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05 October 2023

‘Art collections demonstrate key corporate values’

By Keith J Fernandez



For the first time in the Middle East, JPMorgan Chase will be exhibiting master artworks from the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection at an exhibition in partnership with the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) from March 10 through May 1.


Collected Visions will feature 70 museum-quality modern and contemporary works by leading artists of the 20th century, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Zaha Hadid, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.


The collection was started 50 years ago by David Rockefeller when he was head of Chase Manhattan Bank, and is one of the oldest and most extensive corporate art collections in the world. As an integral part of the exhibition, a bespoke arts education programme is in development in partnership with the DIFC. Emirates Business caught up with Lisa K Erf, director of the collection, to find out more.



Why does a bank collect art? What purpose does the collection fulfill?


The JPMorgan Chase Art Collection began nearly 50 years ago to bring art into the workplace for the enjoyment of employees, clients and guests. While the art enhances our corporate offices, displaying it demonstrates key values of the firm: creativity, originality and innovation, and showcasing the diversity of the communities where we do business.


What are the hallmarks of the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection?


The hallmarks are: innovation as it is the first corporate art collection, begun by David Rockefeller in 1959; scale with more than 30,000 objects in 450 corporate locations worldwide; quality of a world-class ‘museum in the workplace’; and diversity with more than 7,800 artists and 100 nationalities represented.


What key pieces can we expect to see in Dubai?


Early acquisitions such as Josef Albers, Alexander Calder, Romare Bearden, Donald Judd, Louise Nevelson, Andy Warhol as well as representations from young artists now emerging on the international scene such as Zilvnas Kempinas, Amy Cutler, and Tomoo Gotkita. Especially significant to the region are five drawings by the Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid and Christo’s 1980 mix-media work called, The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi, Project for the UAE, a large-scale drawing for a monumental project recently undertaken in the emirate nearly 28 years after its first proposal.


Tell us about the education programme you have developed?


As an integral part of the exhibition, the programme comprises workshops and tours. It aims at engaging schoolteachers, families and young people, many of whom have not had the opportunity to engage in arts education programmes before, or gain such a unique insight into a rare exhibition of this kind.


Corporate collections are relatively new in the Middle East. What do they say about the company?


There are many benefits of an art collection within a business context. The purchase of art for display in our company is a cultural investment in creating a humanising environment for our employees and visitors. It has a strong functional intent in that our collection serves as interior decoration, while sending the message that, as a firm, we value individuality, diversity, and innovation.


Secondly, through purchasing art, providing temporary loans to museums worldwide, sponsorships of cultural programmes and originating our own exhibitions, JPMorgan Chase demonstrates its continued leadership in areas of social responsibility. Finally, through partnerships with leading cultural institutions, the collection broadens awareness about contemporary art and helps build new audiences.


But aren’t corporate collections just marketing tools for the company?


The JPMorgan collection was conceived as an internal organisational tool, to make the workplace an engaging and dynamic environment. That said, over the past 50 years it has become an important aspect of our brand and we selectively share it through exhibitions and loans as well as showcase it in our corporate offices.


How do your employees react to the art? Do they ever want something taken down?


Employee responses are as varied as the range of diversity of the collection itself. With more than 30,000 artworks ranging from antiquity to contemporary, hopefully every employee can find work that they enjoy, either because it is familiar or because it is new to them.


How much are you driven, required even, to purchase art that will appreciate in value, that will be seen as blue-chip in the years to come?


There is no agenda to purchase artwork that will be a financial investment, as this is a permanent collection and we do not typically sell works. That said, our goal is to make smart acquisitions that will hold their value, if not appreciate.


How have you personally shaped the collection since you took over?


I have built upon the strategies of past leadership, with a continued focus on international artists and diversity of makers, as well as under-recognised artists using unique materials in their works.


When it comes to art, an everyday job becomes so much more personal. Do you ever think, if you were to move on or retire, how hard it would be to leave behind a personal collection?


That is a good observation. Yes, I do.



Lisa K Erf



Lisa K Erf is vice-president and director of the JPMorgan Chase Art Program with global responsibility for the firm’s art collection. She manages the collection for internal use in the bank and provides stewardship for collection management. Erf is tasked with looking for meaningful ways to creatively use the artworks and to make strategic new acquisitions.


Erf is a former curator and head of the art programme of the First National Bank of Chicago, later Bank One Corp. She is also an independent curator, writer and lecturer.