Exchange Strategy vol. 2 – Corporate Collections in Poland
„An assumption that art branding is quite a nice idea for building a company’s image is merely the first and, in fact, the easiest step of the process. What follows is a tortuous, full of pitfalls expedition through the thicket of choices, decisions and concepts.”
And so, having meandered a little, we get to the most intriguing question: does young Polish art have a chance to become a relatively permanent part of national art branding? Let us begin with a brief overview of what we have. To be honest, we have little. There is the ING Polish Art Foundation established 20 years ago that, admittedly, collects art created after 1989, but has also many works by more senior masters, like Jerzy Nowosielski, Stefan Gierowski or Stanisław Fijałkowski. Not many truly young names can be found in this collection, and the last report available on the Internet (for 2018) informs about the purchase of works by two female artists, 37 and 46 years old at the time. Hardly a breath of young air. The same goes for the collection of another bank – PKO BP. Here also generations mix, with senior ones prevailing.
Still, there are four other projects focused exclusively on young art. The first, Views (Spojrzenia) is signed and financed by Deutsche Bank. It is a competition for young artists, held every two years under the auspices and supervision of Zachęta – National Gallery of Art. However, the bank’s role is passive and limited to financing the event. The second project is already mentioned Hestia Artistic Journey, an initiative that has been implemented for some time already in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. More interesting, because it does not confine itself to awarding prizes but assumes further cooperation (exhibitions, publications, etc.) with the winners. And there is also Project Room – solo exhibitions organised at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art since 2012 and presenting achievements of the youngest, eminent artists. This project’s patron is Bank Pekao. There was also another interesting competition for young artists, Samsung Art Master, but unfortunately it died a natural death nine years ago.
The collection M jak Malarstwo (P like Painting), being built by mBank, is the youngest in this group. It is focused, as the name suggests, solely on painting and limited to the works of artists under 35. Significant funds allocated to this project (and obtained through the sale of the bank’s collection of old paintings!) and long-term plans give hope that in a few years we will be able to admire the most representative and rich national collection of young art. By the way, this is a perfect example of adjusting artistic choices to image strategy, as the bank has recently become visibly oriented towards young dynamic customers.
So we have two competitions and two collections. For a pretty large European country, this is dramatically little. Which begs the question: why do large and wealthy Polish companies so eagerly and so often build their brands based on, for example, sports, and so rarely use contemporary art in general, and the youngest one in particular, to create their image? We can name several reasons. Firstly, no tradition. Society brought up with Matejko and Malczewski in the background, despite the passing decades and modernising world, still has difficulties warming to contemporary art, and especially to that of young artists. And since both the audience and the decision makers are not convinced, we have a true stalemate. All important actors feel uncertain about young art’s prestige and power. For them, sports seem a better solution.
Secondly, uncertainty. Contemporary art, and particularly young art, is commonly perceived as rebellious, full of scandals and controversial. Only the bravest take up the challenge – like Benetton did, building its promotional campaigns (but also corporate image) based on the shocking photos by Oliviero Toscani. In Poland, caution and even aesthetic recessivity prevail. The best example is the Christmas advertising campaign (which is, I emphasise, an image campaign as well) of the company Apart, using three “safe” celebrity women and a sugary, almost kitschy entourage, for which Hollywood film productions from the 1950s or My Little Pony world are no match. At the end of the second decade of the 21st century! Aesthetic pussyfooting confronted with emotions accompanying “women power” demonstrations taking place in parallel resulted in an explosive mixture and Apart’s conservative image instead of a driving force turned out to be the company’s ball and chain.
Thirdly, the fact that in Poland branding and advertising are persistently combined and companies strive to make their image strictly fit the nature of services offered or goods sold. With such an approach, young art indeed does not match garment production, insurance activity or oil refining. It would require some effort, some hard thinking to provide interesting transmission belts between the two worlds. But what for? Better to follow beaten tracks. In these circumstances, young art seems to be well suited only to IT companies and other businesses based on new technologies and progress. And these usually do not bother with branding, let alone art.
So is it all over but the shouting? Let us stop deluding ourselves that anything is going to change and accept that all we can get are a few CEOs who ideologically believe in contemporary young art? Not necessarily. Because what is offered by the emerging generation of artists, despite all its real or imagined flaws, has also obvious advantages that can be, with just a little creative effort, perfectly used to build a company’s image. Firstly, diversity that facilitates flexible adaptation to the expected corporate image. Young art is able to give us practically everything we can think of and what could correspond well with a potential partner’s expectations: lyric and drama, intellectual games and emotional tensions, allure and mystery, but also literalness and pugnacity. Flirting with the past and futuristic visions. Playing with kitsch, sophistication, richness and modesty. Literality and metaphor, exuberant imagination and keen observation. The list may go on and on. Young art is like a huge warehouse with countless shelves holding everything your heart may desire. You just need to know what you are looking for.
Secondly, young art’s great advantage is its accessibility and relatively low costs. You do not have to determinedly look for this art, it simply begs to be noticed. And for the price of one painting by Wojciech Fangor, which would undoubtedly add shine to a CEO’s office (although most certainly would not build a brand), a few dozen works by young but talented and already successful artists could be bought. Not to mention – increasingly important nowadays – an easy acquisition of copyrights that allows a company to freely use the benefits of art to build its corporate image.
And thirdly, forward-looking nature. Choosing young art means investing in the future, building image oriented towards development, potential success, meeting the demands of life. If I wanted to deposit my valuables in a reliable place, I would put my trust in a bank with antiques and old masters’ paintings in its CEO’s office. If I wanted my money for a rainy day to be invested in an interesting manner, I would look for a bank with some good geometric abstraction art adorning its walls. So, (hypothetical) Executive Managers, let yourselves be tempted!