Where Did All This Art Come From?

If you’re a first year in Aldrich, you’ve probably walked by a few paintings on your way to class and wondered who, what and why are these up on our walls? As for second years, you’ve probably become accustomed and maybe even desensitized to the interesting and sometimes provocative pieces that also hang in the well-traveled halls of Hawes, Spangler and Shad.

Where one would expect to see rows and rows of portraits of past Deans, famous professors and alums, one instead finds an interesting and eclectic collection of modern art. Thanks to HBS Alumnus, Gerald Schwartz, Chairman, President and CEO of Onex Corporation, Harvard Business School is accumulating a very impressive modern art collection. Since HBS does not like to turn away gifts from its graduates, in 1995, when Gerry offered to donate an annual gift in the form of modern art, the School gladly agreed. So down came those old stodgy pictures, which now are kept safely in storage, and up went some very dynamic pieces.

As co-Presidents of the recently formed Art Appreciation Society, we were fortunate enough to be invited to Schwartz’s annual art shopping spree in New York City’s Chelsea art district. Like a scene from “Pretty Woman,” the two of us were able to buy, or at least assist in buying, amazing pieces on someone else’s dime. In less than 6 hours we had spent well over both of our combined HBS tuitions and visited over fifteen galleries!

We’ll never forget when the two of us saw an amazing Carrie Mae Weems piece. We loved the work and desperately wanted it. Gerry said to us, “Now ladies, you know this piece is quite expensive.” It was upwards of $10,000 and we’re not sure if he was very fond of it. We responded that we both knew this but loved it. The picture was purchased and now we can’t help but feel that it is ‘our’ painting.

Schwartz, an avid art collector and long-time patron of the arts, has an extensive personal portfolio of works that are housed in his homes and offices around the world. As a businessman with a love for the arts, he wanted to increase awareness and appreciation for the arts amongst HBS students. Therefore, one of the criteria by which he picks pieces is whether something provokes thoughts or ideas. Sharon Black, the Director of Planning in HBS’s Department of Operations, who works and coordinates with Schwartz, loves it when she sees students stop in the hallways and comment on the art. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a positive reaction or a negative one, at least students are noticing and developing opinions about the art.

The planning of the annual art trip occurs months in advance with the help of Black and art dealer, Gracie Mansion. This year, Gracie coordinated our trip, previewed the artwork, provided all parties with a portfolio of artists’ work, and then, based on input from Schwartz, Black and Schwartz’s daughter Carey, determined which studios we would visit.

On October 6th, while students were away on the long weekend, the 2003 collection consisting of 19 new pieces, was added to the existing collection of 124 pieces. Of all the new additions, here are our personal favorites:
Mousumi’s top picks:

o Two of Shimon Attie’s pieces that showcase an innovative use of photography and history. The pieces that we purchased project archival photographs of prewar Jewish life in Berlin that were then superimposed with shots of modern day Berlin. The pieces allow one to compare life then and now and appreciate the change.

o A series of three scratched Plexiglas pieces of work by Norwegian artist, Steinar Jakobsen, that depict natural disasters. Depending on the lighting and where you stand you see different parts of the work.
Aliceson’s top picks:

o Paul Shambroom’s Lewiston, Minnesota piece showing a small town city council meeting. The juxtaposition of this piece with our surroundings in the HBS “bubble” is quite intriguing reminding us of life outside of HBS and the criticality of decisions in every environment.

o David Stewarts’s Marry Gold is sure to promote a significant amount of discussion. It portrays a vampish blonde in a stunning blue dress wearing rubber gloves with her arm around an octogenarian.

Now that you know the provenance of the HBS collection a little better, we hope you will take the time to do as we do and stop to appreciate the works. We are fortunate to be surrounded by some amazing pieces that can stimulate our mind in ways beyond that of our classroom experiences and HBS cases.