Bland canvases and poster art hanging in the typical workplace rarely goes beyond the realm of pleasant decor. But at UBS, the financial services corporation formerly called Paine Webber, important works by the biggest names in contemporary art grace the lobbies and executive offices. The creative output of luminaries like Jasper Johns or Roy Lichtenstein inspires the employee work ethic.
"Embracing the Present: The UBS Art Collection," a new exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum, demonstrates the high caliber of the company's artistic acquisitions. Originally organized by the Portland Museum of Art, the traveling show features 52 pieces from the '60s to the '90s, culled from about 900 works owned by UBS. More than 30 years in the making, the collection was developed by Donald Marron, CEO of Paine Webber.
"This is one of the best-known corporate collections for postwar, contemporary art," says Brady Roberts, the museum's curator of modern and contemporary art.
Around the time that discussions began about bringing the show to Phoenix, UBS had just made a promised gift of 37 of the works to New York's Museum of Modern Art. "This was significant," Roberts says, "because they let the MoMA director pick the best works from their collection."
Sixteen of those donated pieces are in the current exhibition, including Andy Warhol's Cagney, an early silkscreen print from 1962, pulled by the artist himself; Richard Long's Untitled from 1987, an exuberant arrangement of muddy footprints on paper; and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 by Susan Rothenberg, six huge wood panels depicting dancers with frenzied brushwork, commissioned by UBS.
While there is a strong representation of neo-expressionism in the show, it has no particular theme, says Roberts. "It has some surprise to it, and that really says something about contemporary art -- that people are really pushing boundaries."