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"Shall we meet in the Freud?"

In the British headquarters of the Deutsche Bank, every conference room is named after an artist. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf visited Winchester House in the City of London and experienced how contact with art in the workplace is cultivated as a matter of course.

Simon Patterson, The Great Bear, 1992
© Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London

Winchester House, not far from Liverpool Street in the heart of London, on an autumn day: bankers, staff, and visitors hurry through the entrance hall of the British center of the Deutsche Bank. A constant coming and going in which every nationality, age, and dress code seems to find its place. Backpacks, briefcases, and lunch bags are lifted over the turnstiles; shopping bags with logos from ”Pret a Manger,” ”Boots,” and ”Harrods” flash amidst a crowd of stockbrokers, fashionably dressed young people, secretaries, bicycle messengers, and security staff.

It almost seems as though the tide of people were being sucked up into the spiral-formed whirlpool of color depicted in the enormous artwork at the front of the hall – James Rosenquist’s monumental painting The Swimmer in the Econo-mist. The work was commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin in 1992, and was installed in the entrance hall of Winchester House three yrs ago. The work’s objectives couldn’t have found a better setting to articulate themselves: Rosenquist’s vibrantly colorful vision of the dawn of the 21st century, which addresses the increasing virtualization of space and the tremendous speed of economic upheaval, actually seems to make the entire entrance hall swim. Its brilliant colors shine beyond the lobby to the street outside.

Reception area with works by James Rosenquist und Tony Cragg

The commitment with which Deutsche Bank has installed works of art in its branches around the world expanded to a new level when the British headquarters at the London Wall opened in 1999. The bank’s art department with its global heads Dr. Ariane Grigoteit and Friedhelm Hütte was consulted as early as the architectural planning phase of the building and has played a decisive role in organizing the presentation of the art collection. For the past six years, the curator, Mary Findlay, and the Deutsche Bank art consultant, Alistair Hicks, have been overseeing the London collection and the installation of works of art in the British branches as well as coordinating the bank’s exhibition activities in Great Britain. For them, daily contact with art is a priority. ”Art should be accessible to everyone,” they stress. For this reason, Mary Findlay and Alistair Hicks both feel that it’s important to break down people’s fear of contact with art. That they have been successful in achieving this goal is demonstrated by the popularity of a work that invites the viewer to touch it: Tony Cragg’s 1998 sculpture Secretions, built from thousands of dice. The sculpture is, undeniably, one of the most popular works of art in Winchester House. Another special feature of the London headquarters emphasizes the important role that art plays here. Visitors are often surprised when they are invited to a meeting not in a numbered room, but in a room named after an artist, as though it were a matter of business as usual.

Mary Findlay in front of Guest. 1.15 pm by Christopher Buckkow

Alistair Hicks in front of Ken Kiff's Drawing a Curtain

Art is not only installed in the corridors and the extensive Trading Floors, where hundreds of brokers conduct their business; each of the 60 conference rooms is also dedicated to and named after an artist. ”Is Freud free at the moment?” ”Shall we meet in a few minutes in Richter?” What initially seems strange to the guest is a self-evident part of their working day for the staff and business partners of the British headquarters.

Personal encounters with a variety of art movements while in the workplace seem so normal here that names of artists such as Francis Bacon or Sigmar Polke come up not only in connection with the rooms and corridors named after them, but also in normal conversation, as though they were old acquaintances. Just as each floor of the twin towers of the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt presents selected works of one respective German artist, the arrangement of the collection in Winchester House also conveys a history of postwar art and culture.

Corridor with works by Gilian Ayres and Sigmar Polke

Whereas in Frankfurt, however, one travels through the history of modern German art as one rises from one floor to the next – from younger artists in the basement to Horst Antes and Joseph Beuys on the upper floors – the London collection has been expanded to include a British perspective, as well. Each floor in Winchester House is organized thematically, dedicated to important exhibitions in Germany and Great Britain that were influential in the making of art history in a particular period and encouraging a comparison of English and German art movements. For example, selected works by members of R.B. Kitaj’s ”London School,” established in the middle of the 70s, are exhibited alongside expressionist paintings by participants in the 1982 Berlin exhibition ”Zeitgeist.”

Corridor and conference room with works by Francis Bacon and Graham Sutherland

The newest addition to this thematic dialectic is ”Sensation,” the 1997 exhibition of the Saatchi Collection that brought the Young British Artists gathered around Damien Hirst worldwide fame. Thus, a tour through Winchester House is characterized by an ongoing dialogue between Germany and Great Britain. As documented in Art Works: British and German Contemporary Art 1960-2000, a book conceived and opulently illustrated by Alistair Hicks, Mary Findlay, and Friedhelm Hütte, this artistic dialogue has emphasized the striving towards individual forms of expression as a reaction of European artists to the pre-eminence of the American art scene since World War II.

The collection philosophy of the Deutsche Bank, that the acquisition of artworks is meant as a cultural investment for the benefit of the staff and not as a means of gaining capital assets, has also influenced the selection of works purchased for the Bank’s British offices. Even those already familiar with Anish Kapoor’s sculpture Turning the World Upside Down III or Damien Hirst’s Biotin-Melamide can discover something new here. Mary Findlay and Alistair Hicks, in their efforts to bring together a broad-ranging and objective collection of contemporary British art, also choose works from unknown artists. As the collection consists almost exclusively of works on paper, works that cost comparatively less than other types of artworks, Findlay and Hicks can afford to take some calculated risks. It was therefore possible to collect works from young artists such as Tim Stoner, Susan Derges, and Charles Avery before they became prominent on the art market.

Works of Kapoor and Hirst, Great Winchester Street reception

Art in the workplace is both a challenge and an investment in the future. The importance of these efforts is also recognized by the public, as is demonstrated by the regular requests for tours of the collection, as well as the success of the exhibition Beuys to Hirst, which opened at the National Gallery of Scotland in November 2001. At the inauguration of the new Deutsche Bank building, the British public of Edinburgh was introduced for the first time to a selection from the more than 50,000 works included in the collection. The compilation of over 100 works by German and British artists such as Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, and Richard Hamilton was well received by both the public and the press. As the many visitors to the exhibition got their first opportunity to personally experience the wide range of the collection, it became clear that the view of history presented by the art collections at the Deutsche Bank in both Frankfurt and London can continue to be extended to include new perspectives. That presenting the collection to the public plays an important role in this was a fact demonstrated by visitors’ response to exhibitions such as Beuys to Hirst.

Along with the economic and social upheavals we are facing in the world today, reflected by James Rosenquist’s Swimmers in the Econo-mist, the challenges faced by the bank’s art activities are also in a state of change. The search for innovative forms of presenting art that began with the first purchases of art for the staff of the Deutsche Bank in the late 70s continues after over 20 years to be interwoven with an ongoing process of questioning and reassessment. It is, however, precisely this process which constitutes the appeal of an everyday encounter with art in the workplace.