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Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Discussion with Petra Arends Continues

Today we continue my discussion with Petra Arends, Collection Executive for UBS in Zurich. (The first part of the discussion is available here.)

If I understand correctly, the UBS Art Collection was put together in much the same way as today’s UBS was—through a number of mergers and acquisitions.
The collection has been built like UBS. A big part of the collection is the former PaineWebber Collection, and that is a world-class collection. There we had the issue of the name “PaineWebber” being taken away last summer with our single brand strategy. When that happened, the PaineWebber Collection became The UBS Art Collection. In Europe, we had a collection which was called The UBS Art Collection as well. So last summer, after the single brand strategy rolled out in June, we ended up having two collections, both running under one name.

In addition, the person who was the driving force behind the former PaineWebber collection [former PaineWebber Chairman Donald Marron] retired last November. The group executive board then asked, “What will we do with this collection?”

There were two opportunities. Either we used it or we got rid of it. We assessed all the artwork at the new UBS—“we” meaning not me but the art experts— and put together a collection [from all the holdings of both firms]. And in this collection we combined the best of the best, meaning from the former PaineWebber Collection and from the so-called European part of the UBS Art Collection.

Your major business competitors (firms like Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs) also have notable corporate art collections. Is there the same level of competition between corporate curators as there is between the bankers at these firms?
I don’t think so. Their collections are totally different from what we have.

As far as I know, post-merger, JPMorgan Chase has more than 50,000 works. I believe Deutsche Bank has a similar number.

Our concept is totally different from the concept they use. I don’t know the Goldman Sachs collection, and I don’t know a lot about the Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase collections, but I know that they are huge.

Of course, we have a lot of other art in the bank’s offices as well. But we really thought it made more sense to concentrate on a kind of boutique collection rather than having every piece of art integrated into “The UBS Art Collection.” We really tried to make a differentiation between the art-at-work and the collection, so we will really have an outstanding collection.

Our curators, at the end of the day, will be in more competition—no, not really a “competition”—but more in competition with museum curators than with other corporate curators.

How is The Collection managed today? Is The Collection managed centrally, or do different business units or locations manage works under their own supervision?
We will change the whole approach for the new collection. In former days The Collection was more or less hidden in the offices. And we are now thinking about how we can make The Collection visible and give back to the community.

We will start with the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art this spring. We will have a show in Switzerland as well. And we are working with leading museums to organize a world tour, but this is still in negotiations.

Our management of this collection is something different from what has been done with The Collection in former times. We will do our best to share the collection with the community. Beside the exhibition in New York and in Switzerland, we will have an additional exhibition in Puerto Rico. For this show, we will get our curator and the museum’s curator to meet, to define a structure and a concept for the exhibition. We really try to show the collection in various ways and of course with changing concepts.

Management of a collection can be done out of any city in the world because at the end of the day it comes down to how we will work together with the market, the branch, management, etc. The Advisory Board will reflect the very nature of The Collection, comprising people from four continents. We will have two meetings a year, probably in New York but possibly in Basel during the Art Basel fair.

At the end of the day it will be managed out of Zurich, but we are still in the process of defining how we will manage and where we will use The Collection.

What is the process that will be used for making acquisitions? Will it follow a museum model with committee decisions, or will individuals have greater control over decisions?
There is no process in place yet. This will be discussed at the first Advisory Board meeting in November. We will need to agree on certain principles.

We will hire two part-time curators. Actually we’ve already hired one. One will oversee the European and American art market. The other one will take a look at the upcoming Asian market. Those two curators will work together to make their proposals to the Advisory Board. They, at the end of the day, will make the decisions about what to acquire and when.

But again, we haven’t done that yet. This process will start after the Advisory Board meeting in November.

Going forward, will acquisitions be solely contemporary art?
Yes. This is a collection that is dedicated to contemporary art. We will be investing in established artists on one hand. And, on the other, we will be starting to invest in up-and-coming stars.

I always try to compare it with a kind of conservative portfolio. You invest 70% in blue chips and 30% you just try to invest in the up-and-coming. Of course you run the risk that these artists might not be so successful, but on the other hand you haven’t paid a lot. And it may be that exactly where you invested—in these up-and-coming stars—made it. And that is what we hope we will achieve.

Is that new process a departure from how acquisitions were made in the former PaineWebber Collection and the UBS Collection?
The guiding principles will more or less be the same, but the structure will be different. As you probably know, Don Marron was the driving force behind the PaineWebber collection. He had a good eye and incredible taste. When he retired, we were faced with the issue of how to manage this collection and maintain world-class standards.

We decided to rely on a panel of experts. We will have curators who will look all over the world for artwork. And we will have an Advisory Board made up of people from Europe, Asia, America, and Latin America who will make the final decisions.

Are there certain media or subject matter that are out of scope for the collection?
We will, of course, set these guiding principles as well. We have no video. We will have no installations. And all the art has to be moveable so that we really can show it.

Tomorrow Arends concludes the discussion by talking about what UBS is doing to make its collection accessible to the public.

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