Friday, 3 June 2011

At Work UK Government Art Collection at Whitechapel Gallery - Does art help you sell or buy better?

In face to face meetings with clients professional salespeople need to have their radar on all the time to pick up 'tells' of the environment they visit whether in a reception area , offices or meeting rooms- even the warehouse, post room etc.. It gives us information about the culture of the organisation, the personality of the buyer and may even indicate their priorities.

Of course such decorations on a Buyer's desk are the 'image' they wish to portray to the outside world but this is useful information nonetheless.

Photographs on the buyer's desk often display their literal creativity - photos of their spouse and they myriad of progeny ( children), or their hobby - sports etc. Many have a creative screen saver or even a decorative mouse mat.

In the wealthy finance world - merchant banks and the like might well have an original art piece on their office walls or in reception. It tells us perhaps a little more about the client's culture, personality . motivation, priorities possibly even their sense of humour. Such art may even act , when appropriate, as an ice breaker to opening conversations.
(Lowry's 1946 Lancashire Fair :Good Friday , Daisy Nook was selected for No 10 Downing street by both former Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher from the current show at the Whitechapel Gallery)

Likewise a buyer's radar will pick up on our screen saver desktop on our laptop when we present - it is all part of our appearance.

Sometimes we may enter offices with no decoration at all.

"Clean desk" policies rule , the banning of personal waste paper baskets in one of the nation's big four accountancy firms tell us of the current management style in vogue from their swanky HQ on the Thames embankment to all their regional offices through the kingdom- all useful information.

Bare walls, the dearth of plants in a work environment perhaps might also indicate the prevailing management culture.
If there is any visual art it may be the graphic art of the company's advertising or those corporate motivation poster asking not for what the company can do for you but what you can do for your company ( a JFK culture!)- maybe suggesting past morale problems if not present ones!

Just think of the stark set of Lord Sugar's board room on the BBC Apprentice programme - itself reminiscent of the painting "When did you last see your father ?" by WF Yeames which shows a Royalist family who have been captured by the enemy. The boy is being questioned about the whereabouts of his father by a panel of Parliamentarians some in their puritan hats. An allegory for a sales beauty parade perhaps?! ( This painting I think is in a collection in Liverpool)
(Current exhibition currently at Whitechapel Gallery will be on tour around the country.)
Whether one likes the art or not it is interesting what the good and the great select from the UK Government's art Collection (GAC). This is a super initiative by Director of the Collection Penny Johnson and her team and the Whitechapel Art Gallery. All photos of the works in Gallery 7 were taken with the permission of the Gallery - thanks to Elisabeth Flanagan - Media Relations Manager. Scroll down for Gallery's website. You can also view the GAC on line see below)

"At Work" is a selection from UK embassies and government departments now on public display at the Whitechapel gallery that showcases the diverse nature of the Collection, its 400 locations and function. Embassies would display their art to impress or intimidate visitors.

This exhibition is supported Hiscox whose city offices I have visited has an amazing collection of art many of the investments are kept in safe keeping on behalf of clients. They also advertise their insurance service on TV.

Of the 27 or so works of Art on show in Gallery 7 my favourite was Derek Boshier’s 1962 contribution to British Pop Art, "I Wonder What My Heroes Think of the Space Race" – previously installed at the British Embassy in Moscow is very thought provoking.( seek out Buddy Holly!)

The exhibition is curated by the Government Art Collection in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery. One of the selectors was Lord Mandelson. What pictures did he as the minister for the country's buyers and sellers choose to have on his office walls?
(Two of the choices of Former Secretary of State for Department of Trade and Industry and later secretary of State for Business now Lord Mandelson - Rysbrack's bronze 1743of Sir Peter Paul Rubens - and the portrait of Elisabeth the first c 1585-95 by an unknown British artist on the back wall.)

Just under ten years ago Arts & Business released the results of a MORI commissioned survey. The research investigated attitudes towards the Art's and their effect on the working behaviours among business leaders and the general public.

53% of the workers surveyed felt that if their employer were to provide opportunities to enjoy artistic activities they would be motivated in their work.

95% of business owners surveyed said they felt that motivation is 'essential' or 'very important' in directly driving company performance.
(Geritt von Hornthorst Frederick V King of Bohemia and Elisabeth Queen of Bohemia ( daughter of King James 1st (VI))

A survey carried out by ICM and Art & Business found that 73% of employees wanted more art in the workplace, claiming it made them feel more 'motivated' and 'inspired.'

In the 1960's TV series Police 5 a forerunner of BBC's "Crimewatch" appealed for the help of the public to solve crimes often for stolen artworks as it happened. The host Shaw Taylor's catchphrase was "keep 'em peeled".
As sales professionals we may not be solving crimes but sensing the buyer's environment vigilantly adds to the information gained from our questioning and listening skills.
If you want to practice your 'sensing' skills why not visit the exhibition to try and guess which Minister of State , Ambassador or top echelon Civil Servant selected which work of art. I was surprised which were selected by the Chief of the Intelligence Service!
As a reward for your visit to the Whitechapel Art Gallery, there is a top rate tea room with proper tea pots and loose tea rather than tea bags which deputy prime minister Nick Clegg might also approve of- since one of his favourites in the GAC is David Tindle's Tea ( Picnic on Hampstaed heath - thermos and cup and picnic rug 1970-71.


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  3. I had a chance to combine my two loves in life recently and had a two weeks' holiday in wonderful France, to which I had been before, and had loved so much. I took a little Renault rental car and headed off from Paris, to the Palace of Versailles, to Chartres then southward to sunny Provence, via the Auvergne region, with the Songs of the Auvergne playing repeated on the CD player.
    Magnifique, comme toujours. I saw many art galleries and followed the footsteps of artists, like poor Vincent Van Gogh.
    Back home all too soon, I ordered a canvas print from, choosing this painting by Cézanne,, to remember my trip by.

    1. Lovely to hear that your holiday has invigorated you.

      The house picture by Cezanne will be lovely reminder.

      What a great trip - Versailles, Chartres and Provence.

      Sorry business about the Rothko picture damage at the Tate Modern yesterday. Not my taste but lots love his work . Another artist who came to a nasty end like poor Vincent.