Office Design: Art in the workplace
As the workplace continues its metamorphosis from cubicle farm to open office, forward thinking companies are constantly looking for ways to revamp and invigorate the culture in their new wide open spaces. From office designs that feature hammocks and green walls in the new Eventbrite offices to an urban farm in the Pasona offices in Japan, office designers are being challenged to re-invent the workplace wheel. As Google have indicated, the benefits from a working environment that motivates staff are enormous. But what if slides and bean bags don’t fit into your company ethos? In the 2nd of our three part series, (read part 1 here) Freya Lombardo visits another Australian workplace using art to create a unique and inspiring office space. As Andre Smith writes in this article Why Companies Should Have Fine Art in the Workplace “The purpose of fine art is for aesthetics, or beautifying the space. Having culture in the workplace can improve workplace culture itself… It leaves a lasting impression both on the employees who see it day after day, and on clients who visit either once or frequently. Art is important in the branding of a company’s image as well as creating a pleasant and inspiring environment.”
The horror of experiencing a bushfire is something that haunts the collective conscience of all Australians. Fortunately, many will never feel its full force up close or have to deal with its charred aftermath. Especially the majority of workers cloistered in Sydney’s CBD. So it was a somewhat confronting scenario when corporate citizens at Allens Linklaters (Allens) arrived at work one Monday morning in October 2013 and were astonished to find the atrium of the Deutsche Bank building ablaze with a 60ft illuminated installation by artist Tim Maguire depicting the Kinglake National Park that was devastated by the Black Saturday bushfires.
Entitled A device for viewing the landscape 2013, the monumental work spans six floors and is one of the most ambitious of a series of site-specific installations that Allens has commissioned in the last seven years. Selected artists have free reign to create for the space and their work remains in-situ for 12-18 months. The tradition has seen Robert MacPherson, Kathy Temin, Nigel Milson, Derrick O’Connor, Dale Frank and Nell feature in the project spaces in Allens’ Melbourne and Sydney offices, and their work variously inspires awe, shock and delight.
According to curator Maria Poulos, the surprise factor is part of the appeal. “Each installation has an unveiling,” she explains “and there is always a mixed range of reactions. Some of the works are quite challenging and everyone has an opinion. The Tim Maguire installation has been the most favorably received so far”. Such an enormous work certainly puts the importance of art and creativity front of mind in the workplace.
Exhibiting and the art of collecting are anything but incidental at Allens. The collection dates back to the late 1970s when the firm moved into the MLC Centre, Sydney and now numbers over 2000 works. According to Maria, what began as a way of way of enlivening the office environment has grown with time to become a significant survey of Australian painting over the last four decades. Sculpture, photographic works and a smaller number of works on paper feature as well. Many well-known names from the Australian contemporary art scene are represented, and it is notable that works in Allens’ collection typically date from the earliest stages in their careers. In fact, Allens’ mandated that the core purpose of the collection is to support young, unknown Australian artists and follow their careers.
“The beauty of a collection like this is that we have continued to support artists through their careers, so we might have up to 40 years of Helen Eager’s work, or David Rankin’s, or John Peart’s… We will continue to buy from these artists until they are priced beyond our means and then we’ll seek to fill gaps in the collection with other emerging artists,” explains Maria.
This commitment to supporting young and emerging practitioners derives from visionary former partner Hugh Jamieson who indulged his genuine passion for art by visiting galleries, entertaining artists and visiting their studios. The mantle has been passed on from partner to partner and the acquisition budget is renewed annually. “Unlike many corporate collections, Allens does not have an art committee. Only one partner at a time is responsible for the acquisition budget,” explains Maria. After Jamieson, the baton went to Michael Ball and is now with David Maloney, each of whom is an avid collector in his own right.
“Because we have concentrated on emerging artists, there are quite a few acquisitions each year,” notes Maria, “and they range from relatively unknown indigenous artists to art school graduates such as Chris Connell, Eva Troyeur-Gibson and Ryan Hoffman. They might not be household names yet, however quite a number have gone on to be finalists in the Wynne Prize or Archibald Prize.
In Allens recent move to 101 Collins Street in Melbourne, interiors were completely refurbished by Bligh Voller Nield Architects (BVN). A key aspect of the design brief was to incorporate the collection throughout the workplace. BVN delivered areas specifically designed around the art, particularly on client floors where timber floors, white walls and refined details create the ambience of an art gallery. “As well as the ‘project space’, there is a gallery space for rotating exhibitions, the reception area is a showcase for artwork and there are floating panels on all floors that are specifically designed for hanging works” says Maria. “These elements give us the chance to curate thematic and stylistic exhibitions around artists in the collection.” The display of art is not limited to the more public or client-facing areas. “Each person has an original artwork in their office and they are always very keen to know about the artist,” says Maria.
Informing staff and the wider community about the works in the collection is part of the joy of the role of curator. Maria holds art tours for the public as well as staff and clients. “The collection is really favorably received. Having clients come through to view the collection is an informal way of socialising that enhances the experience of our brand. It is enjoyable and refreshing compared to the often stressful situations that might bring them into a law firm,” says Maria, noting that the collection is also a strong identifying feature to law graduates considering which firm to join. Art appreciation is enhanced through the catalogues that accompany each commissioned installation for the project space as well as A5 booklets for each of the curated shows. Online art journals are available on Allens’ website to help put the aspects of the collection in perspective. A spirit of innovation flows deeper into a pilot program of QR coding artworks that is rolling out from Allens’ Brisbane offices where they have been developed by an in-house digital team under Maria’s leadership. Simply pointing a smartphone at postcard size information cards will reveal far more about the artist and their work that any standard label could.
It is clear that Allens places the highest value on art, collecting and sharing the output of Australia’s cultural expression. We asked Maria what would happen if all of the artworks were removed from Allens’ offices?
“I think that it would be a severe disadvantage for Allens. The art collection is part of Allens’ branding, its appeal, its place in the community, so I think it would be a really tragic loss to Allens’ staff, to the art world, to the art community in general if that was to happen. I feel really proud to be associated with an organisation that takes its commitment to art very seriously.”
Tim Maguire’s installation A device for viewing the landscape 2013 can be seen well into 2015. Level 28, Deutsche Bank Place, 126 Phillip Street (corner of Hunter and Phillip Streets), Sydney NSW 2000.
A new installation of the work of Marion Borgelt work can be seen in Allens Linklaters Melbourne offices. Level 37, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000.
For information and appointments, please contact curator Maria Poulos on +61 2 9230 4429 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Content production: Freya Lombardo
Read part 1 in this series here