When Donald Marron died last December, many were reminded of the work he’d done over decades assembling a top-notch corporate collection for PaineWebber, the investment bank and stock brokerage that in 2000 was acquired by the Swiss bank UBS. In the early 2000s, more than 30 important pieces from PaineWebber were gifted to the Museum of Modern Art. Today, UBS, itself formed through the merger of the major investment banks Union Bank of Switzerland and Swiss Bank Corporation, has a collection of 30,000 artworks—photography, painting, sculpture, video art, and drawings—dating from the 1960s on by artists from over 70 countries.
Corporate collections like those of UBS and Deutsche Bank, which at 55,000 objects is the largest corporate art collection in Germany and one of the largest in the world, tend to get all the attention. But it is often the smaller ones that make a difference in the lives of the artists and galleries with whom they deal. As it happens, just weeks before Marron died, during Art Basel Miami Beach, labels that said “The TD Ready Commitment” in bold green and black lettering began to appear at the art fair of the New Art Dealers Alliance—an Art Basel satellite fair that tends to show the work of emerging artists. TD Bank, formed by a merger in Toronto in the 1950s, had expanded its art collecting.
Some of the TD Bank purchases at NADA Miami and other recent fairs, such as Independent New York and the Armory Show in March, include paper-based works by artist Abdolreza Aminlari presented by Situations Gallery of New York, a painting by Nathaniel Robinson sold by the New York–based Magenta Plains, and pieces by Jeffrey Gibson, Kennedy Yanko, and Angel Otero from the Chicago gallery Kavi Gupta. The addition of labels in the galleries’ booths proclaiming the mission statement of a financial institution was a new way of doing business for a few of these dealers, but a welcome one nonetheless.
“People were attracted to that label—they wanted to know about it,” Jackie Klempay, owner and director of Situations Gallery told ARTnews, adding that TD Bank had asked permission before sticking up the label in her booth. “I think they were impressed that a respected corporate collection was interested in this work.”
Rachel Gonzales, sales director at Kavi Gupta, said that the signage drew attention to the gallery’s booth at the Armory Show. “It’s always fun when someone comes up and asks because then we get to explain where the works are going and why the labels are there,” she said. “It opens that door to talk about the art and the artist.”
According to Stuart Keeler, senior curator and manager of the TD Bank corporate art collection, those kinds of reactions are exactly what his team is working to cultivate by way of the labels. “You might have a conversation with somebody else who’s also gawking at the label, but also looking at the work,” he said. “It gives pause and it does create that conversation piece.”
But the practice also aligns with the institution’s socially minded goals for its art collection, namely, sharing artists’ stories widely and connecting communities through artworks.
“Oftentimes when art is acquired, for a corporate collection or even for a museum for that matter, it will vanish,” Keeler said. “So, our goal is to be much more transparent and actively share our message in building an inclusive tomorrow.”
TD Bank was created in 1955, through the merger of two Canadian banks founded in the mid-19th century: the Bank of Toronto and the Dominion Bank. It is now the largest bank in Canada and has ranked among the 30 largest in the world. A decade into its existence, the bank hired Modernist architect Mies van der Rohe to build a headquarters in Toronto (the bank’s American subsidiary is headquartered in New Jersey), and in 1968, a year after the Toronto-Dominion Centre opened, then CEO Allen Lambert decided it would be a good idea to get some art to fill it. His focus would be contemporary Canadian art. Keeler said that in the 1960s the collection’s focus on Inuit artworks was considered “a bold promise, a bold direction.” The collection’s Canadian arm features works by Rebecca Belmore, Jin-me Yoon, and Stan Douglas.
The American branch of the collection began last year with the bank’s acquisition of Gibson’s geometric abstract painting Trouble Don’t Last Always (2019) from Kavi Gupta, and it has since grown to include works by Nari Ward, William Cordova, Jennie C. Jones, Claudia Peña Salinas, Jordan Nassar, and others. With a collection that now numbers 6,000 works, the bank maintains an interest in collecting pieces by contemporary Indigenous artists (Gibson is Choctaw-Cherokee) in both the U.S. and Canada.
“Our approach has pivoted to help support and amplify new underrepresented and diverse voices in arts and culture,” Keeler said, adding that his curatorial team is making acquisitions that are “representative of our colleagues and customers.” The bank purchases work exclusively by living artists, and those pieces are put on view in outposts whose location has some significance to the artists in question.
Last year, TD Bank added contemporary works created by members of the Squamish community in Vancouver, British Columbia, to its outpost there. In Canada, the collection “strives to acquire work which represents the local territory,” Keeler said.
The TD Bank collection is intended to be a vehicle through which communities can be connected. And, as part of that commitment, the institution established the public TD Gallery of Indigenous Art in Toronto, where the contemporary and historical artworks showcased “create this strong, important statement about our past, but also where we’re interested in going.”
“The role of the senior curator at TD is to be a community catalyst,” Keeler said. “When you see yourself represented, you know that you belong. That sense of belonging is when change can happen.”
This ethos has caught the attention of dealers across the U.S. who strive to do similar work in their respective programs. Gonzales said that since Kavi Gupta serves to “champion underrepresented artists with diverse backgrounds and careers,” it’s been “really special to work with a team and a collection that has those same values.”
Olivia Smith, director of Magenta Plains, said that TD’s goals are in line with the gallery’s “mission to foster context and meaning for the development of new ideas as well as to present and preserve older generations of artists’ work.”
And the TD collection intends to continue evolving in new ways. In recent years it has cultivated partnerships with New York institutions like the High Line, the Queens Museum, and the Shed. TD’s arts and culture activities, including the sponsorship of a program at the Shed that provides priority tickets to underserved communities, are nested under the bank’s social responsibility initiative, The TD Ready Commitment, a multiyear inclusivity- and diversity-focused program that directs its giving—$1 billion CAD by 2030—in four areas. Arts and culture falls under “connected communities.” The other areas are environmental, health, and financial security. The bank is also actively acquiring works for its new media and time-based collection, which has been presented in Toronto, with plans to make landfall at public-facing sites in New York.
The connections forged between financial institutions and museums or other entities in the art world are part of a long-running tradition of collaboration between banks and the arts. The UBS art collection, for instance, has been the main sponsor of Art Basel for some 30 years. It has staged special programming at the fair’s various editions around the world, and worked with other fairs, like Taipei Dangdai and artgenève. An active lender to international museums, UBS acquires chiefly from the primary market in service of its mission to support artists and galleries. UBS also has its own art gallery in New York, which opened to the public in 2019 and mounts rotating exhibitions.
“I think it really enriches our relationship with the clients because so many of them are passionate about art or they’re in the art business or they’re artists,” Mary Rozell, global head of the UBS art collection, said of the bank’s holdings, which include pieces by Cindy Sherman, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Trevor Paglen, Ed Ruscha, Lisa Oppenheim, and others on view across more than 700 offices worldwide. She added that, since the bank’s VIP programming at art fairs and displays of artworks within its own outposts are fairly exclusive, its recently opened gallery in New York “gives us some more direct connection” to a public audience and “provides us with an experimental platform for our own curatorial ideas.”
“We’re always looking for ways to share our collection,” Rozell said.
Because artworks held by institutions like UBS and TD Bank are exhibited primarily for the staff and clients, stewards of collections of this kind often wonder what kind of impact they might have within the cultural sector. For Rozell, this means engaging with the artists UBS collects and playing a meaningful role in their careers by making their work visible, introducing them to clients, and commissioning new projects.
“I know that there are many circumstances where we make a difference,” she said. “We are not speculating on the market—we are really investing in the artists themselves.”
Corporate collections’ ability to follow an artist’s career and continue to support their work makes an entity like TD an “ideal client” for Klempay, who believes that financial institutions are serving the art world in a manner similar to the churches and banking families of the Renaissance.
“If the wealth is concentrated in the financial institution, they sort of become a new sort of patron,” Klempay said. “They have the ability and the means to support art.”
“They really have an opportunity to drive social change by their collecting habits,” Gonzales explained.
At TD Bank, art can serve as a reminder of the company’s values, its ongoing investment in the arts, and its “role in creating an inclusive future,” according to Keeler. He said that those messages can be conveyed to employees in boardrooms and to passersby who may visit one of the company’s lobby spaces.
“We are not only supporting artists in our own backyards, through the various geographies of where TD is,” Keeler said, “we’re also amplifying new voices forward and where we’re building or emphasizing the importance of community and connecting to communities.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the number of works in the TD Bank collection. The correct number is 6,000, not 7,000.