Alistair Hicks is one of the people who tells others what to do at Deutsche Bank – although only when it comes to contemporary art. After all, the industry giant has an art collection of around 60,000 works, most of which are on paper. “Our collection is among the top three collections of contemporary works on paper in the world and that’s including museum collections,” says the 57-year-old art curator at Deutsche Bank’s City headquarters.
Hicks points to a work by the Indian artist Anish Kapoor, which is an abstract canvas of varying shades of blue called ‘Untitled’: One of the bank’s CEOs chose a work by Kapoor for his office. The tall curly haired art curator won’t reveal whether it’s Anshu Jain and Jürgen Fitschen. When it’s suggested that the work of an Indian artist seems like a natural choice for Jain, Hicks stays silent and fiddles absently with his reading glasses.
52-year-old Claudia Schicktanz is another Deutsche Bank art curator and works as part of a 10-member team in Frankfurt. “The Deutsche Bank collection has a long history,” says Schicktanz. “It was established to make contemporary art accessible to our employees, customers and guests - not just the board room.” That was about 30 years ago.
Now the bank’s collection can be seen by the general public on the walls of its buildings and in exhibitions around the world. The most important thing is a work’s artistic value, not its financial value, says Schicktanz.
During his tour of the collection at Deutsche Bank’s building at London Wall, where investment banking operations are concentrated, Hicks makes a similar point. “Corporate collections in the City of London often used to be about money,” he says. As an example of this, Hicks points to the collection of the London investment bank Morgan Grenfell, which was taken over by Deutsche Bank in 1990. “The point of the collection was to make the bankers appear respectable.”
“It’s not about money, but about cultural capital, which means the whole potential of new ideas and perspectives contemporary art is opening up,” he says on Deutsche Bank’s new approach. “The collection is all about change.” To avoid influencing market values too strongly, the company focuses on works on paper. Works of art on paper are simply in less demand.
Hicks enters a conference room named Yanagi, in which there are two photographic works by the Japanese artist Miwa Yanagi. Every meeting room in the building is named after the artist whose work is exhibited on its walls. A huge photograph by Yanagi depicts an old woman leaning back wearily in a chair. A group of children crowd around her curiously. “When we bought the works of Yanagi, she wasn’t well known,” says Hicks. In addition to renowned artists such as Georg Baselitz and Anish Kapoor, the German bank likes to acquire work by young, relatively unknown artists, like Chinese artist Cao Fei, born in 1978. In one of her photographs a young woman wearing in a ballet outfit, with tutu, wings and a halo, poses like an angel on a factory floor.
New acquisitions are decided by a committee, which includes curators as well as external experts. The renovation of the two towers that make up Deutsche Bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt was completed in 2011, making them energy efficient and earning them the name the GreenTowers. “We filled them with a new concept,” says Schicktanz.
The native of Frankfurt trained to be a gilder before studying art history, archaeology and Italian at University. After starting her career at an advertising agency, Schicktanz first moved to Deutsche Bank to work on an art project.
To become a curator for a bank’s art collection, an art history or humanities degree is required. But that is not enough. “We always advise people to gain experience through internships,” says Schicktanz. “You have to prepare for professional life. I often note that young students carry misconceptions about the field. It is actually a profession that has a lot to do with administration and logistics.”
For this reason, she doesn’t advise only doing internships in museums. “Students should also consider looking for internships in insurance and logistics,” she says. There are also companies that specialize in the transportation of works of art, for example. The curatorial team at Deutsche Bank runs its own six-month internship with the art team. “The internship at Deutsche Bank is popular with students,” says Schicktanz, who wouldn’t reveal how many applications they receive for each position. The internship allows students to work independently and get to know various professional fields. “It’s a good start for a career.”
Meanwhile, Hicks has reached the end of his tour of the collection at Deutsche Bank’s London headquarters. By the back entrance on Great Winchester Street there is a huge reflective bowl-like object. The viewer sees their reflection upside-down in the vast concave mirror. ‘Turning the world upside down no. 3’ is another work from the Indian artist Anish Kapoor. Hicks mentions proudly that he introduced the co-CEO to Kapoor’s work himself.
On a wall in the spacious entrance hall hang a series of large diverse canvases by the artist Keith Tyson, created specifically for the space in 2011. One depicts a casual cowboy outlined in neon strip lighting. He looks at the viewer and tips his hat - as he would to say goodbye.