Deutsche Bank is a leading global investment bank, with more than 78,000 employees in over 70 countries worldwide. Though mainly active in Germany and Europe, the bank has a significant presence in emerging markets such as India. Spread throughout 900 offices globally, the Deutsche Bank art collection is acknowledged as the largest of its kind in the world. Acquisitions have concentrated mainly in the area of works on paper: the total number of individual artworks is now an astonishing 60,000 (by around 5,000 artists).
The collection is overseen in Frankfurt by a team led by Friedhelm Huette. Its senior curator is Alistair Hicks, whose knowledge of Indian contemporary art has been critical in placing work from South Asia into the Germany-based HQ in the recent past.
The story of the bank’s relationship with art in India begins in 1993 at the same time that the Tata Palace (in the Fort area of the city) was purchased and transformed into Deutsche Bank House. A key figure in building the collection was Bernhard Steinruecke, who went on to be General Manager and Joint CEO, India, of Deutsche Bank.
His wife, Ranjana, and motherin-law Usha Mirchandani, are renowned art consultants and gallerists. In concert with the art team in Frankfurt, an ambitious art acquisitions programme evolved. In addition, existing works from the permanent collection were sent over from Germany.
The art collection was distributed to offices around India with each artwork carefully catalogued and barcoded, allowing easy identification. This became a godsend when, in 2013, the bank’s national headquarters were moved to Mumbai and it was decided to concentrate the collection in the new offices at Capital building, located at Bandra Kurla Complex.
With the return of the collection to Mumbai, the management took the wise step of instituting a wide-ranging conservation programme.
Anupam Sah, who has gained acclaim for his work with the CSMVS Museum, was given the lead of the programme. He created a temporary laboratory in an office at the Deutsche Bank HQ. Many of the 250 works in the collection are being treated with a view to restoring the paintings and drawings to their original condition: this process should be complete by the end of 2015.
Spread over two floors, the new hang was overseen by the company’s present India head, Ravneet Gill, himself a keen art lover. His appreciation of the collection is unalloyed: “The Deutsche Bank art collection is a discerning amalgam of Indian and German artworks.
The collection is a wonderful expression of our engagement with society and commitment to promoting culture. These works, spread across our headquarters, bring a unique aesthetic and vibrancy to the work space and enables colleagues not only to enjoy them, but also acquire a deeper appreciation of the vital role art plays in our lives.”
Since the period of local acquisitions is centred around the period of the 1990s, a visitor today is treated to a very specific moment in the history of Indian modern and contemporary art. Highlights include artworks by Bhupen Khakhar, Vivan Sundaram, Rekha Rodwittya, Prabhakar Barwe, Gieve Patel, Atul Dodiya, Nalini Malani and Jitish Kallat.
A work by the well-known painter Sudhir Patwardhan, entitled Chakravyuh, is one of the truly standout works in the collection. The painting is marinated in Mumbai’s chaotic street scenes. The city’s railway system is represented strongly in the multiple narrative threads embedded in the work, and speaks to the fact that trains carry with them the hopes and dreams of Mumbaikars and immigrants alike. The lot of the working class is a crucial concern of the artist, and it is all the more striking to encounter Patwardhan’s slice of gritty social realism in the context of the hallowed walkways of the Deutsche Bank office.
Much of the art on display is hung in corridors and in seating areas. One particularly successful installation includes etchings by George Baselitz, one of Germany most famous living artists. The group has been framed sympathetically with natural wood profiles and is displayed on a curved wall, set back from the building’s glass facade, that allows a vista of a huge swathe of the city. It is hard to imagine a better way to enjoy the work of any artist, let alone an acknowledged heavyweight such as Baselitz.
The Deutsche Bank collection in India is a wonderful example of how a company with a large international footprint can effectively engage with the cultural specifities of the countries in which it operates. This, without losing any of the cultural markers of its place of origin.