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In addition to private collecting, an increasing number of companies, banks and banking foundations invest in works of art; in this view, we talk about “corporate art collection”. Art, therefore, can perform prestigious functions not only for individuals but for companies themselves, following a considered image strategy. Mainly, banks are historically devoted to the management of money. Nonetheless, an action to protect and enhance the artistic heritage has been carried out mainly by foundations of banking origin and has its roots in the historical philanthropic activity of the Savings and Public Banks. Originally, the property of artistic good was the consequence of the resolution of bad loans since many centuries ago.

Therefore, the collection of works of art is in fact part of the commitment and attention promoted by the dedication to safeguarding and preserving the many different cultural identities of our country. A “collecting” phenomenon, that is also all Italian, to be understood not only as a love for art but as a particular propensity made of sensitivity and taste and also as a specific aspect of the most comprehensive cultural act of the Foundations, in a broader dimension of activity and commitment to the reference community: purchase, recovery, restoration, protection and enhancement of works that would otherwise be dispersed, which is often also combined with the scientific contribution through the publication of specialized documentation. a targeted intervention that, based on the decisive collaboration between the Foundations, carried out a direct and in-depth action for a more precise knowledge of the cultural heritage of its Associates. Is in this sense that the project aimed at the census of the art collections of foundations of banking origin has been promoted, with the primary objective of creating the cataloguing of the works present in the various collections owned by the Foundations and establishing a database of information to be networked.

Today the Foundations have at their disposal a testimony of their history and a useful and functional tool not only to the management of their activities but also to the development of further synergies with the other Foundations and with the other subjects operating in the territory. The term Corporate Art contains any artistic property within a collection managed by a company. Today we can count thousands of corporate collections linked to different business sectors, even those that seem most distant from an artistic context. Among the world, largest corporate collections are those of Chase Manhattan Bank, Microsoft Art, JPMorgan-Chase Art Collection and UBS Art Collection.

According to the various published studies, the motivations that lead a company to decide to introduce works of art within its spaces, do not stop at the investment alone and can be enclosed in three groups:

  • the need to gain legitimacy towards stakeholders, especially in the social and local environment;
  • the need to communicate with its society and the stakeholders themselves;
  • the desire to create a specific strategy for a specific business.

In France, the company that has historically engaged most in the field of contemporary art is Cartier, founded in 1984 with the aim of promoting contemporary art in all its forms and expressions through different activities (exhibitions, collections, new acquisitions). The Cartier Foundation has now a collection of more than a thousand words.

In addition to collecting, these companies make valuable contributions for sponsorships of artistic events, including Deutsche Bank and Beck’s, which sponsor exhibitions and cultural events, and UBS, which sponsors Art Basel. However, also small banks devote money and resources to enhance local artistic treasures and assets. Mergers and acquisitions in the banking industry didn’t affect the commitment of the local foundations; rather the separation lets these freer to devote their funds and efforts towards cultural interests. Corporate collecting represents a strong element of a connotation for the image of the company, without neglecting the capital element.

This is combined with the promotion of one’s business in the cases of companies such as credit institutions, and mainly, those dedicated to private banking. Owning an art collection is the most obvious testimony of the competence with which the company can serve the interests of its customers, in terms of investing in a technical sector such as the visual arts. An example of this is the Deutsche Bank collection, which owns almost 56,000 works of art on display in 48 countries; it represents one of the largest corporate collections in the world. In Italy, Banco di Napoli was the first institution to purchase works of art, followed by other banks, including Banca Commerciale Italiana. Both are now components of Intesa SanPaolo. To date in Italy, there are several credit institutions that, in addition to having a collection of works of art, guide their customers towards services related to the art market.

Intesa Sanpaolo has a historical and artistic heritage of vast proportions, consisting of historic buildings and art collections that total 30,000 works, from archaeology to contemporary, among which there is no lack of real masterpieces. This bank proposed the “Culture Project”, to promote the art and culture of Italy, and this was, for the first time, part of the Group’s 2018-2021 business plan. A three-year programme of Progetto Cultura conceived and implemented by the Bank, with the advice of a scientific committee, in response to the country’s intangible and material social needs.

The aims of this project are:

  • safeguard: preserve and enhance the architectural, artistic and archival heritage of the group in order to share it with its community;
  • protect and enhance the national historical and artistic heritage thanks to synergies between public and private;
  • increase partnerships both with cultural and museum institutions at a national level, contributing to the civil and cultural growth of the country, and in the international arena through exchanges of works, support and sharing of projects, helping to spread Italian art and culture abroad;
  • contribute to scientific research and cultural innovation by supporting initiatives aimed at training young people.

The museum centre of the Gallerie d’Italia consists of three locations:  Milan, Naples and Vicenza, where a selection of the 30,000 works belonging to the group is exhibited. The origination case was the property of buildings no more functional for current business. An opportunity instead of depreciation or a bad will.

The Restitution Project is another strategic approach approved in 1989. It is a multi-year programme for the restoration and enhancement of works of art belonging to the national heritage. To date, more than 1,500 masterpieces, all around Italy, have been returned to the community and more than 200 archaeological sites, churches and museums have benefited from the program. Other collections arise from recent purchases, are on specific input from the enthusiast who is guided in his research in obtaining offers as balanced and favourable as possible.

Last, but not least, many institutions give to customers and citizens the physical and virtual opportunity to visit their collections together with the edition of rich and precious volumes offered to customers, consultants and other third parties. Recently, regrettably, cost-saving urgencies imposed severe cuts in the budgets and the production of new volumes has been interrupted or limited. Virtual visit and queries, however, remain disposable and Covid-19 lockdowns showed a huge increase in the use of this opportunity.

Article edit by Giuseppe G. Santorsola
Full Professor of Asset Management
Corporate Finance and Corporate & Investment Banking
Parthenope University of Naples

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