We’re recording a podcast with the new-ish head of UBS’s art collection, Mary Rozell, next week. As a teaser, let’s hear from her interview in this weekend’s Barron’s.
First, a little background. UBS has 30,000 pieces of art used to decorate its offices 800 around the world. Rozell says there’s a basic strategy when opening offices. Start with a loan of blue chip works and then build around it with younger and regional artists.
Let’s let Rozell take it from there:
Q: So what’s the current value of the entire collection?
A: I’m not telling you that. Anyway, it’s not a figure we could really know. The values change so much when you have so many artworks with fluid prices. Also, value itself is subjective – you can ask one expert what something’s worth and another expert will give you a value that’s very different.
Q: Corporate art collections are sometimes criticized for being drab and not taking risks in their style and subject matter. Is this the case with yours?
A: Our collection by nature is defined by the fact it hangs in offices. It’s not to say that we don’t have art that’s thought-provoking but we don’t do tough subjects like violence, sex or politics. It’s just too sensitive for a work environment. But we don’t want to sanitize the collection to the extent that it’s decoration and not art. We want it to be thought-provoking and inspiring.
Q: Do you have any other restrictions on the pieces you buy?
A: There’s a physical aspect: I really have to look at materiality. There are people coming in and out of offices all the time. It’s not a museum – so you can’t have delicate pieces. We’re limited by materials a lot. We also only really buy work from living artists and only in the primary market, as in from galleries. We don’t buy at auction, because part of what we want to do is support galleries. We really believe in the galleries’ role in developing artists. We do make the occasional exception: I’ve just bought a piece from the Sol LeWitt estate. But it has to fit in well or fill a need we see in the collection. The collection’s also primarily 1960s onwards.
Q: How often do you sell pieces?
A: We don’t really sell as a rule – only pieces at the very bottom end that are in storage and we’ll never use. We have staff sales, but it’s not like we’re ever putting our works on the auction block.
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