The Personal Collection vs The Corporate Collection: A Study

In comparing and contrasting the experience of The Hort Family Collection with the works on view from the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, one is prompted to examine notions of why people collect, the idiosyncratic nature of personal collecting habits, and what determining criteria governs these particular collections. Assessing what motivates and influences the collecting behavior of these two disparate collections will not only shed light on the personal meaning of the works, but will also reveal the cultural and societal norms that have shaped the values of the individual collector. Indeed, The Hort and JPMorgan Chase collections demonstrate that the criteria for private collectors are different and, in this case, more multifaceted than that of a regulated corporate institution.

Residing on the open end of the collecting spectrum, The Hort provides a “buy what you love” approach to collecting - an approach that visually manifests itself in the Jack Pierson piece “Being Alive” that permanently hangs over their hearth. Unlike the bulk of the collection, this piece never rotates as it perpetually reinforces what drives the Horts to collect: the need to go on and live life after their daughter Rema’s death. This piece, like the rest of the collection, celebrates notions of uniqueness and individuality; it functions to commemorate Rema’s life and passions by showcasing emerging artists with dynamic new voices. Although, only 10% of the collection is on view, the present installation (the ninth annual installation) is representative of the entire body, which exhibits an interest for artists of all disciplines and media. What unifies the vast array of works is two fold: the way in which the collection is curated and the Hort’s personal aesthetic. The dense and compulsive hanging is constant, so that the individual works gain meaning and justification from their neighbors, while still functioning independently from one another. Secondly, all works, whether of a muted or jarring aesthetic, possess an emotionally charged direct, poignant, and uncomfortable expressive quality.

Embodying the spirit of the collection is the John Currin painting that hangs in the master bedroom. The figurative work is much about disfiguration – a beautiful, posed, and crippled woman seems to be elevating into heaven as she smiles uneasily. In her tragic, ironic beauty, the painting is candid, raw, quirky and uncomfortable. The collection is both emotionally charged and deeply embedded in their lives. In the densely packed hanging and the charged emotional quality, the purpose of the collection can thus be understood as a means to cope, to fill a void, and to keep a memory ever-present. To the Horts, this collection is an extension of daily life; they love to live with the works that they have discovered. As such, the Hort’s palpable passion for collecting is meant for “insiders” who understand the significance of nurturing emerging artists with dynamic, eccentric voices.

Whereas the Hort collection subsists primarily for art world insiders, the works on view at JPMorgan Chase are meant for those on the outside. In cultivating a corporate “working” collection, Lisa K Erf, director of the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, chooses works relevant to those who have different degrees of understanding art, while still maintaining an evocative, individualistic body of work that spans all media and disciplines. Meaning, the collection is designed to be progressive in character: to impress and comfort, rather than shock. The works, then, function to stimulate discussion and provoke the employees and clients’ preconceptions of what art is without being overly controversial or disruptive to their work environment. A principal aim of this collection, what Erf calls a “working asset,” is to inspire the workforce through contemporary works that have a strong, distinctive character. Due to the standardized, hierarchical corporate environment, the works – both safe and timeless - are carefully chosen to reflect the values and integrity of the founding mission of the institution – that is character, intelligence and strength. In collecting contemporary works by major artists, the collection demonstrates the staying power of the whole institution. Thus, Erf’s treatment of the collection as an organizational tool is meant to help push and develop a single corporate identity – an identity that is established through the choosing of works that fit into the culture of the corporate body.

Representing the spirit of the JPMorgan collection is the canonical Joan Mitchell piece that hangs on the 50th floor. This modern work possesses prestige and still clings to the criteria of the formal corporate environment. It is an iconic painting that in its square composition and vibrant gestural abstraction is characteristically Mitchell and aesthetically beautiful. Interestingly, the collection also includes works from the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose oeuvre is centered on the depiction of male nudes. Rather than incorporating these highly provocative works to the corporate environment, Erf has chosen the artist’s subdued, floral photos. The institution, consequently, gains the prestige associated with Mapplethorpe’s fame, without pushing the envelope too far and potentially disturbing the work environment. Complementing the collection’s focus on modern and contemporary works of art is an impressive historic collection of objects. This unity between the past and present roots the collection and its viewers in history while optimistically looking ahead to the future.  The encyclopedic collection, thus, straddles different worlds and different environments, functioning well in an institution where art and business intersect.

Like the Hort collection, which is tethered to notions of individuality and uniqueness, so too is the JPMorgan Chase Collection. Moreover, like the corporate collection whose purpose is to become embedded in the innovative psyche of the workforce, the private collection too functions as a direct extension of the family’s values and psyche.  Although both collections aim to penetrate the everyday life/work environment, the JPMorgan collection - possibly due to its sparse hanging - reads in a one-dimensional semi- deadpan way, whereas the Hort collection – densely hung - is part of an extremely emotionally charged, multi-faceted environment. Unlike the Hort family collection, JPMorgan has many canonical works by famous artists; yet, it shares with the Hort family the motivation to possess emerging artists not yet established. Indeed, the Hort’s collection is predominantly filled with emerging artists; those pieces executed by established artists were purchased many years ago. Similarly, both collections are focused on the art of our time and on artists in and outside of America. Whereas the Hort’s collection is controversial, provocative and purposefully pushes the envelope, the JPMorgan collection keeps their art under the radar.

This evident divide between the Hort and the JPMorgan collection reveals the fundamental differences between most private and corporate collections. For example, whereas the Horts collect to gain a sense of control or completion, JPMorgan’s collection was developed to generate prestige for real or imagined profit. Furthermore, while both collections aim to satisfy a personal aesthetic, the Horts are uninhibited by rules, unlike Erf who is constricted to a formal governing body. However different their determining criteria, the idiosyncratic, colorful works that fill both venues shed light on what kind of art is considered significant today. Although these works have been collected for disparate reasons, both the Hort and JPMorgan collections seek connectivity with history.

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