Manuel Gonzalez: Art at Work: The David Rockefeller Legacy

– Rounding out our symposium before we have a few questions
and a few summarizing remarks is Manuel Gonzalez. Manuel joined the Chase
Manhattan Bank in 1988 as Vice President Executive
Director of its art program, for which he oversaw the
development and maintenance of the bank’s collection worldwide. Later on becoming Global Art
Executive at JPMorgan Chase, in charge of JPMorgan’s private banks’ art advisory services. Then Manuel sat on the
JPMorgan Chase art committee, which oversaw the firm’s art collection until he retired in 2005. In that year, Manuel became the curator of the Ellipse Foundation, Portugal, where he co-curated
its opening exhibition, Towards the End of the Beginning. In his six decades in the art world, he has curated numerous
exhibitions worldwide including 10 Floridians,
Miami Art Central, Art at Work at both Houston Museum of Fine Arts and Houston Museum of Contemporary Arts, the traveling exhibition
to the Queens Museum, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, the Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, La Generacion de los, um, otan, well ’80s, (laughs) Museo Lo Matta in Santiago, Chile, The Parallax View at the
Liman Open Gallery, and so on. He’s also curated exhibitions
in Argentina and Chile and at the Yokohama
Museum of Art in Japan. Still, Manuel serves on boards
of numerous institutions including the New Museum here in New York and the Cisneros Fontanals
Foundation Museum, the Wolfsonian, and the Cintas Foundation. Maunel is also the first-ever recipient of the Zenith Downtown Awards
Projects Leadership Award and that was in recognition of his lifetime achievement in the arts. He was previously the
co-director of the now legendary Sidney Janis Gallery and director
of Holly Solomon Gallery, both of them, of course, in
New York as you all know. He lectures and writes on
the arts internationally, and now as we really
are bringing our topic up to the present as you can tell, Manuel is going to conclude our symposium with the paper, Art at Work,
The David Rockefeller Legacy. Please welcome Manuel Gonzalez. (audience applauding) – Since I’m the last speaker,
I would like to congratulate Inge Reist for the
wonderful, wonderful job, the Center for the History
of Collecting in doing, for the last seven years. And to Esmée Quodbach
and to Samantha Deutch, my congratulations as well
and many, many thanks. (clapping)
(audience clapping) I feel like the spy in the House of Love. (laughs)
(audience laughs) Where is… Okay. David Rockefeller took the relationship between business and
the arts to a new level, changing the dynamic forever by giving it a different structure. This brief account is about
the process of that change, the story behind the
David Rockefeller legacy. That’s (mumbles) Downtown, his witty parody of
Wall Street, dated 1987. Although for the purposes of our lecture, we’re going to go back to the mid 1950s, at the time when business
seemed to be abandoning Wall Street for the more
accessible canyons of Midtown. It was also the beginning of
a tremendous period of growth and transformation for
David Rockefeller and Chase. New mergers required
new ideas, new images, and new headquarters. One Chase Plaza was the first skyscraper built on Wall Street since the beginning of the Great Depression and it was due to David Rockefeller’s
indefatigable sense of history. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill was the chosen architectural
firm and Gordon Bunshaft, the architect responsible for the design for the first head office
of an American bank in the contemporary international style. The first building in
Lower Manhattan surrounded by a large open plaza and it,
indeed, let in air and light. The interiors presented a problem. Employees were accustomed
to neoclassical buildings in which columns, pediments,
and ornamental sculptures acted as decorative elements. The new building’s
simplicity was perceived as cold and unwelcoming,
a problem in response to which Gordon Bunshaft quipped, “Just put some art on the
walls, it will warm it up.” (audience laughs) This cavalier comment became legendary, David Rockefeller’s moment of epiphany. Art should not be confined to
lobbies as tradition dictated. Art should be everywhere
and serve many functions, provide a pleasant place for employees where they could do their jobs
and improve an environment that was often stressful and uninspiring. By placing art in the
workplace, it was reason people who might never visit
a museum or art gallery could have access to original art. Behind all this thinking
was the conviction that art could play a role in the world, that it could inspire to
help change your perspective and give you a more interesting
way of solving a problem. The seeds of what would
become the Chase art program had been planted. This new concept called
for a new approach. David, being David, sought the advice of the then director of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr, along with the director
of every major museum in the metropolitan area as well Boston. Alfred Barr suggested that a key member of his curatorial staff
be in charge of selecting art purchase proposals because there were about 200,
300 works at monthly meetings. And Dorothy Miller became the
first corporate art advisor. David also considered crucial that other high-ranking
members of the bank would join the program
and share his vision and the first formal
corporal art program ever, and you see them all here, was created. And I think there is
James Johnson Sweeney, Gordon Bunshaft, Alfred
Barr, Dorothy Miller, and David prominently in
this particular picture. To strengthen the case, a pilot project was completed
at Park Avenue on 54th Street. This bank branch and client
center in the New Bauhaus style was the logical place to experiment not only with art but furniture, and Florence Knoll was
brought into the project. Miss Miller commissioned major works like this Alexander Calder mobile which somehow managed to reflect that donut-shaped logo that Ivan Shirmier had recently designed for the new Chase Manhattan Bank. But the pièce de resistance
was the San Francis mural which was the largest canvas
the artist ever executed. Uh-oh. That’s David talking. (distant audio of David
Rockefeller speaking) (laughs) Sorry. I don’t seem to be very technical today. (laughs)
(audience laughs) The pilot project was
wonderfully successful and any lingering expectations
about putting into place traditional art and
furnishings considered proper for a bank setting were out the window. As part of the mission of the program, it was agreed that the
collection should be guided by both philanthropic
and decorative concerns. Philanthropic, by
supporting younger artists and those struggling in
mid-career by purchasing works. And decorative, to the
acquisition of Americana and indigenous art objects. Here is an example of the Knoll and Skidmore, Owings and
Merrill collaboration. Oops, this is the San Francis, this is the Joseph Alvarez
homage to the square called In Late Day and
Florence Knoll furnishings in one of the offices at 410 Park. In addition, scores of
relatively inexpensive items at the time by second
generation after Expressionists were purchased, such as this James Brooks from 1953, it’s an oil on canvas and this Joan Mitchell
of 1959, oil on canvas, 78 by 75. Dorothy Miller reported that at first, David relied on his art
committee, devout for the quality of the bank’s acquisitions
but he quickly developed a discerning eye for contemporary art. As she related the
story, it was impressive how soon he was easily
picking out the best of the works of art that
the committee considered for acquisitions at each meeting. Here are some of his favorite works. Pierre Soulages, 17th of July 1959. Works on paper were also collected like this Richard Diebenkorn of 1955. And here is a Charles Burchfield, fantastic depiction of nature, Pink Locusts and Windy Moon of 1959. They were also early
collectors of photography like an African-American
photographer, Carl Van Vechten, portrait of Young
Langston Hughes from 1949. Also some important lithographs like Jasper Johns’ illustration
of the complexities of the creative process from
zero through nine, 1960. It’s an edition of 35. And the then young pop
artist, Robert Indiana, The Marine Works of 1962. Regarding taste, risk,
and acquisition’s policy, there’s never been a uniformity
of opinion and wasn’t then. There were those who clung
to a more conventional past such as Harned and Remington. They seemed to think that
realism reassured their clients that they had not been
corrupted by the wild and modern ideas that David
Rockefeller was introducing. Rockefeller was quick to point out that the art was not being
purchased as an investment. However, for those who still
viewed art as frivolous and unnecessary expense, it was argued that good design doesn’t
cost more than bad design. As it turns out, those wild ideas ended up being highly
profitable investments. The art program at Chase would always have its missionary aspects. Just as there were problems of choice, there were problems of placement. One of the first pieces
of sculpture acquired was this Jason Seeley’s Triptych, 1949, a composition of automobile
bumpers welded together forming a kind of bas-relief that measures about seven feet long by seven feet high. It was hung, as you can see,
against the red mosaic tile on the concourse level at
One Chase Manhattan Plaza. The mistake was hanging
it during lunch hour. A crowd gathered and began to protest. In David’s words, some
got extremely exercised. (audience laughs) Instructions were sent downstairs to take the bumpers down immediately. Now, it is important to stress that David started the collection, yes. He promoted the idea. Certainly, the art program
would not have happened without his enthusiasm but he was not the chairman
of the art committee. The chairman of the bank at the time, the rule that he established
was one member, one vote regardless of hierarchy. The majority didn’t vote for the Seeley, the bank did not buy it. So David bought it for
his personal collection while figuring out what to do with it. As part of the purchase agreement, the piece was to go on a
year’s traveling exhibition. A year later, during a weekend
when no one was around, the Seeley was installed
in its original location. On Monday, nobody said a word. (audience laughs) The bank bought it back. It has remained in place ever since. For the well at the large plaza in front of the downtown headquarters that provides daylight to the
subterranean level of the bank David approaches Isamu Noguchi. The Japanese-American artist proposed a Seine-inspired garden
punctuated by raising rocks. Noguchi brought six massive freeform rocks from the Uji River in Japan and placed them in concentric patterns on top of undulating
light grey paving stones. This restful Japanese winter garden becomes a summer fountain when
water gushes from the rocks. Searching for the proper
sculpture for the main plaza proved to be difficult. Submissions were asked
from the great sculptors and some were rejected, like this Giacometti. He proposed this walking man along some standing
women and it was rejected and Romare was rejected, Calder,
Zorak, Hazzi, and Noguchi. Finally, Gordon Bunshaft
brought David Dugan to DuBuffet’s studio in Paris. They returned with a model of the artist’s Group of Four Trees. It was perfect. Here’s David with the artist. Again, there were people
who were a little shocked. Again, David bought it. When he retired, however, the art program didn’t have the budget to buy it back from David, so he donated it to the
Museum of Modern Art. I’m using edition to One
Chase Manhattan Plaza. This time, it’s in a hallway. It’s a work of art from Italian
painter, Massimo Campigli. It’s an untitled 1949 mural
which was originally destined, oh, here’s a picture of the two pieces, this is a Campigli. It was originally destined to be placed in the ship, Andrea Doria. But it sank, as we all know, off Nantucket and the work was left crated
on the docks of Manhattan. So Bunshaft convinced
David and the art committee to buy it as long as the
artist added two extra feet to the work so it would fit perfectly. The artist did. And so the painting does fit perfectly except his signature is now
two awkward feet from the frame behind a strategically-placed palm tree. (laughs)
(audience laughs) It was 1968. David was made chairman of the bank. The collection was going to expand locally and internationally. Locally, they purchased Romare Bearden, Blue Interior Morning, 1968, gouache, ink, and collage on board. And Roy Lichtenstein’s Entablature I, 1971, which was the artist’s
tongue-in-cheek answer to the striped paintings of
the time such as Ken Noland. Also, Circle Open and Square Open, lacquer on wood. These two figures are
simple as they are complex because we don’t know
whether it’s a painting or a sculpture or architecture. Internationally, David thought
it was a unique opportunity to share our art with
the people of countries which welcomed Chase warmly. It referred to the cause of
international understanding by juxtaposing art of different nations where Chase did business. It was during those years
that the collection became the corporate clarion of up-to-the-minute international art patronage. In Japan, he himself purchased from Samurai customs to one of the famed
circles of Jiro Yoshihara of 1965 and commissioned Kenzo Okada to execute the four seasons which is
about seven feet by 12 feet. In Bolivia, he fell in love with animada chicana ceremonial belt, circa 1910, made out of feathers and wood. It’s small, it’s only
like eight inches by 24. In Brazil, we added
Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, an artist who sought to produce
a form of Brazilian painting free of European influence. With this Navio Negreiro, which translates freely as a slave ship, of 1961, it’s 14 feet by 37 feet. In France, we were a little more discreet. We purchased a Jean Dubuffet, the Stairwell at the Entry. It’s 1965, vinyl, paint on canvas. In England, pop artist Bridget Riley, Deny of 1966. And even in Puerto Rico,
a satellite art program was established to support the
work of Puerto Rican artists. It also organized and
hosted the San Juan Biennale from 1977 through 1999. From the collection’s onset, it had been tacitly understood that as a publicly-held corporation, works lewd or violent in nature or politically controversial
in subject should be avoided. So, our Paul Delvaux, a surrealist famous for his
nudes, looked like this. The Last Voyage of 1959. Yet, as David would remark, the art of the day is not always polite. That it can, and often, reflects powerful and controversial issues. To balance this tendency and
ensure that the collection stayed true to its innovative beginnings, David did not hesitate
to bring the right voices into the art program plans. He invited art historian,
Robert Rosenblum, to join the art committee in 1974 and appointed Jack Bolton who came into the art program by saying that he believed that
corporate art was an oxymoron, as curator in 1979, both of whom were instrumental
in encouraging the collection to grow in accordance
with its original mandate. To answer to bank needs, yes, while cultivating innovation,
scholarship, and imagination. And here are some results. This great Gilbert and
George, London of 1980, which is a 16-part
hand-colored photographed. Italian Alighiero Boetti, a world map. Designed by the artist,
the work was woven by women in Afghanistan in 1978. This David Hockney, homage to cubism through
polaroid photographs. It’s the Brooklyn
Bridge, November 28 1982. This is Donald Judd, Untitled, 1972, brass work. A rare painting by earth
artist, Robert Smithson, Purgatory, of 1959. And here’s an extravagant,
almost operatic rendition of utilitarian objects, Chair and Table by Scott Burton, 1982, made of white flint. English recycling example, Tony Cragg, Palette, 1980, which is painted wood and found objects. And Joseph Beuys, Felt Suits. The artist considered
themselves portraits. He was a German pilot during World War II. He was shot down over Siberia, suffering severe burns
over most of his body. He’s rescued by tribesmen
who soothed his burns by covering them with animal fat. Keeping the fat in place, they
used this rough felt material so to Beuys, it became his skin. So that’s the reason
he considered the suits like a self-portrait. Then another German
artist, Gerhard Richter, Midweek of 1983. An early Brice Marden, From Bob’s House, Bob being Robert Rauschenberg. So it’s a landscape kind of picture although it has the height
of Robert Rauschenberg. It’s five feet 10 inches tall by 61 wide. I don’t think it was the
artist’s width though. One of Chuck Close’s monumental
portraits of friends, composer, Phil Glass. It’s the artist’s answers
to Seurat’s Pointillism, his modern component and
infinity of fingerprints from an ink pad. Daniel Buren, the French
conceptual artist, In the Dining Room, his signature of alternating
white and colored stripes, silkscreen on linen, commissioned
for a Chase dining room. I remember David coming out
of the room and saying to me, “There’s no art in it!
There’s no art in it!” (laughs)
(audience laughs) (mumbles), Ladder Drawing consists of 15 aluminum
ladders of variable dimensions. The date is 1979. Eminent Californian
pop artist, Andrew Che, cinematic rendition of Columbus’ caravels, Man and Wife of 1987. From a diaristic-run
series of Saito Umbly, Untitled, Safo, which sometimes presented a
problem at the corporation. 1959, oil on canvas. The primary objective of
the art program continued being to support young artists
to the purchase and display of their work in Chase
offices around the world. So Haitian-born master of
the sophisticate primitive Jean-Michel Basquiat, Six
Icons of 1982 were bought as were bought early photographs of Cindy Sherman, the first feminine tract in art history. Window Gazer, Martini Glass, Apron, and Librarian. I’m sorry to say this
is an early Jeff Koons. I think people applauded when
the name was mentioned before. It’s a color poster of basketball heroes of 1985 along with a basketball cast in bronze. And a Mark Tansey called Purity Test based on an Edward Curtis’ photograph, the painting is painted in a sepia photo with a breathtaking vista of Robert Smithson’s famous earthwork. Oh, sorry. So you have the Edward Curtis reference but it does have that
earthwork of Robert Smithson, the Indians looking astonished to the earthwork of Robert Smithson. David always expected
criticism and complain. But as he once said, and I quote, “If you insist on quality
and excellence as a criteria “of making your choices,
you may make mistakes “and others may disagree
with your choices, “but you will be standing on firm ground “and you will be able to face
criticism with equanimity.” In accordance with Chase by laws, David’s retirement occurred
in 1981 at the age of 65. However, he continued as chairman of the bank’s international
advisor committee as well as a very, very active
member of the art committee. The Chase collection had, by now, become the quintessential corporate collection, the one that was spawning and inspiring all other corporate
programs around the world. Bolton’s greatest concept executed with David’s total
encouragement and support was the SoHo branch
gallery located on Broadway near Houston Street,
the bank’s SoHo branch, was in the thick of the
experimental New York visual art scene of its time. Devoted to showcase recent
acquisition exhibitions that would rotate three times a year, it opened with contemporary Spanish art and here is one of the paintings in it, Manuel Valdes’ Overture I which is based on Matisse’s
famous Red Studio. Here’s another picture, this is just an installation
from the SoHo branch as well, Lawrence Weiner, Hung About
Within a Context of Renewal of 1979. One of his last important shows was the first AIDS benefit sponsored in the premises by a corporation. This is Robert Maple’s
self-portrait of 1988. I had joined the program by then and here are some accomplishments
of the latter years. A commission of Peter
Halley for the board. It was like a landscape, Matisse-based combined with… The conduits reflected the
early Manhattan waterworks bank, or so the artist had in mind. This is the only outdoor sculpture in Seoul, Korea, of their native son, Nam June Paik. It’s a DNA, RNA matrix and in its base, it’s in the process of being installed, the 44 Korean last names. Then when Chase MetroTech
opened in Brooklyn in 1982, it had three colossal-scale,
sight-specific works and Nam June Paik, again,
executed one of them, the Chase information wall. It is his version of an
old-fashioned Chinese tradition to read the day’s news
from a copy of a newspaper that has been pasted on a public wall. It consists of 429 television
sets of various sizes, bringing you live the news
through six different cable hook-ups, so it consists
of entertainment, news, Dow Jones reading, sports
channels, everything. On another segment of that
lobby where the RM Fisher Flash Gordon-like MetroTech clocks. And lastly, the Dan Flavin, Untitled for Tracy Harris, his wife at the time. This work is a progression
of red, yellow, and green florescent lights repeated again and again for 55 meters. There are florescent
lights on the ceiling, lights on the elevator banks. And last, this work, we bought from a movie producer, director named Claude Barry who needed money for his next production. It’s called Read and Reap which was sort of our headline
message for the workers. But you can imagine from the
second his work were turned on, most particularly the Flavin, the internal reaction was
overwhelmingly negative. This time, a group of workers
met the CEO at the airport and demanded that it be removed. I do not need to repeat
myself and tell you how extremely supportive
and encouraging David was. One week later, The New York Times review the lobby of the building
along with every newspaper that was alive then. Critic, Dan Cameron,
going as far as saying that he had seen the future
of art and believe it or not, it was the Chase Manhattan
Bank in Brooklyn. (audience laughs) We were an instant success. (laughs)
(audience laughs) So, another important
situation that happened, another important step in the
growth of the art program, we became like corporate
cultural ambassadors. Lending was always an active program but loans had always been limited to one or two pieces at a time. A few exhibitions drawn
solely from the collection that traveled the United
States but never abroad and this was the first time
that an exhibition expanding the post-Vietnam years
in America open in Asia. It broke attendance records in Japan, and here is a detail of the
Kenzo Tange building’s entryway and you can detect the Robin Mangel, Four Arcs within a Circle of 1975 in the background. Another important exhibition was Photoplay which was the first comprehensive
historical exhibition of conceptual photography
that opened in Miami and then traveled all over Latin America bringing information that
was not available till then. It was curated by Lisa Phillips. The cover was the Thinking
Camera as I called it, Laurie Simmons’ walking camera, Jimmy the Camera II of 1987. The Richard Prince’s
famous untitled cowboy of 1989 was in the exhibition. It’s an edition of three, I
believe that another of those editions is at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art. To brag a little, we paid $50,000, I think they paid a million. (audience laughs) Also, as important was
that the first (mumbles) dedicated to photographing
contemporary art with local and international
artists and critics and art historians, accompanied the exhibition at every venue. There was a little celebration towards the end of the century. Art at Work, 40 years of The
Chase Manhattan Collection opened at the museum in Houston. You can see the Richard
Serra in the background, San Francis, Joan Mitchell, and Caulder, Frank Stella, (mumbles) as well as Joseph Beuys’ portrait suits. The show was then expanded
and brought to New York. At the turn of the century, the art program collaborated
with hospitals in New York as well with the New
York Board of Education on a five-year plan to install art in New York City’s schools. In 2001, a totem pole originally commissioned from native British
Columbia artist, Ken Mowatt, with incredible title of
Raven Puts the Sun in the Sky. It was supposed to go to
Chase branch in Tokyo, was reinstalled in the plaza at One Chase. This is what happened
September 11th of 2001. It survived. So did the four trees. And a few years later, the plaza was renamed the
David Rockefeller Plaza. David has been an amazing example for the roles he has played
in the Chase art program and the Museum of Modern Art. His accomplishments suggest a
way forward for the business and financial sectors and
the art world globally. The challenge is to maintain the high standards he established, to expand them and adapt them to the changes that are sure to mark the future of business and the arts. Paraphrasing David, quote, “Their development might
be extremely complex “but usually in the
end, highly rewarding.” Thank you. (audience applauding) – That does conclude the
formal part of our symposium so I’d like you to join me in
thanking all of our speakers of today for their wonderfully
insightful observations. (clapping)
(audience applauding) That being said, before we
reward you with a glass of wine, David Alan Brown has a
few observations to offer after hearing all of these
fascinating presentations. And then I’d like to, very briefly, open.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *