An extraordinary vision: The JPMorgan Chase Art Collection

David Rockefeller’s vision for the firm’s new global headquarters encompassed an innovative concept of art in the workplace.

Dec 17, 2012 | Related Links Index Hidden Parent

Rockefeller saw art as an extension of daily life in the workplace that served both poetic and practical purposes. Art is subjective and allows one to contemplate ideas outside the black and white—the spreadsheet, exhaustive report or complicated analysis one may be preparing. To be able to look up and see something not related to the work at hand can serve as a release as well as an opportunity to open one’s mind to other possibilities.
This visual and intellectual stimulation is central to the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, which now numbers over 30,000 pieces installed in 450 locations worldwide. The Collection is renowned for its focus on contemporary art, which also dates back to the design of the firm’s new global headquarters. The building’s architect, Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, felt that the simplicity and sleekness of the building would be best complemented by contemporary art. Rockefeller embraced this idea and began to acquire art mostly by living artists, as well as artworks and artifacts by indigenous cultures in communities where the firm had offices.

Collaboration among experts
To this end, Rockefeller adopted the museum model of an advisory committee that would not only consult on purchases, but also help define the policies and procedures that have guided the Collection’s growth over the past 50 years. The Chase Art Committee included some of the most illustrious American museum directors and curators, including Alfred H. Barr, Jr., founding director of The Museum of Modern Art; Dorothy Miller, curator of The Museum of Modern Art; James Johnson Sweeney, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Robert Hale, curator of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Perry Rathbone, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. 
Forward thinking from the beginning
The first acquisitions included works by Alexander Calder, Sam Francis, Josef Albers, Jasper Johns and Louise Nevelson—all then little known outside the art world, but today recognized as powerhouses of 20th-century art. The choices also reflected a global view of the world of art that was ahead of its time, spanning works from South America to Germany to Russia.
Today, Rockefeller’s vision is carried forward by Lisa K. Erf, who has curated the Collection since 1996. Says Ms. Erf, “In my role, every day is different, every day is a sense of discovery and wonder about the collection that we have and about its potential for meaning, both within our organization and as we outreach into our communities.” Her focus is on acquiring works by living artists, continuing to “represent the art of our time across our geographies.”

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