Interview with Franziska Kunz, Global Head of Art Deutsche Bank AG


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 1 2017)

Art has always been collected by private individuals but also by companies. Just think of the Medici with their Florentine family empire, or of today’s large and medium-sized companies. Art stimulates creativity in a business, shows a sense of culture and displays economic power. But still, most people have never heard of all these corporate collections that are often not accessible to the general public. Some of these collections are used for representation and marketing purposes or, at least, can be admired by customers, such as the collection of management consultant Roland Berger.

The Bayer collection, founded in 1912 by General Director Carl Duisberg, is the oldest corporate collection in Germany. At that time, he ordered artworks for his factory – the start of his collection later comprising some 5500 art pieces. In the same year, Carl von Thieme, founder of the reinsurer Munich Re, commissioned contemporary artists with the design of the company’s new headquarters. That was the cornerstone of the collection concept as we know it today. Meanwhile, countless companies, from chocolate manufacturer Ritter to Telekom and energy giant E.ON, invest in collections. The monetary value of such corporate collections is sometimes very high. Is art a sort of financial investment for hard times to come? For companies, this is rarely the case even though some firms did divest themselves of some artworks during the financial crisis. It is rather about internal and external cultural commitment. Although art is valuable, it is not seen as pure investment but rather understood as an enrichment for the employees.  Deutsche Bank has been promoting contemporary art for over 35 years. We interviewed Franziska Kunz, the Global Head of Art at Deutsche Bank, about the appeal of art for companies.

 Why does a company like Deutsche Bank commit to promoting art?

Art is a mirror of our society. Relevant issues and developments around current events are often sensed and addressed early on. One could even see contemporary art as the ‘think tank’ of our world. We want to share this wealth of ideas with as many people as possible. In only one year, we organise around 600 guided tours of our headquarters in Frankfurt. Among other things, we print art catalogues and regularly publish print and online versions of our magazine ArtMag.

The interest of our employees in being in offices or other premises of the Bank that are adorned with contemporary art from our collection remains strong. In the future, we want to make our activities even more accessible to the customers of the Bank. Since April 2016, there is a separate Art, Culture & Sports division at the Bank in which we have merged our commitments to these three topics.

Deutsche Bank has its own corporate collection, the ‘Deutsche Bank Collection’, regular exhibitions in the ‘KunstHalle by Deutsche Bank’ in Berlin, artworks on its premises, and certainly a lot more. How exactly does Deutsche Bank commit to art?

We have been committed to contemporary art for more than 35 years. Over this period, we have built up one of the world’s leading corporate collections. Today, the Bank offers employees, customers and the general public access to contemporary art under the motto ‘ArtWorks’: through our collection in our offices and in the Bank’s branches worldwide, with international exhibitions, in the Bank’s KunstHalle in Berlin and through targeted communications programmes. The close connection to the Bank was part of the concept from the outset. Thus, on its premises, the Bank deliberately encourages direct contact and interaction of employees and customers with art.

How did Deutsche Bank start to collect art? How did it come to build and develop its private art collection?

In the early 1980s, the management board decided to promote primarily young artists who, at that time, were still not well-known. Many of the artists we then displayed in the Bank buildings worldwide were unknown to the public. Works by Neo Rauch or Andreas Gursky could be seen on our premises, at a time when hardly anyone knew them.

From the outset, it was not about investment or prestige, but mainly about content and the messages conveyed by contemporary art itself. We concentrate on works on paper and photography. Like no other medium, paper is the perfect vehicle to hold the ideas that are in the air – as sketch, concept or first draft. Drawings are the starting point for many other artistic techniques, from painting and sculpture to video and film. At the same time, they stand for themselves and offer a different, often surprising glimpse of artistic strategies.

Has the focus of the collection changed over the years?

Yes. In the 1990s, Deutsche Bank continuously evolved into an international institution. Accordingly, we also shifted the focus of our collection. It has become consistently international in recent years. We are equally interested in young talents in Africa, the Middle East or in Asia, where we are experiencing strong growth in the banking business. But we do not forget our home market of Germany and its artists.

Were you also at the Art Basel Miami to keep informed on new works and artists, or are art exhibitions generally less interesting for you and the Deutsche Bank collection? Where do you find new artworks for the company collection?

We regularly get information – at art fairs especially, such as Frieze – on the work of new artists and we also buy some promising artworks there. Of course, our team also monitors the exhibition programmes of major museums and galleries and keeps up to date by reading specialist publications.

Art fairs like Frieze, but also the Art Fair Tokyo or the Sydney Contemporary, are important platforms for us for another reason as well. This is where we meet our art-enthusiast customers. We saw the potential of the still-young London art fair Frieze already in 2004 and, as sponsor and partner, we have supported the fair since its second year. Meanwhile, Frieze is much more than just a trade fair: at its two sites in London and New York, museums and galleries display their best exhibitions during ‘Frieze Week’. This event attracts a wide audience. At the same time, in this context, we reach our customers and potential customers who are art enthusiasts.   

Art has currently become enormously popular again. In your opinion, what are the reasons for this resurgence? Can it be interpreted as a counter-movement to the ever-accelerating and digitally oriented society?

Hard to say – if only because each person has a different understanding of what art is. Are we talking about collector art, exhibition art, or about art that does not fit into any scheme? Two things are certain: art has never been as sought-after as it is today. And great museums and exhibition halls of the world have never been visited by so many people before. Especially in the digitalisation era, there seems to be a great desire for direct and authentic experiences. And art offers that. At Deutsche Bank, we want to continue on our path beyond such developments. In the future, we want to support particularly emerging artists who are dealing with the society in which they – and we – live.

When it comes to investing in art, there are both collectors and investors. How are they different from each other, and as which of these does the Deutsche Bank see itself?

We understand Deutsche Bank as a sustainable collector and promoter of contemporary art, not as an investor. We typically spend lower sums for new artworks, between 1,000 and 5,000 euros per piece, in particular cases perhaps up to 15,000 euros. Moreover, we work very closely with galleries and buy many of our works there. They are a very important part of the art scene. Still, economically, we must not hide our collection. The value of many artworks has thus significantly increased over the last decades. Promoting new talents often pays off financially as well.

Which factors does the evaluation of a work of art depend on?

While for so-called ‘old works of art’ one can rely on criteria such as era, condition, provenance, motif and a supply and demand structure, it proves significantly more complex for contemporary art. Therefore, for contemporary art, we recommend to always buy first out of interest – if a work speaks ‘to the heart’. Meet the artists, look at as many artworks as possible – not only at art fairs and in galleries, but also in museums and biennales. Get information there. Gradually, you will develop a sense for the value of art pieces – and by this, I don’t mean only their ideal value.

Which art medium is currently the most interesting? Photography, painting or, for example, sculptures, installations? Are the moving image (video) and digital art becoming bigger?

In my opinion, there is no competition between art media. In contemporary art, where everything seems possible, the decisive aspects are more about the idea and the underlying concept. So it is not surprising that nowadays, many of the interesting artists work across media or sometimes with the one technique, sometimes with the other – be it video, drawing or photography – to give their thoughts a visual form. As previously mentioned, the focus on paper as medium is, particularly in this context, a stroke of luck. As draft or sketch, drawing can reflect all artistic techniques.

Are there certain countries and their artists that are promising for the next few years? Special trends?

Many artists are turning to current political topics, also in the face of the tense world situation. As nationalism grows, many artists ask themselves: what can we do? Can art actually move things? I would, however, not necessarily call this a trend. There are trends mostly in fashion, and here we know that pretty much anything is possible.

Which cities are the most important art hubs currently? Berlin is certainly one, but which cities are competing with Berlin in terms of international importance of the art scene?

For art enthusiasts, Berlin is and will perhaps continue to be worth a trip. The galleries and the many resident artists from all around the world are adventurously experimental and self-confident. London and New York remain exciting. In Asia, especially Singapore and – increasingly – Beijing must be mentioned. Yet, the times are over when there was only one clear art capital, like Paris in the 19th century or New York in the 20th. Through digitalisation and ease of travel, it is now possible to be recognised from everywhere in the whole world, and to survive economically as an artist, too.

Deutsche Bank also supports young artists through its ‘Artist of the Year’ award. What is it exactly?

The prize is awarded each year on the recommendation of the renowned curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann and Victoria Noorthoorn. The focus is set on artists who have just created a substantial piece and are breaking new ground, both from a content and a formal point of view. In 2017, South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere is the eighth artist to be awarded the ‘Artist of the Year’ following Wangechi Mutu, Yto Barrada, Roman Ondák, Imran Qureshi, Victor Man, Koki Tanaka and Basim Magdy. Starting in March 2017, Kemang Wa Lehulere, who was recently named ‘South Africa’s Rising Art Star’ by The New York Times, can be seen at the KunstHalle by Deutsche Bank in Berlin with a first comprehensive institutional solo exhibition in Europe.

Do you have a personal favourite work or artist at the moment?

With such a great number and variety of works of art, it is difficult to choose only one. Paola Pivi, Kara Walker or Tokihiro Sato are artists whose work I enjoy and can also fortunately see here in the Frankfurt towers of Deutsche Bank as our ‘floor artists’.

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After having held the position as substitute since early 2014, in October 2016 Franziska Kunz became head of the Art, Culture & Sports division of Deutsche Bank’s worldwide art programme. Among other things, she is in charge of the Bank’s art collection, which is one of the world’s most important corporate collections, as well as of its own exhibition hall, the KunstHalle in Berlin. Born in Frankfurt and having studied in Ingolstadt, London and Rio de Janeiro, Franziska Kunz already looks back on an extensive international career.

Picture credit © Amy Yao: Intercontinental Drift No.2, 2016. Courtesy of the Artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles


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