The exhibition "The Spirit of Nature and Other Fairy Tales", Silesian Museum in Katowice, photo. Daniel Chrobak

Corporate Collections in Poland Vol. 2 – Art that works. The collections of the ING Polish Art Foundation

The aim of the ING Polish Art Foundation is to support Polish artists, as well as to present the most current phenomena in the field of visual arts. The Foundation’s collection, which has been built since 2000, includes works by Polish artists created after 1990.

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Author: Maja Wolniewska, Translation: Dostępny
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Currently, the collection comprises over 200 works: paintings, photographs, drawings, video works, sculptures and installations by both established artists as well as artists of the younger generation. The Foundation also initiates and implements a number of artistic and educational projects artistic (the “Professional Artist” programme), and is also involved in publishing activity (publishes books on contemporary art for adults and children).

The President of the Board of the ING Polish Art Foundation, Kamila Bondar, is interviewed by Maja Wolniewska.

How do you assess the most recent edition of the WGW[WARSAW GALLERY WEEKEND]? Did the initiatives presented include the effects of the lockdown and the pandemic crisis, or have these events not yet had an impact on the artistic community?

The crisis caused by the emergence of Covid-19 can be analyzed in many ways. The unusual situation in which we have found ourselves had a very diverse impact on the world of the visual arts. For some, it has brought the long yearned for holidays from deadlins and allowed them to hide somewhere far away from people and the city. I think that the past year will still produce a lot of interesting work, because it is a landmark year in many respects. Of course, the pandemic brought a giant dose of anxiety, frustration and even anger, and this could be seen in the work of the artists showcasing their work during the Warsaw Gallery Weekend. For example, in the works of Hania Krzysztofiak, winner of the ING Polish Art Foundation Award. The cycle presented during WGW began with the work Burza[Storm], which the author said was an expression of her despair, brought upon by a variety of circumstances, including the outbreak of the pandemic. However, the cycle ends on a happy note. It is crowned with a triumphant work entitled Napoleonka, which symbolizes overcoming obstacles and ending a difficult period in the artist’s life.

If you ask about the market crisis, I think it has mainly affected artists and all those involved in the field of visual arts, whose work has a more ephemeral, more design-oriented nature. This group has not received structural support, and I think that this will result in losses for the world of art and culture in general.

Interior of ING Warsaw headquarters, photo. Bartek Górka

I am asking about WGW, because this year, for the fourth time, the ING Polish Art Foundation awarded its prize – the purchase of the work of a selected artist for the ING collection. This year’s winner is Hanna Krzysztofiak. This is an interesting approach with regard to growing and expanding an art collection. Can you describe the process of awarding the prize?

We start by appointing the prize jury. It is composed of Hanna Wróblewska (Director of the Zachęta National Gallery of Art), two representatives of the Foundation’s Board of Directors and two other persons, who differ every year. The first of these is a foreign curator, who is either getting to know the Polish art scene, or is already planning events involving Polish artists. The second is a private contemporary art collector. The jury’s composition, which changes every year, allows for a confrontation of different perspectives The resulting discussion is always very interesting and it contributes a great deal of fresh input to our thinking about the collection.

However, the selection process itself is quite intensive. For 2-3 days we visit all the WGW exhibitions presenting the work of living Polish artists. Then we hold a meeting for a few hours and choose works for the collection. It is surprising that, despite different points of view and the context in which we work on a daily basis, we tend to be fairly unanimous in our choice of favourites. The discussion is often about the choice between two strong candidates. As part of the award selection process, the collection has been expanded by great works of such artists as: Katarzyna Przezwańska, Agnieszka Brzeżańska, Mikołaj Sobczak and most recently of Hanna Krzysztofiak.

Interior of ING Warsaw headquarters, photo. Bartek Górka

The ING Polish Art Foundation is a corporate foundation. It falls under the international ING group. However, its initiatives are autonomous and focused on Polish art. How is this tactic perceived by the headquarters? Was autonomy immediately included in the status of the Foundation?

The Foundation was established over 20 years ago on the initiative of ING employees in Poland. Certainly, the idea itself was inspired by an international collection, but the motivations behind it are completely different from those of the ING Group in the process of creating an international collection. In Poland, the idea of creating the collection came from the desire to support the local art community, to create a collection that would inspire others to acquire and take an interest in works of contemporary art. The Foundation was immediately established and close cooperation with Zachęta was established.

The ING international collection was created in the Netherlands in the 1970s. The impulse for its establishment was provided by the tax incentives that Western European governments introduced at the time. They resulted in corporate art collections being established on a mass scale. Another factor that contributed to the collection coming into existence, was the strongly established Dutch tradition of art collecting. Today many such collections are in existence there. Even public hospitals have their own art collections, which is completely unimaginable from the Polish point of view.

We maintain close relations with both the custodians of the international collection and another collection that has been incorporated into ING as part of mergers and acquisitions. All collections are a manifestation of ING’s patronage, but each of them has an individual profile. Each one is run independently.

1. Interior of ING Warsaw headquarters, photo. Yulia Krivich
2. ING Foundation Office, photo. Yulia Krivich

Some time ago you mentioned that in the international ING group, in addition to the main collection, there are several other foundations (British and Dutch, among others). What makes the Polish foundation stand out from the others?

The remaining collections are managed by persons working in the marketing departments and are owned by the ING Group. The Polish collection is the property of the Foundation, and in case of the termination of its operations, it will automatically become the property of Zachęta – the National Gallery of Art. Our collection is the only one that is, in a sense, a public collection.

An office space is associated with a strictly defined design or style that meets the given requirements. Is it possible to reconcile works of art with office space? How does art (especially difficult, unobvious and unaesthetic works) function in the spaces of the Polish ING branch?

I see great changes in trends ruling office space design. Just a few years ago, a very minimalist and elegant style dominated. Nowadays, office space begins to resemble a home office. It is more chaotic, warm and personal.

Art can function well in either of them. This is a kind of a test. If a given work of art can withstand the company of office equipment, colourful sheets from memopads and an scribbled-over whiteboard, it is a good work of art. And I do not mean that it has to dominate by colour, size or any other spectacular aspect. Sometimes it can be something very modest, but still evoke emotions, associations. It must have features that can help ‘remove’ us from the rest of the environment.

Our “field study” confirms that art really works. Our collection consists of over 200 works, which are normally found in different offices. They attract attention. They evoke various interesting reactions. I don’t know why this is happening, but I have noticed a trend: the most interesting conversations about the works in our collection happen with the top and bottom-ranked employees. These two groups allow themselves the greatest freedom when dealing with art, in expressing their opinions. They are not afraid to share their impressions.

The exhibition “Art in Our Century”, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, photo: Maciej Lansberg

The works from the Foundation’s collection are presented in the company’s office spaces – so they are not treated as museum objects, but more as a part of the common space, as a fragment of a home. They coexist with employees’ desks, with interior design elements imposed by the corporation, but also with employees’ private belongings. What does the arrangement of such a rather specific space look like? How do you approach this task as president and curator of the collection?

Well, it is not an easy task. I would say that this is one of the more difficult aspects. Some of the works from the collection are very large and look as if they are struggling for space anywhere they are on display. Others are very delicate and you have to look for safe places for them. There are also those that are very heavy, and we must provide brick walls for them. Who builds walls of of brick nowadays? Everywhere you go you will see gypsum board! I am sorry, I went into technical details. What helps us, is a very flexible suspension system that allows for quick changes in the suspension method, as well as an appropriate attitude to the subject. We believe that the method of display is more homely than museum-like. Nevertheless, I try to select the works displayed in one space with some thought. So that they interact with each other and create a single narrative. This is far from creating exhibitions, but it works.

How is the presence of an art collection received by the company employees? Do they treat the works present in their work space as yet another element of the office design, or do they have a more personal attitude towards them, treating them as household items?

Most reactions are of a very personal nature. The employees get very attached to such unusual elements of equipment as works of art. I can rely on their support when it comes to looking after the art works. If something disturbing happens in the vicinity, such as a drip from the air-conditioning system, I am often informed about it faster than the administration. It sometimes happens that employees want to choose the works that will be their companions. However, the principle is that it is we who suggest the art works, while also taking their expectations into account. Often the attitude to the works changes after the tours we organise or meetings with the artist. This is very satisfying for us, because it is tangible proof that our work and presence makes sense.

The exhibition “The Spirit of Nature and Other Fairy Tales”, Silesian Museum in Katowice, photo. Daniel Chrobak

I know from my own experience that contemporary art can be difficult for many people to appreciate. Does the Foundation conduct educational activities for the bank’s employees, which allow them to better understand the context of specific works? How do company employees react to such initiatives?

As I mentioned, when new art works appear in the collection, we organize guided tours, meetings with the artists. Recently in a shared breakfast format, which works very well. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Foundation, the Bank’s Management Board gave away collection albums to all 8,000 employees as a gift. We try to interest our employees not only in our collection, but also in contemporary art in general – we organise joint trips to exhibitions, e.g. during the WGW.

The pandemic prompted us to come up with and propose new forms of contact with the collection. We have started a series of lunchtime online lectures which place the works from the collection in the context of art history. It has been met with growing interest. We also organise Saturday online workshops for children, which are run by the collection artists from their studios. From January we start a course in art collecting for beginners.

The exhibition “The Spirit of Nature and Other Fairy Tales”, Silesian Museum in Katowice, photo. Daniel Chrobak

Do works from the collection travel? Are they being made available on loan to other ING branches in Poland and abroad? The Foundation has the best examples of Polish modern art in its collection. Are works often made available on loan to cultural institutions?

On a daily basis, the entire collection is exhibited at ING headquarters in Warsaw and Katowice, as well as at several smaller ING offices and branches in Warsaw, Poznań, Wrocław and Białystok. The offices are not open to visitors except for special tours, which we sometimes organise. But all the works can be viewed on our website: Every year works from the collection are lent for several or even several dozen exhibitions held at galleries and museums in Poland and abroad. Part of our collection has even been shown in China.

We also regularly organise exhibitions of our collection in Polish public institutions. They take the form of a review or become a pretext for building an exhibition around a given theme. Then we exhibit them together with other works on loan from artists or institutions.

Is there an art work that stirs the greatest emotion in you? With the most history attached to it? Which you could tell us about?

I have a very emotional attitude towards most works from the collection. I deal with them on a daily basis. I try to display the latest ones in such a way as to allow me to have frequent contact with them. It gives me a great pleasure. The works become a pretext for reflection and take on new meanings for me. The work that has recently evoked the most emotions among the employees is a sculpture by Agata Ingarden, probably the youngest artist in our collection:

The very materials from which it is made arouse great interest. The sculpture is made of metal pipes on which vessels made from oyster shells are set, into which charred caramel slowly drips. It is a kind of hourglass showing the passage of time. Our thoughts are directed towards a vision of a world where there are no more people and where the industrial traces of human presence are blurred by natural processes.

Kamila Bondar, photo. Yulia Krivich


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