No Art? For Real?

Last week I was on business travel to DC to check in with colleagues and meet with clients. It essentially entailed one long strategy meeting where two people fell asleep, and lots of planes, trains, and automobiles.

As this time required sitting in one long strategy meeting, I jumped out of my seat at the breaks to explore. Usually I walk the halls to check out the corporate art (because other than bland carpet, there is really nothing else to stare at), and sometimes I walk away from some huge  installation or work on paper thinking wow, that was pretty off-the-wall/odd/bizarrely-chosen.  WHY did they choose that particular piece?

But worse, is when there’s NO art. And this was such a case.

I was in a slick, new, fabulously designed, glossy-floored government building in Arlington, and one would expect there was art. Some sort of art. Something. Anything. But along those long, sinuous halls was… nothing! Nada! A few miles away, my company’s headquarters has tons of art, seemingly in every nook and cranny, the cafeteria, outside each elevator — commissioned art, employee art (including the winners of photography contests that are extremely competitive), and just great random pieces that provide that visual pickup you need during the day.

Some research on corporate art shows that the government may not be the number one consumer of art:

We define a corporate art client in our field mainly as a hospitality account” explains Tony Barrett, director of sales for Bentley Publishing Group in Walnut Creek, CA. “That is, someone who supplies art to hotels, vacation properties, restaurants, corporate offices and healthcare facilities.” These are all venues that are in constant need of artwork, often with rotating collections that change several times a year.”

So I suppose that makes sense. I guess. Restaurants, hotels want to create a mood, a synergy, a personal connection with the client that will lure them back. Does the government have no similar incentive?

So on this trip I was disappointed. Perhaps the architecture was enough, because it was a beautiful building (er, compound, as every government building is now a sprawling monolith, even in downtown Arlington). Next time I’ll have to ask the taxi to weave through downtown and stop off at the Philips gallery (Man Ray is there now!). Or National Geographic headquarters (the Terra Cotta Warriors are there now!).


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