WHY DO BUSINESSES BUY ART?

In 2010, investment firm Goldman Sachs opened the doors to its new headquarters in lower Manhattan. Just inside stood Julie Mehretu's massive, specially commissioned work, Mural, which measures 80 feet by 23 feet. It's just one widely publicized example of a powerful company acquiring art by a venerated artist in the last decade. But besides the immediate visual impact that accompanies it, why would any business collect and install artwork so prominently? We spoke with experts who help some of the world's largest companies acquire art collections to gain insight into the little-discussed (but very publicly displayed) practice.

Why do companies buy art in the first place? Is it just for decorating?

Companies buy art for more than just decorating purposes, but let's not ignore the impact art and decor have. It's just as much of a statement to have walls that are totally bare as it is to have walls hung with paintings or photographs. That's important for a business that spends lots of time engaging with clients. The feelings those works convey communicate a lot about what the company stands for and does.

That's interesting. How else does art help a company communicate?

Art can be a means of telling a company's story visually. Media companies, for example, often gravitate toward art that's colorful and dynamic, works that reflect the nature of the media business itself. Art can also help set the tone of a workplace. Is a given office supposed to be relaxed? Or more formal? Social media companies might turn to art that's bolder in scale and palette to reflect the fun, lighthearted energy they want to capture. Alternatively, an investment firm might be interested in works that are a bit more serious given the responsibility they have to people's finances. Ultimately, art programs are messaging tools.

I've heard that some companies also treat art as an investment. How does that work?

That's true, some companies do treat art as an investment – but not the traditional kind. Of course, most businesses want to make sure they're spending their money well, but art can't make the kind of immediate returns a financial investment might. Art can't be rapidly flipped the way some commodities can be and the art market is generally slower to respond than financial markets. The value often lies in how well a company thinks an artwork translates the appropriate message. If a work is by an especially famous artist, that cachet is valuable as well.

It sounds like companies are buying art almost like collectors do.

They absolutely are. Increasingly, the line between corporate buying and personal collecting is blurring to a substantial degree. Art is becoming integral to the identities of many different companies. And corporate collections can get quite large depending on the amount of space an office has. The open-concept offices of Silicon Valley that have spread worldwide in recent years have decreased the amount of wall space for art, but that often means buying larger, more significant works with higher visibility to occupy what space is available.

How do companies even go about getting all this art?

Business leadership sets the tone for the kind of art they want in their space, but the actual acquiring of art is usually guided by art advisors who specialize in creating corporate art collections. These specialists typically begin the process by having conversations with those in charge and then showing them as much art as possible to get a better sense of the desired direction. Sometimes, these advisors will come on board before a physical office is even built, coordinating with architects so any artwork is as integrated into the space as possible.

Are there any differences between how more established companies are buying art versus newer companies?

Not necessarily. However, established companies are often rebranding and building out new spaces, so their needs do differ in that respect. It really comes down to an individual company's philosophy when it comes to art.