Contemporary Corporate Collecting
A talk with Peder Lund



Stephan Dillemuth: In my research on "The Academy and The Corporate Public", I try to ask to what extent we are experiencing a shift away from the ideal of a democratic public sphere towards a more fragmented "corporate" public. If this change is really happening, the idea and the function of the arts and the role of the artist will change as well.
In this series of talks I am making with members of the Norwegian public, you are the only representative from the corporate world. I heard you were working for Christie's…?

Peder Lund: I never worked for Christie's, or for Sotheby's either, but I did a Sotheby's course on contemporary art, about 10 years ago. They have different courses linked to the university of Manchester…but this is separated from the Sotheby's business.

SD: Now you are working here in Norway for Norsk Hydro.

PL: With Hydro. I take care of the existing collection. Also, I occasionally guide them on PR issues - if they are asked to provide economical support to artists, exhibitions, cultural programs or other special projects within the arts. I guide them in how to do so, what to support and what not to support.
I also acquire pieces for their collection, which is restricted to Norwegian art. I use a small part of the budget to strengthen their collection from the last century, but 90% of the funds go into Norwegian contemporary art. Lastly, I work for them whenever they plan a new building. At the moment they are planning to build new corporate headquarters and I will be working with the architects to find an artistic solution for that building. We are starting well in advance of completion to establish a dialogue between the architecture and the art.

Gardar Eide Einarsson: Do you also do consultation for other businesses?

PL: Yes. I also work with Telenor, helping them with their collection. They thought they had a collection because they owned 3,000 art works but we told them, when they constructed a team to consult them, that they didn't. They had a compilation of art works with no meaning, no direction and not much quality.
But they have started to become a serious collector. Now they want to make an important, serious collection of international and Nordic contemporary art, spanning all different techniques and expressions. Time will show what it will end up being. Additionally, they have an extensive program for integrated art. There is a Swede called Claes S¯derquist, in charge of this whole project and I am working closely with him in relation to some of the artists involved.

Josephine Pryde: What is integrated art?

PL: The corporate world needs categories…We have made a distinction between "autonomous art" - things that can be moved, like paintings, installations, photographs, video screens and objects - and "integrated art" which is built-in to the structure of the building.
But this is not like giving the artist a wall or a certain space - it's more of a dialogue through which the best solution is found. The artists are shown the building, the idea behind it, the movement within it, the functions of the different spaces, and then try to find out where they think their piece would fit, and also in what way they can best express themselves.

GEE: Did Telenor have any clear ideas when you first entered the corporation?

PL: They found a way, a basis rather, from which to construct an idea for their collection by gathering a group of different individuals involved in the arts. Through discussions on the needs and practical use of the arts for employees in particular, but also for clients and visitors, the contours for the collection were made.

SD: Where do you see yourself? Are you inspired by successfully integrated projects in other countries? What do you think of other corporate collections here in Norway?

PL: It is no secret that the history of corporate collection and especially the use of corporate collections as a means for promotion and gaining political access abroad has deeper roots in continental Europe and in the US. However, several Norwegian companies have collected for a long time, for example Hydro who started around 1910. Many Norwegian companies also started collecting, or at least bought original art for decoration purposes, in the 1990`s.

SD: There are other corporate collections in Norway, how would you define them?

PL: Well, you need to see who made them and why and how conscious the different corporations have been. In the case of Storebrand, the insurance company, they hired a curator from the Museet for Samtidskunst, whose name is Steinar Gjessing. They did not have any particular wants or needs in terms of periods or artists, they gave him almost carte blanche: to make a collection, a little bit international, a little bit Norwegian. They gave him a budget, a limited time, I think one year, and they told him just go ahead and do it. The company's CEO was also actively involved.
There is also the collection of Kreditkassen, which has existed for maybe 30 or 40 years. They've started a bit more seriously for the last years, forming a group of consultants with smund Thorkildsen and a couple of others. They are also exclusively buying Norwegian art.
Then there is DNB with a good collection, but that is more or less dead, because they are not buying much -- and apart from that you have smaller corporate collections like the one of Bergesen, the shipping company, Selvaags sculpture collection, Statkraft etc.

JP: What do you think made Telenor realise that developing their collection was necessary?

PL: Its director, Mr. Hermansen, is very interested in art, especially Norwegian paintings of the 1930's. He established a dialogue with different people - for example, the former cultural minister of Norway was involved for a period. She oversaw the making of a framework as earlier described.
Now they have a group of four young Norwegian art historians who are discussing what's happening internationally, and we have an agreement that this collection should be in dialogue with the architecture. It should fit the buildings, it should be easy to display it, easy to change and move around (except for, of course, the integrated art) and it should also be easy to display it in a museum situation. So we have made a collection where you have visual lines, referring to works of art you can easily place in dialogue with each other with no other links but that, art historical lines, where you have groups, similar expressions, and so forth.

JP: So Telenor think of their collection's value in terms of its visibility, and not simply in terms of money in the vault?

PL: It would be wrong to say that it has nothing to do with money. Of course it does, but that is not the primary goal. The collection is not put together in order to invest money. If you are involved in the insurance, oil, or whatever business, the number one place to invest would be in your very own business, because that's what you know best. Buying art should be benefiting your employees, making them aware of contemporary art, teach them something about contemporary attitudes and involving them. But of course if you are spending a large amount of money, it's important that there are certain rules. If you spend a million on an art work that is not worth it, you are not doing a good job on behalf of your stockholders…

JP: It was just interesting how you were laying stress on the flexibility of display…

PL: We want to be able to move the work in different buildings, so that the employees can see all of it…

JP: …maybe in Denmark too, I read in the paper today something about Telenor buying into the Danish telecommunications industry

PL: Absolutely. Telenor has major holdings in Eastern Europe, in South East Asia, in Ireland… They have, for example, involved Jenny Holzer in a project and one of the things discussed with her is that her texts will be translated into all the languages of the countries where Telenor has any stakes or businesses. Employees will be able to read the message "Murder has its sexual side" in their own language.

SD: So far you have talked about the corporate engagement inside of the corporate building - as entertainment and education for the people who work there.
But are you also engaged in other forms of corporate interaction with the arts - sponsorship, grants, museum shows - image politics in the public sphere?

PL: Absolutely. This is also one part of my position with Hydro and Telenor. The corporate Public Relations hardly understand the mechanisms of the art world. How can they be sure that they support the proper places?
See, certain fields in art and culture today are extremely commercial already, they can easily support themselves. From my point of view they should not receive any other financial support than what they can gain for themselves.
The places where support is needed are non-profit places, which can reach a different, but distinct public. Also artists or artist groups who are working in less commercial ways deserve to be heard and supported.

SD: But this is not just altruistic support. The company seeks to make themselves a positive image by supporting the arts.

PL: Clearly corporations love having something in return for the money they spend - they want to see their logo - but of course not many people in the art world will have a positive recollection of a company that splashes their logo over the whole event. This is not how it works!
Done in the proper way a company can gain instant and high political access. Art can be used as a ground for communication between cultures and countries. In order to conquer, for example, a new market or to show itself operating already within a market, a company can use art, not as a commercial presentation, but as a meeting place for people they want to have relations with.

We curated an exhibition once together with Høvikodden Art Centre that was based on the collection of Norsk Hydro. A rather strange compilation of Norwegian art from the last century was shown in China, in the National Gallery in Beijing and in the Shanghai Art Museum. In exchange Høvikodden Art Centre showed an exhibition of Chinese art from over the past 5000 years….

And it happened that Norsk Hydro achieved direct political access and were able to meet the people they wanted to meet instantly. Norsk Hydro had been in China since 1913, however they wanted to show where they were coming from. 250,000 visitors came to see the exhibition in Bejing and in Shanghai it was similar. Hydro had a Chinese TV crew coming to Norway to make programs about Norwegian art and culture, about Norsk Hydro's art collection and about Norsk Hydro as a company. We had the Chinese TV crew out in the North sea on a beautiful sunny day - they were flying the helicopter out there and filming a big whale - Norway and Norsk Hydro, environmentally clean - this was to be shown to about 400,000,000 people, some 10 -15 times…

JP: The Tate Modern's "Century City" exhibition gave me very much the feeling that I was walking through different, specially themed rooms in which politicians and ambassadors from all the different countries who were represented through their cities, and more again who were probably not, could socialise at the various openings and exchange notes. The artistic side of the exhibition was made to work hard professionally.

PL: That is important. But generally speaking I think that the Tate Modern oversold themselves a bit. Look at the Turbine Hall for example, where it says "Louise Bourgeois - the Unilever Series", with the emphasis on Unilever. This year it's probably another corporation, British Petroleum, beyond the petroleum. They have just this beautiful green flower there, they don't stress their logo, they don't stress their company, they just say that the Tate was able to stage this exhibition through the aid of…BP and that's it.

GEE: Now there's this exhibition at Astrup Fernley with the whole Mosell connection, which seems to be a good example of a very clumsy and stumbling attempt to enter into the territory of cultural sponsorship…

PL: They did the same thing last year. This has grown over the last ten years: there is Helmut Lang with their in-store column by Jenny Holzer, there is Yves Saint Laurent in Soho showing new installations by young artists every other month… I mean, the whole fashion and corporate world has embraced art, which is clearly visible in a lot of 1990's art. It has this sort of corporate 'cool feeling' - it goes with charts, logos etc. This art is to be suited for corporations - some of the artists do it perfectly well, stressing the right issues, and others are just complying. There are a lot of younger artists that have been misled, because corporate collecting has exploded, especially in America, but also in Europe.

SD: Can we talk already about a new development in the arts, 'Corporate Art'? And again, when you talk about Bejing and China it becomes clear (and we know) that culture turned into a tool or a decoy to attract the global capital. What is your stance towards the future of this?

PL: I think with the implosion of the new economy, a lot of corporations are disappearing and a lot of them are trying to save on the budget. A lot of what you have seen as support in the cultural sector will just evaporate over the next few years. But also, I think that the companies who stay will stick with the cultural programmes by setting a few standards and a few ethical rules in terms of how to support culture. It will go on in a big way, as long as corporate policy does not intervene in the professional side of culture.

GEE: When we interviewed Per Bjarne Boym at Museet for Samtidskunst (the national museum of contemporary art) he said that he would have no problem if his museum was sponsored by a big company like Coca-Cola, as long as they did not intervene with the professional side. So what about the future of public collections, especially in places like Norway where the budget probably can't compete with the corporate collections?

PL: It is very obvious that the Norwegian government is not supporting its museums enough. There are no adequate budgets and we have the wrong tax policy. In other countries you can deduct your donations to museums up to 100% of the current value - but not here.
In Norway you will find only about 10 serious collectors on an international and high quality level anyway. And in a case of inheritance these collections will probably leave the country, and go to international auction houses. Only if the heirs were able to deduct donations from their tax bill would these works have a chance of ending up in Norwegian public collections.

SD: True. But even if this were to be the case, the museums depend more and more on corporate money. Supporting and financing (the 'autonomy' of) contemporary art creates a positive image for those who support and finance. In the case of the state, the positive image falls upon the idea of a self-administered society (which has an interest in representing its cultural production). But in the case of Coca-Cola or such like, the company legitimises (and glorifies) a hegemonic economy that is interested in a community ONLY because they are consumers of their product. Thus the corporation tries to give those societies the cultural support that they might need for cultural identification, but ONLY to identify them with their product as well. Do you see the difference here?

PL: In my opinion and experience, curators and museums seldom sell themselves out entirely and allow promotion to mix with the subject matter of exhibitions.

SD: But isn't that something that was always a danger that through this corporate engagement into the arts, the state pulls out of responsibility… And later, in times of recession the company pulls out and…. well, I think in Norway it's less of a problem than elsewhere, because the corporate sector here is the state sector to a larger extent than anywhere else.

PL: With Telenor and Hydro that's definitely the case. The state holds somewhere around 60 - 70% of Telenor and in excess of a 40% stake in Norsk Hydro

SD: But Statoil is the biggest player in this field, right?

PL: Which is, until now, 16 June 2001, 100% state owned, but will be 80 or 70%. But that's not the issue.
They might be the largest player in bulk, and even perhaps budget-wise, unfortunately it is not however my impression that the same can be said about the artistic quality of their collection.
The state must keep 100% control when it comes to maintaining a strong, wide range of museums and cultural programmes with to enrich their people and support the tourist industry. If they reform the taxation system in such a way that they can easily receive donations, then the museums will also be able to show private attitudes in collecting from different periods, another important aspect of the full cultural picture.
Corporate identities should have no influence whatsoever on artistic quality or on how collections are being handled and shown. They should only be players because it's a beneficial thing to do economically. Sometimes that's the only language they understand.

SD: In Germany we have two cases where the corporate engagement is very strong, Deutsche Bank on the one hand, collecting lots of drawings and stuff, and Siemens Kulturprogramm. They made this very strange series, called "An initiative by Siemens". That means art is no longer supported, but initiated by the corporation. I guess the goal for the company is that they become art producers themselves, which is not so far away from corporate image making and branding. The division that you seem to be after, between the artistic assertions and corporate aspirations seems to be lost, and art serves more and more a purely economic interest.

PL: I totally agree. If a company wants to engage in cultural activities, it needs to provide a structure where the involvement of the actual company is secondary to the professional idea/solution or programme that is being set up. The company should be free to professionals, but it must be entirely up to the professionals to form the idea and it must be this professional dialogue that initiates everything and decides. It shouldn't be up to the whim of a director to say, oh, this sounds like fun, this looks good etc. To be taken seriously, corporate engagement has to follow a set of rules, and only then can art claim its integrity. There are a lot of corporate identities that offer grant programmes, Citibank, for example, and I think if they get too powerful they can easily destroy young artists careers by leading them onto paths that they might otherwise not have taken.

SD: If we try and see the changes that a global economy has brought to Norway and to its idea of a national public sphere, then we have to see that this civic public is becoming more and more fragmented. The state has the problem of keeping all those sub-cultural and international communities in one homogeneous political frame, whereas the corporations see them as attractive diversified markets to be conquered. Culturally they are increasingly dependent on corporate support. So, if the phenomenon formerly known as the (national) public sphere is broken into pieces, and if most of these pieces are increasingly determined by corporate interest, can we finally speak about a corporate public?

PL: Take the example of Telenor. This is a building of 170,000 square metres - it's a huge place and this has been discussed for a long time. In one way the company wants to open this to the public - it should be something for the local population, but also something for the suburbs or people from Oslo to come and see. They want to have the highest degree of openness possible for people to walk in and be able to see the different art works. Then you start asking yourself: how do we make people aware of what's there and what group of people should we address? Of course the bourgeoisie are generally or historically the ones that will come and that will have the artistic interest. But I think in Telenor's case, at least with their own employees, they conduct a programme in order to heighten interest and knowledge of the art collection and the art works. So all art works will have a plaque with name, title, technique, but also holding an identity number. On the company's website, you can then find more information about that particular piece and the artist and there will be links to other related works of the same period/technique/artist group or whatever. This is now in process, so that the onlooker will be able to find out more about the collection. It is also about involving museums, for instance, with the academy - to let it have a small section where students can have a temporary exhibition, a performance, an installation with no strings attached: the professors will be able to chose someone and do something here. Sounds good?

GEE: This of course aims specifically at fulfilling one of the main functions of art and art presentation for corporations - that the art collection will give an illusion of transparency. By making parts of the corporate headquarters open to the public (and needless to say only the few parts the corporation wants to make public) it gives an impression that the whole corporate structure is accessible and transparent.

SD: A side effect of all these programmes, and the most interesting aspect of corporate strategies worldwide, is that they step more and more into the functions that were state functions before…

PL: I do not think corporations collect art in order to create the illusion that they are transparent structures, that is too far fetched. However, well-displayed art of high quality underlines the company's wish to radiate high quality and determination to be best.
Secondly, I see no negative sides to corporations' cultural efforts, as long as the artistic society consists of able and alert critics and other skilful members ready to react.
The art programmes initiated by corporations in and around the workplace will rather function as eye-openers, or "teasers" if you like, to the employees and visitors, who again, hopefully, will seek out further information and events through museums, galleries or even the Internet.
The way our cultural society is structured today, it is still within people's knowledge that the direction is being set by the state run institutions, since these very same institutions are the ones responsible for our cultural heritage and its documentation. Doubtless, this may change drastically in the near future.
All initiatives, if managed seriously, are for the good and can only be seen as positive additions to a sector with narrow means.