Where have our Rauschenbergs gone?
“I function as a bridge – I mediate between contemporary art and the
people who work here,” Liz Christensen says about her work with the
collection of the Deutsche Bank in New York. In an interview, she
reports on the work she does for the collection and her contacts to the
city’s art and gallery scene – and she reveals why the staff especially
like Robert Rauschenberg.
Liz Christensen 2003
Foto: Hajoe Moderegger
Liz, you're in charge of the art
collection of the Deutsche Bank in New York. What do you do, exactly?
Liz Christensen: I'm involved in coordinating the art program here in the
building, which is divided into two areas. On the one hand, the work
consists in coordinating the maintenance and hanging of approximately
2,000 works of art in the New York collection, which is distributed
among six buildings. Under the motto "Art in the Workplace," each floor
is furnished with works of art. I also coordinate the hanging and the
events in the gallery. Once each year I curate one of the exhibitions
shown here. And, around twice each year, we present international
exhibitions of works from the collection of the Deutsche Bank in
The Lobby Gallery, in close cooperation with our colleagues in Frankfurt.
How long have you been working here?
I've been with Deutsche Bank
since 1994. Since that time, the collection has grown considerably.
Does the Deutsche Bank have a budget set aside for art-related activities,
meaning that you all have to compete for a share – the Fine Art
Department with the people who organize the cultural sponsoring, for
instance – or do you have your own budget, regardless of whatever large
exhibition the Deutsche Bank decides to sponsor?
No, it's all
separate. Sponsoring is usually the job of the
Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation. Mine is more an operational budget for
ongoing costs, for the art on the walls and the exhibitions in The Lobby
Gallery. Sometimes we have the opportunity to work together with other
departments; for instance, the next exhibition will be with
Stanley Greenberg, a Brooklyn-based photographer who received a stipend
from the bank in 2002. This is a fellowship financed by the Deutsche
Bank Americas Foundation and awarded through the
New York Foundation for the Arts. We'll be showing Stanley Greenberg's new
work in The Lobby Gallery, and he'll be coming here to speak about his
work. In addition, he has a new book coming out soon. By the way, the
fellowship program has been in existence for three years now; the New
York Foundation for the Arts has taken over the task of administering it.
The fellow obviously doesn't have to be a German artist?
requirement is that the artist is a resident in New York. Nationality is
not an issue.
The image of the Deutsche Bank is becoming less
and less German and increasingly that of a global institution. Is this
reflected in its cultural activities, as well? Or does the bank still
see itself as representing German culture here in New York? Does it
cooperate, for instance, with other German cultural institutions in the
Because we show works by German-speaking artists, we
certainly represent German culture – both in the bank and in the
gallery. The original idea lying at the heart of the collection was to
promote the cultural exchange between Germany and the US. Back in the
seventies, the Deutsche Bank in New York began as a branch of a German
bank, but over the years the bank has grown and merged with other
companies. Here in New York, the Deutsche Bank is no longer merely
perceived as a German bank, but a financial institution with activities
In this sense, the collection in New York
initially showed contemporary German art alongside American art. And
this continues to predominate to this day. But while the bank has grown
and merged with other companies, the collection has broadened and
expanded to include this international spectrum. Today, we also have
artists from Latin America and Asia in the collection, such as for
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Gunther Gerszo,
Nam June Paik,
Hiroshi Sugimoto, and
Are there differences in a collector's work
depending on whether he or she is working for the collection of an
international company as opposed to one of a private collector?
Yes indeed, it's a huge difference – especially when the corporate collection
becomes part of the working environment. Here, every floor is furnished
with a particular selection of art, and very different people have to
live with it. I play the role of a bridge – between contemporary art,
which can be difficult and sometimes even somewhat prickly – and the
"everyday" people who work here, whether they're guests or employees. We
offer tours, and we have an internal website profiling the works
exhibited in The Lobby Gallery or in the collection. For us, it's simply
a part of our job to impart a knowledge and understanding of art to our
Do you also offer lectures or seminars?
do, although I wish we could do more of this. We hold lunchtime lectures
and tours occasionally, and around five times a year we conduct tours of
the collection for our employees. Two weeks ago, Holly Block gave a very
interesting lunchtime tour of the current exhibition,
Dreamspaces/Entresuenos, along with
Javier Tellez (more
here), one of the participating artists, who has created a very
thought-provoking site-specific installation in the window.
What are you looking for when you select works for New York?
First of all, we're looking for high-quality works that primarily reflect the
ideas and developments on the current art market. The fact that the
focus of our collection is works on paper narrows it down, as well. In
addition, the Deutsche Bank exclusively collects art after 1945, which
is a long period by now, but is still considered to be contemporary art.
We're also trying to focus on certain themes when we select work for
individual floors in order to have an organizing principle the people
who work there can recognize. There is a floor dedicated to photography,
a floor with drawings by sculptors, and another one that has to do with
various ways of representing the human body. And we're also working on
new themes for our building on Wall Street, where we're moving to this
year. This will be a great opportunity to expand our spectrum of
subjects and maybe have some artists added to the collection whose works
demonstrate current movements in art. Thinking in terms of themes helps
to decide on acquisitions.
Are there limits as to what you can
include in the collection?
Yes, there are. We don't want to
scare anyone off, we don't want to be hostile towards any group or
organization, but that's about it. We do have some nudes, and colleagues
have told me that this is rather unusual for a corporate collection.
What are the reactions to the project "Art in the Workplace?"
I get a lot of feedback on the shows in the Lobby Gallery as well as on the
works on the walls. Some of the staff even develop possessive instincts
concerning "their" artwork. For instance, when a
Robert Rauschenberg series of works were brought to Zurich for the new
bank building there, I got phone calls and e-mails demanding to know
what had happened to "our Rauschenbergs"– it was a very popular Pop Art
piece, a kind of landmark that the staff knew. When a group or
department is moving, they often call me and ask if they can take the
art with them to their new office. I can't always comply, because
there's usually thematic artwork already in the area they're moving to.
Of course, the hanging has to be changed once desks get moved around. I
wait until this is complete, and then I make a plan as to where to hang
Generally, people are very interested. As bankers,
of course they're also interested in the value of a work of art. They
ask questions, they're curious, and once I start explaining, they want
to know more. Sometimes, of course, they also complain about what's
hanging in front of them. We change this whenever we can – there's no
good reason for making people unhappy with art. But, in general, the
staff are proud of the collection, and also of the fact that it's rather
progressive, a little edgy, and above all very contemporary. I believe
that it opens up your mind when you're confronted with art, and the
reactions to our "Art in the Workplace" concept proves this.
Does the New York collection stand on its own, or is it part of the worldwide
collection of the Deutsche Bank?
It's part of the worldwide
collection, which consists of almost 50,000 individual pieces.
Altogether, the collection of the Deutsche Bank is the largest corporate
collection in the world. Each individual part of the collection, though,
has its own separate identity.
What are your connections to
the New York art world – do you feel yourself and the collection as
being part of it?
Absolutely. I go to the galleries
regularly, to artists' talks, museum exhibitions, and art fairs. I
really try to stay on top of things. There's always something going on
here, and I feel very much a part of that world. Besides, good contacts
to the galleries are indispensable for our exhibitions.
know how the public reacts to the exhibitions of the Lobby Gallery?
The Lobby is a unique space, both public and private at the same time. People
can wander in from the street, although the security guards are clearly
visible. Because of its high ceilings, the space is cavernous, divided
by panels. A certain logistics are required to conceive exhibitions for
this particular location. I don't really know what people who visit our
staff think about these pictures, but I do know that they look at them.
We have 500 visitors each day to the bank, so the number of people who
come to see the shows can't be all that low. Many people come on the
weekends, as well, even though we don't advertise much. We issue press
releases and publish listings. We occasionally get reviewed, and that's
great. The exhibitions are mainly for the benefit of the people who work
here. If other people come to see it, that's wonderful. But it's a side
Do you work with local art institutions?
Yes, we do. Three of our six exhibitions each year are in collaboration
with local art institutions. For example, we're currently working
together with the
Museum of Arts & Design to feature a show this summer called US
Design from 1975-2000. For this show, The Lobby Gallery will be
displaying architectural models by renowned architects such as
Maya Lin, and
Robert Venturi. We've also worked together with the
Guggenheim on a show of early Modernist works from their permanent
collection, we've done several art projects both with
Creative Time, a public arts organization in New York, and the New
York Foundation for the Arts. The current show in the gallery is a
Art in General, a downtown arts non-profit. All this is an attempt to
reach out to the art world here. And I think it has a broadening appeal
to the people who work here.
What is your next project?
Moving the entire building down to Wall Street! Which is a real challenge,
because the lobby is covered in medium-grey granite. It's a bit
imposing, but together with my colleagues Dr. Ariane Grigoteit and
Friedhelm Hütte, we're making it into a really attractive location where
an impression of the Bank's excellent collection can be gained
immediately upon entering the building.
Can you commission a
work of art specifically for the Lobby, or do you help yourself to the
For the moment, we don't need any new
acquisitions, because we can work with what we have in our collection
worldwide. The cost-cutting affects everyone right now, of course, the
art department no less than the others. People tend to want to
particularly cut back in areas they don't think of as being essential.
It is my firm belief is that art is essential and necessary for our
quality of life, today more so than ever.
The interview was
conducted by Verena Lueken, editor and American correspondent for the
cultural section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. She is recent
author of the book "New York - Reportage aus einer alten Stadt", DuMont
Verlag, Köln 2002, ISBN 3832178082.