While you’re stuck at home, it’s a good time to think about what you want from your office in the future. We meet three companies who believe that art enhances morale, identity and relationships.
Helsinki law firm Dottir feels more gallery than workspace. Colourful pop art paintings, installations and sculptures dominate the luminous offices overlooking the city’s leafy Esplanadi park. “Art is more than just a decorative element here; it really goes to the heart of who we are as a company,” says Jaakko Lindgren, one of the firm’s nine partners. That doesn’t mean that Dottir specialises in the legal aspects of the art market, nor that it represents artists. Instead, the company specialises in the technology and creative industries – relatively uncharted fields in terms of the laws that regulate them. “Our lawyers need to think creatively,” says Lindgren. “The art is here to help foster this.”
Many of Dottir’s 30 or so artworks are playful and thought-provoking, and occasionally controversial: some make fun of the modern age and its icons. With a few exceptions – Salvador Dalí, British typography artist Ben Eine and American abstract expressionist Jasper Johns – most of the pieces are by contemporary Finnish artists, such as Riiko Sakkinen, Riikka Hyvönen and graffiti painter egs. This is a conscious choice. “We believe that the art should be a commentary on the time in which we as a company live,” says Lindgren. The firm often invites artists to give talks about their work and regularly organises art events for their clients. Despite having grown rapidly since its beginnings in 2016, Dottir is still a relatively small, entrepreneurial venture on the Finnish law scene. “We want to shake up the market,” says managing partner Johanna Rantanen. “Having unexpected art in our office suits this identity well.”
The decision to acquire works is usually made by Lindgren and a few of his partners. Sourcing work for the office is different to building a personal collection. “When you buy art for a more public space, you need to consider other people too,” says Lindgren. “Large public companies are often too sensitive and end up buying conservative art.” Predictable showpieces wouldn’t be as effective in inspiring employees to come up with innovative strategies – and connect the creative dots.
“This factory is a work of art, the 200 workers here are part of the art and every day is a performance,” says Giovanni Bonotto, the fourth-generation scion of his family business. Textile company Bonotto is renowned in the fashion industry as one of the world’s best and most imaginative fabric-makers but the inspiration behind its products is less well known. According to Giovanni, Bonotto’s team members “work like artists, because they work in an artistic context”. The factory is filled with an awe-inspiring collection of creations.
A robot made using eight televisions – an emblematic work by Korean-American video artist Nam June Paik – sits near the entrance to the factory. US performance artist John Giorno’s framed poetry hangs just above a pair of vending machines. A giant tarp that Yoko Ono emblazoned with the word “Dream” covers a loading gate. Multimedia artist Carolee Schneemann’s self-portraits showing her as a nude ice-skater line a wall next to the looms. The works of Joseph Beuys, John Cage, Ben Patterson and many more ground-breaking artists cover every wall in the workspace.
Founded in 1912 in the northern Italian hinterlands of Vicenza as a straw-hat manufacturer, Bonotto transformed into a textile company in 1972, when Giovanni’s father Luigi took over. Luigi Bonotto learnt fabric-making from Gaetano Marzotto – one of a generation of enlightened Italian industrialists who sought to use the factory as a springboard for humanism and workers’ rights. The annual Marzotto prize for arts and sciences regularly brought intellectuals to this corner of Italy. This is how Luigi Bonotto forged many friendships with artists. He played chess with Marcel Duchamp and invited creatives to visit him, where they would stay in rooms at the factory that he had fixed up as an apartment. The guests would enjoy his hospitality and the space to create new work – and they would often sell him a piece (for a friendly price) at the end of their stay. Yet Luigi never thought of it as a residency programme. “When a friend comes to stay, you don’t call it a ‘residence’,” he says. Instead he thought of it as an amicable exchange of ideas. “Every day you begin living all over again. Everything can be turned on its head. That’s a concept John Cage taught me that’s always served us well in the factory.”
More than 300 artists have since visited Bonotto in Molvena. The factory may now be officially known as the Bonotto Foundation but its valuable art – which has been exhibited at institutions such as Paris’s Palais de Tokyo and London’s Whitechapel Gallery – is still hung casually throughout the space, a working warehouse of concrete floors, fluorescent lights and forklifts.
“People worry that the art is too valuable for this environment but it communicates to everyone here that their work is truly valuable and it instils the sensitivity of artists in them,” says Giovanni. This philosophy chimes with Bonotto’s production ethic which he calls “fabbrica lenta” (slow factory). Bonotto uses reclaimed mechanical looms from 1956 that generate only 10 per cent of the fabric that an automated machine would – but it’s particularly rich and dense. This way of working also encourages customisation and experimentation.
The tight-knit texture and often unusual patterns of Bonotto fabrics have earnt the company long-standing relationships with top fashion houses including Prada, Gucci, Valentino, Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton. And inventing more than 1,000 new styles of fabric each year requires everyone to work with the attitude of an artist.
“At first the artists who came to visit were seen as strange and foreign,” says Giovanni. “But then we understood that the artists had given us what I would call ‘imagination eyeglasses’ to see our work differently. Our workers began to perceive themselves as artists and to see every fabric as a small work of art.” It’s an approach that’s descended, he believes, from Italy’s Renaissance legacy of combining art and artistry in one workshop. “As manufacturers in Italy today, we have to be artists to survive. Rather than compete with mass production, we’re inventing new solutions and visual languages.”
The uncluttered New York office of Be-poles, a branding and interior-design studio that also has a branch in Paris, occupies the eight floor of a building in Soho. Crisp white walls are lined with a neat series of photographs, illustrations and prints that are often in rotation. On the shelves, stacks of books and accessories including ceramic lamps help give the office a homely feel.
If much of the art feels as though it could hang in somebody’s house, it’s because it was often originally bought for that purpose: many pieces come from the team members’ personal collections. “There’s not enough wall space in my apartment,” says Reynald Philippe, the company’s associate partner and New York art director. “I like to collect [art] but if I have nowhere to hang it then I showcase it here,” says managing director Rafael Weil, whose own Louise Bourgeois print and signed Roy Lichtenstein poster are on display in the office. “Our aim is to create a residential tone,” he adds. “We see this as less of an office and more of a living space.” Considering that one of Be-poles’ most high-profile projects has been curating art programmes for Nomad hotels, the pieces in the studio – where many client meetings take place – need to stand up to the strictest scrutiny. The creative team has access to both up-and-coming and well-known artists, be it through their collaborations or via their Paris-based curator, Virginie Boulenger. “She opens great doors for us,” says Weil. “Whether we want to buy pieces for the office or for our homes.” Boulenger supervises all the art curation on Be-poles’ projects as well as framing the works, in Paris, and then shipping them around the globe. (The New York team sometimes brings framed pieces back from Paris in their hand luggage.)
Many of the works have great emotional worth; two prints by Fred Lebain were a gift from the photographer, whom the studio has worked with. Others have significant monetary value, including prints by mid-century street photographers Weegee and Vivian Maier. “It’s not always about how well known the artist may be; for us it’s a memento,” says Weil. “The idea is to keep it alive; in constant motion, like a gallery.”
As a large number of clients come through the doors, investing in work by younger artists can also help support their careers. “Having a piece by someone who isn’t a household name is an opportunity to provide them with a chance to be discovered by someone who doesn’t already know their work,” adds Weil.
Ultimately the artworks have the biggest impact on the people who spend the most time with them: the employees themselves. “We like to show clients what we do,” says Philippe. “But it’s also great for us because it’s inspiring to be around and we’re here for nine hours a day.” Weil agrees. “We’re able to exchange ideas in how we rotate the artwork,” he says. “This is a forum for us to share our collections. It’s not just for our clients – it’s for us too.”