Alistair Hicks on Running the World’s Largest Corporate Art Collection

Artsy Editorial
Oct 11, 2013 11:13PM

Deutsche Bank has long been a major supporter of the arts—for 15 years they co-funded the Deutsche Guggenheim Museum in Berlin, and they’ve sponsored Frieze Art Fair since its second iteration in 2004. To oversee their art initiatives (and the expansion of the largest corporate art collection in the world), the bank keeps curator and art historian Alistair Hicks on hand as their Art Advisor. On the occasion of Deutsche’s favorite art fair, we caught up with Hicks to chat about the bank’s collection and how it grows every year with additions purchased at Frieze.

Artsy: Can you tell us about Deutsche Bank’s collection, the largest corporate art collection in the world?

Alistair Hicks: The Deutsche Bank Art collection must be one of the most of diverse and far-ranging of all collections. The 60,000 works on paper, mainly drawings, photographs and prints, can be seen in over 920 Deutsche Bank buildings in 45 countries out of 78 where Deutsche Bank has offices. The thrust of the collection is towards new art, but as the Bank has been collecting along the lines of its present concept for over 30 years, the collection is really late-20th-century and early-21st-century works. In a separate modern master collection we have important works by Mondrian, Kandinsky, and Kirchner. Our main collection starts with the great German artists such as Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, and Anselm Kiefer. Between 2008-11 we re-named 60 floors of our headquarters building in Frankfurt after some of the emerging artists from all over the world, such as Cao Fei (China), Nedko Solakov (Bulgaria), Samuel Fosso (Central African Republic), and Rivane Neuenschwander (Brazil) .

Artsy: Why should banks have art?

AH: There is no divine reason for banks to buy art, but we do it as a continuation of the way we do business. We want to get involved in what is happening around us. We want to learn about and support the latest ideas. We don’t believe banks should buy art for investment.

Artsy: What aspect of Frieze do you look forward to most, and what are some of your favorite memories from the fair?

AH: I look forward to the surprises, often from [Frieze] Projects. I loved coming across Laure Prouvost putting up her sign which read, “You are going in the wrong direction.” Some of my first meetings with artists, curators, collectors, and gallerists have happened at Frieze London and Frieze New York. Finding two jewels of miniature paintings by Imran Qureshi at Frieze back in 2011 was a good moment.

Artsy: Can you tell us briefly about Deutsche Bank’s 2013 “Artist of the Year,” Qureshi, and why you chose him?

AH: Imran Qureshi was selected to be Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year by our four independent art advisors, who meet specially to select the artists for the award and give us advice on our collection and program. The advisors at the time were Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelman, and Nancy Spector. I can’t give their reasons for selecting him, but I admire Imran for the way he builds a regenerative art out of a political fault-line.

Artsy: What do you look for when buying art? Are there particular galleries that are your Frieze go-tos?

AH: There is no formula to buy new art. Indeed you want to be as open to new ideas as possible. This should preclude me having favorite galleries, but the Frame and Focus sections are where I expect to find the surprises but that is not always true. Galeria Plan B in the Focus section have been consistently good lately. Then there are other smaller, experimental galleries who have been coming year after year and still coming up with surprising new works such as Vitamin Creative Space from China, Project 88 from India, and Stevenson from South Africa.

Artsy: What kind of art engages the Deutsche Bank employee?

AH: We have an active program involving employees, so throughout the year groups of us from the Bank go to exhibitions, artists’ studios, fairs, and other events, and artists are constantly surprised by their questions. One of the great joys of working for a big bank is that the range of responses to art is almost limitless.

Artsy: Can you give an example of an especially effective purchase from Frieze in the past and where it resides today?

AH: We bought two works by the Swiss artist Caro Niederer: a painting, which breaks our guidelines for our works on paper collection, and a photograph. The photograph was of a similar monochrome painting to ours and it was taken in the study of the collector who had bought it. The artist is concerned about what happens to her art, in the art market. We named a room after her in our London headquarters and she came and photographed that. Of course we had to buy the new work, a large photograph of the Deutsche Bank Caro Niederer room.

Artsy: Do you select works from Frieze Masters as well? How has the addition of Frieze Masters changed Frieze Week London?

AH: Our concern is with new art, so we don’t take our committee to Frieze Masters. I have always loved art from all periods so the Frieze Masters is great in that it shows that the Frieze concept is more than just age—it is an attitude.

Artsy: Your “Top Three Things to Do/See” during Frieze week London this year are:

AH: I hate having to pick favorites, as indeed almost the most exciting thing is having one’s mind changed, but if I had to predict three good things to see at Frieze, I would say:

Michaël Borremans at Zeno X and David Zwirner

Nilbar Güres at Rampa Gallery and Martin Janda

The people I will meet.

Alistair Hicks, Senior Curator, looks after the art collection of Deutsche Bank London. He also heads the art side of the Deutsche Bank Art Advisory Service, which helps the Bank’s clients buy and sell art. As well as a future publication on contemporary art due out in 2014, he is the author of School of London (Phaidon, 1989), New British Art in the Saatchi Collection, (Thames & Hudson, 1989), and joint author of Contemporary Art at Deutsche Bank, (1996). Alistair studied art history and business at St. Andrews University (Scotland) and Emory University (Georgia, U.S.A).

Explore Artsy’s Frieze London and Frieze Masters features and follow our editorial coverage of the fairs.

Artsy Editorial