Economy could take toll on commissioned US artwork

* Commissioned art part of U.S. company images, marketing

* Commissions smaller, specialized as economy has impact

By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK, June 8 (BestGrowthStock) – Economic woes have pinched the
pockets of wealthy art patrons, but artists who rely on those
commissions say they are surviving, albeit with more
specialized works and smaller payoffs.

In a time of tight budgets, commissioning a work of art for
commercial or corporate spaces like Rockefeller Center must
dovetail with a company’s marketing strategy and promote its
public image, not just soothe charitable urges.

“They’re still doing it, but the commissions are smaller.
There’s no question,” said Anne Pasternak, president and
artistic director of Creative Time, a New York-based nonprofit
organization that commissions public art works.

But, she added, if commissioned art is not already core to
the mission of a company or business, “they’re not going to
start now or are at least hesitant to start.”

Since the recession hit the United States, highly
specialized and one-of-a-kind art commissions have experienced
an uptick, said David Maupin of New York’s Lehmann Maupin
gallery which handles several artists who work on commissions.

He cited British artist Tracey Emin’s recent
limited-availability “portrait commissions,” in which
collectors answered 15 questions and she made drawings that
were turned into neon sculptures.

“Collectors are seeking something special, and more
personal, for their investment,” Maupin said.

Artist Teresita Fernandez, whose high-profile commissioned
works can be seen at the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture
Park and the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, said she sees
“significant demand for large, site-specific commissioned
work.”

“I love working this way,” she said. “People who commission
large works are willing to take risks and are on board for the
ambitious artistic vision.”

A more far-reaching impact of the recession is likely to be
felt on U.S. art commissions years ahead, experts note, because
a commissioned piece can take years to complete after money is
allocated. A lack of funding now may mean less art later.

Other commissioned work, such as artist Julie Mehretu’s
monumental “Mural,” a multimillion-dollar work installed this
year in the lobby of Goldman Sachs, was commissioned before the
2008 financial crisis, in which the bank was deeply involved.

The year 2009 was particularly hard, said Creative Time’s
Pasternak. “A lot of our individual supporters lost a lot of
their wealth, and others worried about losing their jobs cut
their support,” she said.

‘IMAGE BUILDING AND BRAND BUILDING’

When companies approach commissioning now, they tend to
look at commercial gain, said Amy Cappellazzo, Christie’s’
international co-head of post-war and contemporary art.

“Corporations used to do it as a kind of civic
philanthropy,” she said. “Now they’re also looking into it as
image building and brand building.”

Businesses like hotels and restaurants “want to tie it to
their style and interior designs,” she said. Hotel chain Sage
Hospitality, for example, is hanging works by local artists in
guest rooms.

While the investment in commissions can be substantial, so
can the payoff, experts said. New York’s Public Art Fund’s
“Waterfalls” project, in which man-made waterfalls were
installed in the East River two years ago, cost more than $15
million.

But officials estimate that the project, by Danish artist
Olafur Eliasson, brought $70 million to the local economy
during its four-month run. A series of major commissions by the
Public Art Fund is planned for the fall.

At the World Trade Center site, one of New York’s most
visible and well-known new developments, $50 million has been
released to build the Ground Zero Arts Center, a cultural and
performing arts venue.

Established artist Jeff Koons created a sculpture at 7
World Trade Center, and conceptual artist Jenny Holzer created
an animated installation of prose and poetry that scrolls
across a glass wall in the lobby.

But a spokesman for Silverstein Properties, which is
developing the site where the twin towers stood and has been
involved in extensive debate over its future, said it was too
early to discuss commissioned art for the new towers.

Money

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and David Storey)

Economy could take toll on commissioned US artwork