the process of doing that, the graphics wall seemed a more exciting option than painting.”Aesthetic enhancement, artistic collaboration, reaction against robbery, reflection of an urban environment – most people would agree that these are all valid reasons to use graffiti in the office.Most people, that is, except Roy Johnson, a member of the UK’s Anti-Graffiti Association, who has been highly vocal in various forums against the illegal act of graffiti and its promotion. What does he make of the idea of graffiti slowly seeping into offices?“The Association is not in favour of anything that glorifies or attempts to glorify graffiti,” he barks. “If it’s acceptable in the office, it’s acceptable out there in the world. It worries me that young people will see it and then think it’s acceptable to put it on wall cabinets, chairs and then… out on the street!!” Harrumph.Come on Roy, all the kids are doing it…
Words by Frederika WhiteheadFrederika Whitehead talks to representatives from companies that are leading the way in sponsoring the arts and asks, what’s in it for them?Private companies spent a whopping £530 million in arts and culture in 2005-6. Art, of course, is a sound investment. With some careful research and considered advice it is fairly easy to make money from an in-house art collection – but the motivation for companies to buy art is not only financial.
The most obvious added benefit is that artworks can improve the office environment, making it a brighter, nicer and more interesting place to inhabit. And once you’ve finished cheering the staff up, there is the bonus of an enhanced public image. A carefully chosen crop of works made by rising stars can bolster a company’s reputation. Nothing says “Look at us: we are stylish, cultured and we have our fingers on the pulse” like a well-selected display of cutting-edge art.
So that’s money in the bank, a nicer-looking office to make staff happy and a shiny new public image. The fourth most popular reason cited by organisations wanting to stimulate creativity in their workforce was improvement to the psychological wellbeing of staff. They also said that the process of choosing and installing new artworks in the office space increased sociability. Staff who had never spoken before would find themselves side-by-side on a selection panel discussing the merits of hanging a Damien Hirst in the canteen or a Tracey Emin in the lobby.
Channel 4 recently launched ART4, the new collection of contemporary art for display in its London headquarters. A panel of art world insiders was asked to suggest works to collect and commission, but the final decisions were made by a committee of Channel 4 staff. A company representative, Cristina Fedi, explained that, “It is about making people feel their workplace is creative in all its aspects and it’s about transmitting that creativity into their work.”Alistair Hicks, art advisor for Deutsche Bank, which, with just over 50,000 artworks, has the largest corporate collection of contemporary art in the world, made a similar point: “One of the important things for the company in its policy towards collecting contemporary art is that putting art on the walls improves the environment and brings ideas into the office. It keeps the staff’s minds open at all times and, in business terms, obviously this is good.”The legal firm Geldards recently moved into new offices at the Arc in Nottingham. Together with local artist collective Contemporary Independent Artists – who it found through the government advisory body Arts & Business – it commissioned nine artists to produce site-specific pieces for its meeting rooms, board room, reception and lobby area. Geldards also chose to involve staff in the selection process, resulting in a unique collection of locally produced artworks. It now holds four temporary exhibitions a year and at the end of each exhibition staff vote on their favourite piece of work, which the company then buys for its permanent collection.Any business wanting to invest in art needs to find a suitable advisor. Since a vague request for “some art for our office” could land a company with a gilt-framed oil portrait of the company director or a selection of chain-store Impressionist prints, it is essential that businesses find someone that fully understands their requirements.The range of services offered by the people who call themselves art consultants is variable. It ranges from the odd-job man with a good eye who will come around and hang a few pictures to financial experts who have chosen to specialise in the art market and will suggest works of up-and-coming artists based on probable financial gain. Many of the large investments banks now offer art advisory services aimed at individuals and other companies.
Going back to school might be helpful. Most of the larger auction houses will offer both on and off-site advice and training for those interested in entering the art market. The Contemporary Art Society (CAS) also runs a group called Blood – an events-based membership club run by a committee of art world professionals. Blood members visit galleries out-of-hours and meet gallerists, curators and artists to discuss potential purchases.
Other top tips from the consultants for getting to know what’s what in the world of art include attending art fairs and degree shows, and assiduously reading the art press, auction reports and newspaper reviews. Would-be investors are advised to look out for young artists whose work seems to be gaining prominence. Questions for dealers should include who else owns work by the artist, how widely has his or her work been seen and is it on tour now. It is also important to know if the artist been nominated for any awards.
CAS is the grandaddy of art consultants. It was the first organisation in the UK to start advising companies on their art collections, beginning with De Beers in the 1970s. Others that have followed include the British Airports Authority, NatWest, Imperial Chemical Industries, Glaxo, Seagram, Unilever, Pearson, Pearl Assurance, British United Provident Association and etc.venues.
What makes CAS unique is that consultancy is not its raison d’être – it is a registered charity set up to promote the collecting of contemporary art. The money it raises through the provision of advice and guidance to companies is used to buy art, which it donates to public museums. Because of its links to the museum sector, it has immense intellectual kudos as an art advisor.Curator of projects for CAS, Nour Wali, is currently working with the Economist group curating exhibitions for its sculpture plaza. It is currently showing a sculpture by Matt Franks, a white polyurethane cartoon style explosion called Foooom!!!,created in 2007.
Jackie Keane, head of global marketing at the Economist, told Wali that she loved the Matt Franks installation because it represents everything that the company is trying to express through the arts: the explosive cloud as a brainstorm of thought, innovation and thinking outside the box.
Wali says: “The Economist as an intellectual organisation is very interested in new thinking and intellectual innovation. Matt Franks is the kind of artist they want to be working with because he has shown at the Tate Art Now space and he represents the younger, emerging generation of artists. He has toured international shows. The Economist might be seen by some as being a conservative organisation but with this choice of art they are thwarting expectations.”
Wali also acts as the consultant curator for etc.venues, which provides spaces for meetings, training and conferences. It wanted a selection of works that could improve the service it offers and make its venues memorable to visitors. Wali introduced the company to artists Lothar Götz, Cerith Wyn Evans and Adam Dant.
Götz produced the site-specific installation Canopy for the reception at the offices of etc.venues in Hatton Wall. Canopy is a wall painting that evokes a temporary space, somewhere to eat food, camp, pass through. For visitors to the building, who have come for training sessions and meetings, the reception is a transient space. The idea behind Canopy is that it will both empty their minds of the day they have had so far and stimulate their thinking before they enter the meeting rooms.
Wyn Evans’ work Later that Day... is subtle yet effective. The phrase is reproduced in neon on a wall in the underground cafeteria. The effect is that visiting diners become like actors on a stage or a still from a cartoon, the sign above their heads acting as their subtitle.
What makes art good for your office is exactly the same as what makes art good anywhere else. Good works are the ones that make you stop for a moment and think, that make you see your surroundings afresh. If an artwork can do that then it is likely to stimulate the people who live and work around it. And if you happen to have bought a piece from a young artist who turns out to be the next Tracey Emin, Barbara Kruger or Sol LeWitt, well, so much the better.WHO TO CONTACTADVISORY BODY Arts and business www.aandb.org.ukCONSULTANCIESThe Contemporary Art Society www.contempart.org.ukBlood www.bloodarts.orgART FAIRSThe Affordable Art Fair, Autumn Collection,18-21 October 2007 www.affordableartfair.co.ukFrieze Art Fair, 11-14 October 2007 www.friezeartfair.comESTABLISHED COLLECTORSDeutsche Bank www.deutsche-bank-art.comChannel 4 ART4 www.channel4.com/art4etc.venues www.etcvenues.co.uk