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Friday, October 01, 2004

My Discussion with Petra Arends Concludes

Today we conclude my discussion with the Corporate Executive of the UBS Art Collection, Petra Arends. (The previous entry from our discussion is available here.)

In recent years, the issue of fiscal accountability and responsibility has become more of a concern for large corporations. With the focus on maximizing shareholder value, activity-based costing, and micro-measuring return on investment, how does UBS justify its investment in the arts?
Public cultural institutions are increasingly subject to enormous pressure and can no longer do the work of providing a place for culture on their own. The governments do not have a lot of money to acquire art any longer.

We believe that it is part of our cultural commitment to support and invest in parts of our culture, in the arts. And we are ready to give that back to our community. We do believe that it is our duty as a global corporate player to show a cultural commitment and give back to the community.

Corporate collections are often started by a senior executive who has an interest in the arts. Once a collection is up and running, and is part of an organization’s corporate culture, how do you retain support for it among the staff and the group of executives who have funding authority over it?
In former times it was more or less driven by the former CEO in the US. Of course, here in Europe there was a kind of committee that bought art.

What we have done now is, in a very long process, put these two collections together. The outcome is a wonderful, really great contemporary art collection. The more people are involved (and we involved a lot of people—including the whole group executive board in order to get their green light for proceeding with these collections), the more people see the outcomes of the merger, with the art as well, the more people are excited about it.

A lot of employees really see that this is a wonderful effort. They are all thrilled about it. Actually The Collection has great support from everybody in the company.

I imagine that the web museum will be another tool for building support for the collection.
The web museum is a very good tool. When we started it, nobody knew about The UBS Art Collection. Even people who saw the art works didn’t know what belonged in The Collection. Is it the art at 1285 Avenue of the Americas on the 13th floor? Is it the art that is hanging in my office? So we decided to concentrate on the web museum.

We will bring The Collection to everybody through the web museum, and we will curate shows at least twice a year so that people can get informed about The Collection. This is indeed a tool that we believe will drive the whole process to another level.

When will the web museum be complete?
It will launch on December 1, one day before Art Basel Miami Beach.

Will people outside the organization have the same access to it as employees have?
Exactly the same content will be available from our Intranet and from the Internet.

Next February Contemporary Voices: Works from the UBS Art Collection will open at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (The exhibition will run February 4 through April 25, 2005.) The show consists of 72 works—44 of which UBS has donated to MoMA. What drove the decision to make such a generous donation?
What drove the decision to make the donation? It’s what I mentioned earlier. We do believe that it is part of our commitment to culture to give back to the community. The decision to give it to what I would say is the leading museum of contemporary art was an easy one. We also have a longstanding relationship with MoMA, and that was another reason.

Now we will have this wonderful exhibition.

Is there anything interesting about the show that we should be prepared to see?
I can’t give you any details about how it will be exhibited. I believe it’s too early to highlight anything in the show. It will be curated by Ann Temkin from MoMA, and she is still putting the concept together. But, as the name says, it’s contemporary voices. It’s an overview of important pieces from The UBS Art Collection.

Can you share names of any artists who will be included in the show?

Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Gerhard Richter, Dan Flavin, Ed Rushca, Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, Philip Guston, Blinky Palermo, Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Elizabeth Murray, David Salle, Anselm Kiefer, Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, Bill Jensen, Cy Twombly, Willem de Kooning, Francesco Clemente, Bruce Nauman, Richard Diebenkorn, Cindy Sherman, Susan Rothenberg, Sigmar Polke, Tony Craig, Terry Winters, Lucien Freud, Richard Long, Frank Stella, Christopher Wool, Kiki Smith, Damien Hirst.

It’s an outstanding collection, you’ll see.

To conclude, what are the top five issues on your mind as the executive in charge of the UBS Art Collection?

  1. Maintaining the high level of quality, not only of the art but also of all the other activities we participate in—the advisory board, the curatorial decisions, and our global approach.
  2. Keeping The Collection fresh and meaningful as the nature of contemporary art changes.
  3. Keeping a collection of this size relevant will continue to be a challenge.
  4. Taking it off the walls and sharing it globally is a challenge.
  5. Last, but not least, developing the online museum: developing the content, managing all the legal requirements of putting art online and making it a unique experience for the art world, our employees, and our clients. I’m personally really excited about it. I can’t wait to tell people about it. It’s a great opportunity for UBS in general, and for me it’s special.

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