Sunday, March 22, 2015

A visit to a corporate art collection

For the second session of the Séminarts program in which I have enrolled, we were taken to visit the prestigious Montreal law firm of Fasken Martineau.

The company occupies eight floors of the Tour de la Bourse building on Victoria Square. Most of our tour happened on the 37th floor, designed as "clientele space", and offering the larger walls and more open spaces that show off larger works to their best advantage.

One of the best aspects of the tour, held in the evening, was seeing the city spread out at our feet in all directions.

The group met in the boardroom, where we were welcomed by Maurice Forget, a partner in the firm who has directed its corporate art collection for some 33 years. Forget is a major player on Montreal's art scene and a Member of the Order of Canada. He has donated 400 pieces of his contemporary art to the museum in Joliette.

M. Forget began by outlining the benefits of having a contemporary art collection: to provide an attractive premises for clients and a stimulating environment for employees, and to enhance the company's image as being "forward-moving".

Investment is not a motivator, as none of the purchases have been sold, so no profit has been realized.

A budget of $25,000 or less has been set aside every year for about 33 years, and this has allowed for a steady acquisition of almost 500 works.

Ninety percent of the art acquired is Canadian, and of that, 80% is from Quebec. Twenty percent is by women artists.

7 jours dans la ville, Thomas Corriveau

Forget, who has free rein over the collection, chooses most of the art from galleries, but frequents student shows, charity sales and non-profit fundraisers as well.

Nudes and controversial imagery are avoided.

None of the work belonging to the corporation hangs in private offices, and this is an incentive for the lawyers to buy their own work.

Forget is a big fan of works on paper, and smaller works, but those pieces are displayed in the more intimate spaces of the "working floors", where they can be better appreciated.

Terre Crue, 1 & 2, Claude Tousignant

One of the more unusual stories of acquisition relates to this diptych by Claude Tousignant, one of Quebec's best known contemporary artists.

When Tousignant had a fire in his studio, he required legal services and used his paintings as payment. What was originally valued at $10,000 is now worth $125,000.

Forget is pleased with the ways Fasken Martineau's profile has been enhanced by its involvement in the arts. Besides doing pro bono work for art groups, the firm sponsors exhibitions at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art (like the current Orientalism show), and supports artists by buying their work.

Ligne d'horizon, Eugenie Schinkle

A successor to Forget is being groomed to take on the curatorship of the collection in the future. Yusef, a young lawyer, is also the publisher of a Montreal quarterly art magazine, Artelo.

The law firm plans to move to another location in a few years, and architectural plans will have to accommodate the large collection.

An initiative is underway to put the entire collection on-line, once releases have been obtained from all the artists and their estates.

detail, Ligne d'horizon, Eugenie Schinkle,
Ektachrome colour proofs on wood

Says Forget:

"When I started collecting, the distinction between abstract and figurative works was all people talked about. Today, this distinction no longer really applies, as many painters of today are figurative and there are fewer abstract painters....

"There is new interest in landscapes. Now everyone is buying photographs. No one was interested in public arts. Now they are all over the place."

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