November 22, 2014

Corporate Art: The Collectors

John Finotti | 12/1/2003
Late one recent afternoon, after most of his employees have left for the day, Tom James, chief executive of Raymond James Financial, strolls through the halls of his sprawling suburban St. Petersburg headquarters savoring his collection of Western and Native American art. "Look at the detail," he says, pointing at a painting of Navajo Indians called "Pueblo Ceremony" by Michael Desatnick.

An avid collector, James has installed some 1,550 paintings, drawings and sculptures throughout the brokerage's three (soon to be four) office buildings. Today, the Tom and Mary James/Raymond James Financial Art Collection is one of the largest owners of Western and Native American art. The collection, valued at $5 million to $10 million, also includes works by Florida artists, a large number of wildlife paintings, along with abstract works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Victor Vasarely and Salvador Dali. (James serves as chairman of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.)

While many Florida business people collect art privately and many companies support art-related events, Raymond James is among only a few companies in the state that display significant art collections in their workplaces ("Notable Corporate Collections in Florida," below).

Portrait of Excess
CenTrust's David L. Paul spent $29 million on art for his bank in the late 1980s, including $13.2 million for "Portrait of a Man as the God Mars" by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. Paul, who pleaded guilty to fraud, is now serving an 11-year prison sentence at a federal prison in south Miami. The painting, acquired by a syndicate of dealers, sold in 2000 for $8.25 million and again in 2002 in London for $6.8 million.The number isn't likely to grow much, however. Jacqueline Holmes, an art consultant who's helped a number of Florida and U.S. companies acquire and display art, says a company's inclination to collect art has always depended on a CEO who is knowledgeable and interested. But she says the current corporate climate dissuades even those who might be interested. Art, she says, has become associated in the public mind with greed and failure -- thanks in part to high-profile excesses like the collection banker David Paul put together before CenTrust Savings Bank collapsed ("Portrait of Excess," below).

The trend of big companies collecting art is "basically over," says Holmes. Public companies in particular, she adds, are sensitive to appearances of extravagance that could agitate shareholders: The Bank of America collection hasn't added a piece, except by acquiring other banks, in a decade. Tupperware, whose collection includes contemporary artists such as Paul Jenkins and Miriam Shapiro, wouldn't comment about its collection.

Intangible value
The CEOs who collect believe art can say as much about a company's values as its finances. James says his collection plays an important role in the firm's overall marketing effort, which includes several art-related events. Raymond James is the top sponsor of the annual Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in Tampa and each year invites some of the world's top wildlife and Western artists to show their works at the Raymond James headquarters. Last year, the company gave 500 guided tours of the James collection.

But even James is sensitive to perceptions, quick to point out that he -- not shareholders of Raymond James Financial -- owns the collection hanging on the company's walls. The company pays the cost of insuring the collection and the salaries of a full-time curator and a tour guide coordinator.

Preston Haskell, chairman of the Haskell Co., is passionate in his belief that art holdings aid his company's mission. "Art stimulates and energizes the human mind and spirit, making us more imaginative and creative," Haskell says. "This is particularly appropriate in our business. We deal in designs, ideas and concepts, many of which are novel or original."

The collection also is a good investment, says Haskell.

The Haskell Co. books the art as an asset. But unlike some assets, art doesn't have to be depreciated. That means there's no charge against earnings. "It's almost like a marketable security," Haskell says.

The primary reason to collect, however, must be "because you love it. I have a love for abstract expressionism," says Haskell, who serves as a trustee of the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art.

James, likewise, sees intangible as well as practical value in combining art with the workplace. He says he likes the fact that a work-obsessed, middle-aged equity trader was disturbed by a painting he saw every morning when he got off the elevator. The painting, an untitled self-portrait by Tampa Bay artist James Michaels, shows a middle-age man, surrounded by skulls, confronting his own mortality. The painting served a purpose, James says, in forcing the trader to take measure of his own life, as unsettling as he may have found it.

Another time, James recalls, he came to work on a Saturday and saw a man staring at a painting. James discovered that the man had come in on his day off just to view the art. More surprising -- and more satisfying to James -- the man worked for the company as a janitor.

Notable Corporate Collections in Florida

The Sonesta Art Collection: Some of the Boston-based company's collection -- 7,000 contemporary works by artists such as Sol Lewitt, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Jan Dibbets and Robert Mapplethorpe -- is displayed in Florida at the Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne, Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort and Sonesta Hotel & Suites Coconut Grove.

Other big art collectors around the state include:

Bank of America: One of the largest U.S. corporate collections, with about 30,000 items assembled through numerous bank mergers. No new art has been purchased in last 10 years.

Tupperware: Comprised mostly of contemporary artists of the 1970s and 1980s, including Jack Youngerman, Paul Jenkins and Miriam Shapiro.

Haskell Co.: The Haskell Collection's theme is abstract expressionism, a reflection of company founder Preston Haskell's fondness for the emotion-filled form of art. The collection has more than 100 pieces by well-known artists such as Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Jasper Johns.

Raymond James Financial: CEO Tom James has assembled one of the biggest collections of Western art. The Tom and Mary James/Raymond James Financial Collection is more than 1,550 pieces and growing. It includes Western, Native American, wildlife and contemporary paintings, drawings, sculptures and glassworks.

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