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From the lobbies to the corridors and cabins, the Deutsche Bank office at the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), Mumbai, is packed with art from India and Germany. In the reception area alone, you will find a sculpture by G. Ravinder Reddy and paintings by Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Krishen Khanna and Arpana Caur.

Bernhard Steinruecke, a former CEO of the bank, who spearheaded the Indian collection in 1994, says over the phone from Mumbai: “We wanted to show our support for artists, who are a creative force in society. Our focus was on young artists and contemporary art in India and Germany, to cover what is happening in the art scene at that point in time."

Deutsche Bank, which has offices in 70 countries, was among the first to build a corporate art collection globally. It has been investing in art since the late 1970s, and its collection of almost 60,000 works across the world comprises pieces from every significant period, including the Fluxus movement, Young British Artists and minimalist art. It now plans to open a Deutsche Bank Museum in Berlin.

An untitled sculpture by G. Ravinder Reddy. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
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An untitled sculpture by G. Ravinder Reddy. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

The Indian collection, displayed across offices in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chandigarh and Chennai, was put together by Bernhard’s wife and mother-in-law, Ranjana Steinruecke and Usha Mirchandani, respectively, who ran an art consultancy at that time. It took over two years to build, and every purchase had to be approved by Herbert Zapp, a Deutsche Bank board member, and a committee of experts in Frankfurt. “Deutsche Bank started the idea of ‘art in the workplace’ because it is inspiring for employees and co-workers to have contemporary art around you that opens up your thinking and ways of looking at things, at the self and the world," says Ranjana, co-founder of the Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke. Bernhard, now the director general of the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, points out that investing in a significant art collection is also good for a company’s self-image. “By showcasing how we maintain our buildings and offices, it sends a message that we are very serious about what we are doing," he says, adding that an art-filled workplace is a draw for employees, clients and visitors.

The bank’s first office in Mumbai was in the Tata Palace, a colonial villa built by the French architect Gabriel Morice in 1908 in the Fort area. It was renovated to meet the requirements of a modern bank in 1994, and in line with its tradition of collecting contemporary art and displaying it on the bank’s premises, the bank set about selecting and displaying a variety of Indian and German artworks in its offices. Works by upcoming artists were showcased on the ground-floor retail banking area, which saw a heavy flow of visitors. Upstairs, the walls were lined with works by progressive and modern artists, including Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar and S.H. Raza. After the bank moved its headquarters to the BKC in 2013, works by these masters were moved to the offices of the top bosses.

Ravneet Gill, the current CEO, has Raza’s famous Bindu painting in his cabin, as well as abstract works by Ram Kumar and Laxman Shreshtha that seem to be in a dialogue with each other. “If you historically look at art, it started in church and then moved to aristocracy, and if you now look at it, it’s being promoted essentially by the corporates not only in the Western world but also in countries in Asia. Corporates across Japan, Korea and China are collecting art in a big way," says Gill.

“The more you expose people to good art, the more their visual literacy improves," says Gill. Every morning, when employees log on to the bank server, they are greeted by the image of a new work of art. The bank also partners with galleries or auction houses like Christie’s or Saffronart to promote a show or an artist, inviting clients and staff.

When she joined the bank as a management trainee in 1995, the first thing that struck Radha Dhir was the art on the walls. “I did not grow up in a house with art around me," she says, adding that she did not know the name of a single artist before she joined the bank. Today, Dhir, now managing director of the bank, and Gill are both collectors.

“I have been a long-standing collector and the credit goes to Deutsche Bank, where I developed an understanding and liking for art," Gill says. A massive ancient Chettinad bull made of wood, from his personal collection, is installed in front of his cabin at the BKC office.

Dhir believes art provides a respite from the frenzied pace of work. “When you are surrounded by screens where numbers are moving up and down, looking up from your desk to see a work of art can give you a different perspective," she says, adding, “I have read how art has the power to heal and provide mental peace, and I have actually experienced it."

Art at work is a series which looks at how offices are looking to inspire and boost creativity in their staff through art.

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