Corporations buy art to project a particular image to shareholders and clients and to make workplaces attractive for staff. There may be a business benefit in supporting contemporary artists and being seen as part of a wider cultural community. Acquisitions come out of marketing, public relations or building and furnishing budgets. Choices may be made by professional art advisors or by company directors with an active interest in art. Over time, as companies come under new management, renovate their offices, relocate to new premises or enter into liquidation, works previously purchased may be depreciated to a residual value like other company assets and disposed of by donation or sale.
Last month, David and I attended an auction that included ceramic works from a Sydney corporate collection. Ceramic art can be attractive investments for companies as they are more affordable than painting and sculpture. The works in the auction were mainly very large one-off pieces purchased in the 1980s and early 1990s, including work by Deborah Halpern, Jenny Orchard and Ray Rogers (illustrated) to name just a few of the artists represented. While the estimates were a little on the low side for some of the Melbourne artists, they generally reflected the value of the pots. However, we were surprised to dicover on the day that there were no reserve prices. With almost no competition on many of the pieces, we found ourselves driving back to Bemboka the next day with a car loaded with pots we had had no intention of buying.
It seemed sad that these pots had become so undervalued by their owners although it was clearly to our advantage. It reflects the main difference between public and corporate collections. Public collecting agencies have the responsibility and funding to maintain permanent collections and will generally appreciate their assets using professional valuers and/or appropriate formulae. A company must make sure its buildings, furnishings and sponsorships communicate the right message to shareholders and clients and this will change over time. Assets that have served their purpose have only a residual value in business terms.