Art is a touchstone of the culture that produces it and reflects who we are—as a society, as an individual and as an institution. It reminds us of our collective heritage and hints at our future.
Thousands of companies collect art, but only the elite make an art out of collecting. The aim isn’t always financial return, either. Possessing art has become central to corporate identities—a cultural investment as much as a financial one. Swiss bank UBS boasts one of the world’s most important corporate collections of contemporary art from the past 50 years. Some of the works also came from corporate collections built by two of UBS’s acquisitions: PaineWebber, founded in 1880, and SG Warburg, in 1946.
As a result, UBS holds work by icons of the 20th century such as Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha and Lucian Freud, along with Alex Katz, Cy Twombly, Anselm Kiefer and Sigmar Polke. The bank has also been buying more Asian art. “Forty per cent of our annual art budget is now spent on Asian art,” says Stephen McCoubrey, the Asia-Pacific curator of the UBS Art Collection.
UBS has snapped up works by Mainland China’s Yang Fudong, Hong Kong’s Wilson Shieh (left), South Korea’s Haegue Yang (below) and Indonesia’s Christine Ay Tjoe. The medium has shifted, too—the bank has also bought video works by Chen Chieh-jen, Cao Fei, Hiraki Sawa and Qiu Anxiong. “Anita Mui in the 1980s is a perfect work to add to our Hong Kong contemporary art collection,” says McCoubrey of one of the city’s most iconic pop stars.
“The work shows Anita as a genre of her own and confirms Shieh as a quintessential Hong Kong artist.” He continues, “Many of Haegue Yang’s works are huge sculptures, too large for us to display. However, her wonderful work with STPI in Singapore, displayed at Art Basel in Hong Kong last year, was a revelation. The highly conceptual but handmade series is closely allied to ’60s pop art, with packaging and labels as its subject. It is centred on the history of Singapore and its trading ports as the home of the spice trade. The paper and the ink that make up each print are made of the spices within the packages which they represent.”
The larger spice work in the same series by Yang was bought by the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year. “We have since bought another collage work by the artist, which will be displayed in the UBS VIP Lounge at Art Basel in Hong Kong this year,” says McCoubrey. See you there.