The Fleming Foundation: Excellence Rooted In A Corporate Art Collection

The bank Robert Fleming and Co. started collecting art in 1968, after David Donald, a bank director, suggested that the company improve the interior design of their corporate offices. The bank continued to expand its art collection until 2000, when Chase Manhattan bought Robert Fleming and Co., at which point the Fleming-Wyfold foundation bought the artwork to preserve the collection.

Paul Macgee and Helen Turner from the Foundations & Trust, an artist collective, have put together a show, (Un)coverings, on three floors of the Fleming Collection. The basement and ground floors show sixteen works, either landscapes or still lifes, which have never before been shown publically. F & T have designed bespoke wallpaper as a backdrop to the sixteen paintings, which has a similar design to an un-spiralled DNA strand using mundane office objects such as chairs and plants instead of nucleobases.

All the paintings have the same decorative, tranquil appeal; clearly the bank was not interested in displaying more cutting edge pieces, such as a Lucian Freud nude that would have been both a bold statement and a conversation piece. The purpose of their selection was to decorate the otherwise bland office walls and create a pleasant work environment, not showcase the avant-garde tastes of the company. The Collection is especially noted for its paintings by the Scottish Colourists, a group composed of Samuel John Peploe, John Duncan Fergusson, George Leslie Hunter, and Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell. The Collection also includes works by 20th-century artists including James Cowie, Stanley Cursiter, Anne Redpath, William Johnstone, William George Gillies, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Robert Colquhoun, Alan Davie, Joan Eardley, Craigie Aitchison, Elizabeth Blackadder, John Byrne, Will Maclean, John Bellany, Alison Watt and Jock McFadyen.

New works by F&T inspired by the Fleming Collection are on show in Gallery Two. These work explore the significance of the art collection’s relationship with office culture and interior design. There are a series of new works hanging in a cluster on the wall. One piece of a dark blue seascape reflects the serene atmosphere of the collection’s landscapes from Gallery One, with the iconic “&” symbol from the Robert Fleming & Co. company logo positioned at the centre of the canvas. F&T explored how the corporate office atmosphere compromised the sublime feeling expressed in its art collection. The “&” symbol smack at the centre of the canvas disrupts the natural scene, however the large “&” symbol is rendered in the same dark blue and white colours, which allows the “&” to somewhat blend in with the seascape, creating a new cohesive reality.

Most banks have corporate art collections.  The oldest known collection is Monte dei Paschi, a Renaissance collection in Siena that dates to 1472. The Fleming Collection reflects Robert Fleming & Co.’s personal history covering three hundred years of Scottish art. One of the largest and most well-known bank corporate art collection belongs to Deutsche Bank, which has over 55,000 pieces of art that decorate the bank’s office buildings around the world. Deutsche Bank has successfully collected some of the hottest names in contemporary art, including Gerard Richter, Georg Baselitz, and James Rosenquist. Deutsche Bank denies collecting art for profit, but rather to showcase high quality and relevant art. As a financial institution it is somewhat impossible to ignore the art collection as a means for investment, if only as a way to exemplify Deutsche Bank’s intelligent financial ventures in all matters. The collection started with German artists, which now decorate the Deutsche Bank offices around the world together with works by the host countries’ artists. The collection is symbolic of Deutsche Bank’s history. The New York City office headquarters really reflects the vibrant art world of the host city, with each floor specially curated to a specific theme. The floor themes include “Off the Grid” and woodcut prints from around the world.

 An art collection generally lives in either the public sphere, like in a museum, or the private sphere, like someone’s home. A corporate collection captures an audience somewhere in the middle. The audience of the collection has to first have a reason to be in the bank’s corporate offices, limiting the accessibility of the art. Even within the office buildings the works in the hallway will be seen far more than those in the senior partners’ rooms, which adds a whole other layer of audience selection. (Un)coverings reveal the original location of the work, such as David Young Cameron’s Loch Fyne that hung in a senior partner’s office. Corporate hierarchy of wall space is obsolete in the F&T show, which exhibits together paintings taken from all around the office that have never before been accessible to the general public.

The Fleming Collection is a goldmine of Scottish art as well as an important window into the world of corporate art collections. The collection is located in Berkeley Square, Central London

Words/Photo By Katherine Morais

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