INVESTING IN ART 

Private collections owned by businesses can either promote cultural evolution and creativity, or contribute to the growing wasteland of clones, cubicles, and voicemail

The Matthews and Branscomb law firm loves art. It's collection is remarkable, a testament to captivating, contemporary South Texas art. In place of cubicles and beige walls, abstract images and

 
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The 10th-floor lobby of the law offices of Matthews and Branscomb: Clockwise from front are works by Riley Robinson, Jesse Amado, Danville Chadbourne, and Anne Wallace. Photo by Mark Greenberg
an army of wild sculptures surround the firm's employees. The "giant bat wing," a brown mass in the lobby, looks like a large topographic papier-mâché model of a mountain, attached to a steel frame and bolted to the ceiling. Small lights punctuate the sculpture and, when motion detectors activate, the whole thing undulates.

"It's by Dwayne Bohuslav," says Louis Tarver, a shareholder of the law firm. "He has a group that makes this kind of thing that suggests skin and sinews and bones." Together with former company president Jon Wood and architect Pat Chumley, Tarver selects the art for the firm's private collection. "All the art is from Texas," explains Tarver. "And about 95 percent of it is from South Texas."

There is something redeeming about a law firm with office walls covered in art. It is proof that a place of employment doesn't have to be docile and mundane, a perpetuator of the ghost world. At Matthews and Branscomb, there is no hokey oil painting of a cowboy on horseback lassoing a longhorn cow. Instead, there is local artist Todd Brandt's composition of single-serving dairy creamers, empty film canisters, and latex paint, which result in mesmerizing rows of orderly, colored dots. There are giant photographs printed on metal by Kent Rush, taken with a disposable camera that had a scratched lens. Welcoming visitors to the lower-floor lobby is a grand wooden statue, a hollow tree trunk somehow twisted like a novelty straw, created by artist Riley Robinson, Studio Director of ArtPace. "I don't know how he did it, and I told him not to tell me or anyone else how to do it," says Tarver, struck by the artist's ingenuity. "See, it's hollow. How that it is possible, I just don't know."

At Bromley Communications, a commercial art design company, there have been conflicts regarding office art acquisitions. "That Huerta on the fourth floor, because there's a penis entering a vagina, it's controversial around here," says Ernest Bromley, chairman

PRIVATE COLLECTIONS

MATTHEWS & BRANSCOMB
112 E. Pecan
Public is welcome by appointment only
Contact Louis Tarver at 357-9300

SBC ART GALLERY
175 E. Houston
9am-5pm Monday-Friday
821-4105

BROMLEY COMMUNICATIONS
The art collection at Bromley is not open to the public

of the company. He defends abstract art. "It's not offensive to me whatsoever. It's art, and you take it in its entirety. It's life. This happens. And it is not offensive, not in an obscene way."

Bromley is a firm believer that art stimulates creativity. Drab workspaces without character generate limp dullards, something not wanted at a commercial art firm. This is why companies should consider purchasing fine art and slapping it on their walls. Businesses can either promote cultural evolution and creativity, or contribute to the growing wasteland of cloned cubicles and voicemail.

Only the cold couldn't react to the pieces of fine art at Bromley Communications. In the lobby hangs a large painting by Jesse Treviño; the company donated its last Treviño piece to the Smithsonian Institution. Yet, the most striking work featured at Bromley is that of Candido, whose paintings initially appear to be a mess of lines, but reveal intricate design as subtle portraits and scenes rise to the surface. Bromley notes employees could glance at one of the abstract paintings and strike upon a concept for a commercial design. "You know, it happens in the strangest ways," says Bromley. The art is conducive for a productive environment.

And what of the possible financial reward in buying art? "Art is not a good investment," Tarver says, shaking his head. "In fact, I don't want to get paintings that I think are going to increase in value, because I don't want to have to sell." Matthews and Branscomb's art patrons are impressed by local talent, and purchase their art because they enjoy it. "I think they're wonderful," declares Tarver. "And I want to supportthem."

However, Rick Rodenbeck, managing director of tax for H&R Block, says most companies regard art as a capital venture. "Generally, the reason to purchase the art is as an investment. Fine art is not a depreciable asset, as opposed to general furniture and fixtures that decorate the walls of an office."

A good example of art as an investment is currently on display in the SBC Art Gallery on Houston Street. The gallery contains an extensive collection of photographs by Ansel

 
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The meeting and lunch room at Matthews and Branscomb features a large-scale painting by Mark Hogenson as its centerpiece. The architecture, color, and lighting designs of the spaces at the downtown law office work to complement the various works of art. Photo by Mark Greenberg
Adams. The works are a part of SBC's private collection, yet the corporation hasn't put much fanfare behind the incredible exhibit. The gallery lacks a clearly visible sign, while the entrance is tucked to the side like a speakeasy entry. Yet, the public is invited - however coolly - to come into the space to witness the talent of the master photographer.

In an official statement, SBC pledges its "unwavering support of the special role of art" and "to explore the strength of the arts to improve and educate its community," recognizing that art is indeed more than a monetary investment.

Tragically, few companies see art other than a luxury and distraction. Most are stuck in a Bauhaus frame of mind, believing efficiency boosts productivity. But in the pursuit of efficiency, workplaces have become stale, leaving employees comatose, nursing pools of drool on their desks. The mundane isn't interesting, and letting it infect any facet of life erodes creativity. •


More by Rich Perin

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