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The story of art: Inside the Julius Baer Art Collection

As the Julius Baer Art Collection turns 40, it is reaching a wider audience than ever before through digital initiatives while continuing to inspire employees and clients alike. Behind the scenes, a dedicated team is helping it permeate the Bank – handling everything from transport and framing to restoring, hanging, and communicating its rich history and pioneering character.

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For anyone working in or visiting the Bank, art infuses the everyday. You can’t walk far in a Julius Baer building without encountering one of the pieces from the 5,000-strong collection. Portraits greet you at the top of stairwells; firework-like explosions of colour in different media catch your eye as you cross a corridor. These magnificent artworks can even be useful route-finders, helping you navigate your way back to the right lift or flight of stairs – until they change location, that is. Daniel Schmid, who has a vast network within the Swiss art community and honed his design skills in Sicily, is the Art Unit member tasked with hanging the collection. He manages some 1,000 changes of location every year.

“When placing works in the Bank’s varying premises, it’s always fascinating and joyfully fulfilling to experience how easily and perfectly outstanding artworks by different artists correspond with each other and effortlessly unite to create a fitting setting,” he says. 

The works have to positively influence each other and unfold a strong spatial presence.

Daniel Schmid

It’s a crisp October day, golden leaves twirling to the ground, and two artworks are being loaded into a van in the backyard of Julius Baer buildings in Zurich. They are works on paper by the famous Swiss artist Meret Oppenheim (1913–1985), acquired by the Julius Baer Art Collection in 1983. They are going on loan as key pieces for an exhibition at Kunstmuseum Solothurn – it’s a rare chance for part of the collection, normally only accessible to clients and employees of the Bank, to be made visible to a public audience.

The questions artists ask about today’s world and their attempts to illustrate novel aspects of our society can permeate the world of work, providing critical inspiration.

Barbara Staubli

Art provides fresh perspectives
Placing art throughout the Bank serves a higher purpose. For curator Barbara Staubli, the presence of contemporary art in the workplace provides people with fresh perspectives. She says, “The questions artists ask about today’s world and their attempts to illustrate novel aspects of our society can permeate the world of work, providing critical inspiration.” On this, Daniel reflects that art mirrors the time that surrounds it. In this way, contemporary art can help us better understand our own time.

At its heart, the Julius Baer Art Collection is seen as a social responsibility: it seeks to promote and support the visual arts in Switzerland. Barbara, who joined the Bank in 2011 after studying Art History and Media Relations and working in various galleries, outlines that the collection specialises in works by contemporary artists of Swiss nationality or those who live and work in Switzerland. It currently comprises a variety of media, such as painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and video.
 

Rooted in the DNA of the company, it dates from 1981, when Hans J. Baer founded the collection with the aim of promoting the Swiss art scene. Back then, says Barbara, focusing a collection around contemporary art was “a conscious decision requiring a certain audacity”.

These groundbreaking acquisition decisions were not easy to convey at the time, explains art historian Barbara Hatebur, who brings to the Art Unit a background working in a corporate collection and galleries. But from today’s point of view, she says, they are very important for the collection. Over four decades of collecting, the Art Committee has discovered many of today’s established Swiss artists at an early stage of their careers and made courageous purchase decisions. One example of this is the video work ‘Edna’ by Pipilotti Rist (b. 1962), from the series ‘Yoghurt On Skin − Velvet On TV’.

Throughout 40 years of collecting, the Art Committee discovered many of today’s established Swiss artists at an early stage in their careers and made progressive acquisition decisions.

Barbara Hatebur

Back to the future
The collection recently hurtled into the digital era with the March 2021 launch of its highly successful Instagram account, which reached 1,000 followers in merely two months. It is managed by Paula Tyliszczak, who has a background in Fine Art and Humanities. She sees Instagram as a fantastic tool to democratise the collection and allow a larger audience to discover and interact with it from anywhere in the world. “We create meaningful content by posting not only images of the artworks and pieces coexisting in the workplace, but also by providing background information of the presented works,” she says.

Instagram is a fantastic tool to democratise the collection and allow a larger audience to discover and interact with it from anywhere in the world.

Paula Tyliszczak

Instagram is part of the collection’s 40th anniversary celebrations, which also include the publication ‘Surrounded by Art. The Julius Baer Art Collection’ and special website presentations of 40 significant pieces from the collection, including three photographs by artist duo Fischli / Weiss (b. 1952 / 1946–2012). In 1985, the collection acquired its first photographs with three works from the ‘Équilibres / Stiller Nachmittag’ series. “Today, this multi-part series is one of the most important in the oeuvre of Fischli / Weiss. It assembles everyday objects into daring constructs to playfully explore gravity,” says Barbara Hatebur.

Behind the scenes
While we see the curated end result, there are ongoing, unseen tasks surrounding the artworks, such as assessments and adjustments for the insurance policy, and conservation work. As well as this, all new acquisitions, which are hung in Julius Baer premises worldwide, must be entered into the digital database with photographic documentation for the archives. Then, following the pandemic, the Art Unit resumed guided tours for clients and employees. It also offers workshops for Relationship Managers on ‘how to talk about art’.

And the Art Unit are in a good position to talk. The Meret Oppenheim paper works being shipped today exemplify just how wise and creative the collection has been since its foundation. In 1983, when they were acquired, the artworks constituted a good decision at the dawn of the Bank’s collecting. Meret Oppenheim was a visual artist and poet who is now considered one of the most important female Swiss artists of the 20th century. Her name is bestowed on the prestigious Prix Meret Oppenheim, which honours an artist’s lifework – and incidentally, has been awarded to several artists featured in the collection, including Shirana Shahbazi and Sylvie Fleury. It’s hard to imagine a better symbol for the Julius Baer Art Collection.

Image captions
1st image: Meret Oppenheim (1913−1985), ‘Vautour et objet volant rouge-jaune’ (1975), watercolour, pastel and charcoal on paper, 26 x 34 cm, © 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich
2nd and 3rd image: Pipilotti Rist (b. 1962), ‘Edna’ (1995), video installation with sound, pillow and handbag, 3’ 29’’, 110 x 40 x 40 cm
4th image: Fischli / Weiss (b. 1952 / 1946–2012), ’Die Magd’, ’Die Gefahren der Nacht’, ’Das Provisorium’ (1985), from the series: ‘Équilibres - Stiller Nachmittag’, C-prints on photo paper, each 37 x 30 cm
5th and 6th image: Bernard Voïta (b. 1960), ‘Jalousie III’ (2017), lacquered steel, closed 80 x 62 x 7 cm

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