Art & Commerce

“The presence of provocative art promotes creative thinking,” said Gerald W. Schwartz (HBS ’70). “Artistic presence was the only thing missing at HBS when I went there. I wanted to change that.”

I recently attended the unveiling of the new art collection donated by Gerald Schwartz, which now hangs in selected buildings around the HBS campus. The 17 distinct pieces were first displayed in the Williams room for the Art Appreciation Society. The selection of this particular collection took one day, during which Mr. Schwartz and art consultant Gracie Mansion whizzed through countless galleries and studios in Manhattan, searching for the perfect pieces to hang at HBS. The three artists on hand at the unveiling were refreshing, down to earth, and spoke candidly about their work. All still seemed pleasantly surprised that their art had been chosen for a prestigious business school, as HBS is probably not a typical client for most of these artists. Listening to the artists discuss their inspiration and motivations, it was interesting to reflect on the collision of these two worlds – art and commerce. I wondered what this donation meant for HBS and how it added to our business-driven learning environment. I discovered that Mr. Schwartz chose this collection as a way to challenge the students as well as to support emerging artists. He has accomplished his goal; most of the works in the Schwartz donation are not intuitive, but rather they require a great deal of thought.

What is truly remarkable is the magnitude of art that resides in our own backyard. From Spangler to Shad, we see modern, elegant and thought-provoking pieces gracing both refined wood-panel and contemporary cement walls. This is a stark departure from the old boys’ clubhouse artwork that probably hung in our buildings years ago. This year, 17 works of art quietly found their way onto the walls of our learning experience, bringing the total to 159 since Mr. Schwartz began donating in 1995. An art collector himself, Mr. Schwartz’ only stipulation is that the art is placed in highly trafficked areas. He wants to expose students to contemporary art that they might not have experienced before school. And with generous donations like his, HBS has amassed a private collection that may go without rival among other business school communities.

But how do you determine what kind of art is appropriate for an academic institution versus a museum? How do you decide when art might offend instead of challenge? Earlier this year, there was a series in Shad that featured several older gentlemen enacting witty vignettes about growing old disgracefully. In one, the men are dressed in somber suits, wearing brightly colored birthday hats on their heads, with both feet hanging distinctly into a grave. In another, the same men gathered tightly around a trophy wife. One day I saw this last picture, the next I didn’t. Curiosity got the best of me, so I asked a person behind the desk about the picture’s whereabouts. Apparently the piece caused quite a stir, and eventually the school decided to take it down. A new picture by the same artist will be installed shortly to complete the series, and I hope that this new piece will have the same powerful impact as its predecessor.

I spoke with Sharon Black, Director of Planning, about the art selection process for HBS and found that the art -buying process reflects the same level of commitment to the learning environment that the school puts into designing the buildings and landscape. It is a level of care that tries to ensure students and faculty have a well-rounded life experience, one that goes beyond the books. The school has purchased art previously, but more for decorative than emotional purposes. When selecting the current art donations, Ms. Black notes that they are thoughtful of keeping the balance between what is appropriate for the audience, and also the institution of HBS.

Inside these old world brick and ivy-covered buildings hangs a collection of contemporary artwork, not selected as a blue chip investment, but rather to capture our attention and further our education. The next time you need to give the right-side of your brain a vacation – for me, it’s typically between FIN and FRC – take a look around at the art that surrounds us in Aldrich. It can be a different type of learning experience, as the answers in art are infinite, and they all reside in the eye of the beholder.