A Bold New Vision: The JPMorgan Chase Art Collection

Sam Francis (American, 1923–1994). Detail from Chase Manhattan Bank Mural (Drapeau Americain), 1959, oil on canvas, 12 x 38 feet, JPMorgan Chase Art Collection.

1956. The first aluminum columns of what would become the sleek glass structure at One Chase Manhattan Plaza were starting their skyward ascent.

A radical departure from the solid 19th-century buildings in lower Manhattan’s financial district, the modern design was the vision of David Rockefeller, who would lead what was then Chase National Bank until 1981.

His bold thinking for the firm’s new world headquarters sparked another unconventional idea: incorporating art in the workplace not just as decoration, but to provide a visually and intellectually stimulating environment.

Practical and poetic

An avid collector, Mr. Rockefeller saw art as an extension of daily life in the workplace. For him, it served both poetic and practical purposes. Art is subjective and, he believed, can encourage thinking and inspiration beyond the black and white analysis or report.

“Art at Work was a pioneering concept that has fostered a creative environment for both employees and guests—a vision we continue to follow to this day,” says Mark S. Roe, Head Curator of the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection.

A focus on contemporary art

This visual and intellectual stimulation is central to the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, which now numbers over 30,000 works installed in 450 firm locations across the globe.

The Collection’s focus on contemporary art originates with the design of the new corporate headquarters. The building’s architect, Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, advocated the idea that contemporary art would best complement the building’s simplicity and modernity.

Mr. Rockefeller embraced this idea, and began acquiring art mostly by living artists, as well as artworks and ethnographic artifacts by cultures in communities where the bank had offices.

Enlisting luminaries

To do this, Mr. Rockefeller adopted the museum model of having an advisory committee that would not only consult on purchases, but also help define the policies and procedures that have guided the Collection’s growth since its founding in 1959.

The Chase Art Committee engaged some of the most illustrious American museum directors and curators, including Alfred H. Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art; Dorothy C. Miller, curator of the Museum of Modern Art; James Johnson Sweeney, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Robert Hale, curator of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Perry Rathbone, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

First meeting of the Chase Art Committee (February 1960). Seated from left to right: Ward Bennett, Alfred Barr, John J. McCloy, James Johnson Sweeney, Gordon Bunshaft, David Rockefeller, Robert B. Hale, Dorothy C. Miller, John J. Scully and J. Walter Severinghaus.

Carrying the vision forward

The first acquisitions included works by Alexander Calder, Sam Francis, Josef Albers, Jasper Johns and Louise Nevelson—at the time little known outside the art world, but today recognized as powerhouses of 20th-century art. These early purchases also reflected a global view on the world of art that was ahead of its time, spanning works from Brazil to Germany to Japan.

Today, Mr. Rockefeller’s vision is carried forward by Mr. Roe and others in the firm’s art program, which continues to acquire outstanding artworks, organize exhibitions and develop educational programs, in addition to other services.

Says Mr. Roe, “We are continually learning about the Collection’s potential for meaning, both within our organization and as we outreach into our communities.” He focuses on acquiring works by living artists, continuing to “represent the art of our time across all of the countries in which we do business.”

This article is filed under: