The social function of art: enhancing the workplace through encounters with original ideas
The EPO's art collection has its origins in the relationship between contemporary art and the world of work. Since the beginning, in 1978, its focus has always been on international contemporary art. For the EPO, which now employs staff from 35 European countries, its collection is also an apt response to the European polity that has developed over the decades. Unlike those started by some German-based firms in the 1960s and 1970s, it has not gradually acquired an international character as business has become increasingly globalised. It has always been that way: even in the EPO's earliest public art competition for its Munich headquarters, initiated by the Federal Ministry of Regional Planning, Building and Urban Development and conducted by the Free State of Bavaria and Munich's regional tax office, the artists selected came from all over the world.
In this way, over the decades, art has become central to the look and feel of the EPO's formal function rooms and communication areas at all its sites. In total, 13 buildings and their green spaces in five European cities (Munich, The Hague, Vienna, Berlin and Brussels) display art that defines the EPO's cultural status and aspirations. Art can be encountered there at any moment, creating a stimulating working environment for visitors and staff alike. It is found in foyers and conference rooms, canteens and management offices, repurposed telephone booths, on patios, in stairwells and even in the gymnasium. Frequent rotations of the artworks between the various buildings, and regular updates to the curatorial approach, help to keep perceptions fresh.
How the collection started, and has since developed
Machine-based aesthetics of the 1960s, kinetic light installations, op art and larger constructions by international artists were among the collection's first pieces, acquired by inviting all the EPO member states at the time to make suitable proposals. That's how the collection came to include important works by established artists such as Nicolas Schöffer (CH), Bernhard Luginbühl (CH), Bridget Riley (GB), André Volten (NL), Philip King (GB), Fausto Melotti (IT), Günther Haese (DE) and Panamarenko (BE). These artists are not only important historically because they have broadened contemporary concepts of art. They also stand for specific standpoints that can greatly enhance the viewer's intellectual engagement with art and illustrate, in a corporate environment, the significance of those artistic directions and their connection to the avant-garde.
Following the 2008-2012 renovation of its Munich headquarters, the EPO has implemented a new curatorial concept, with older works from the collection now on show alongside more recent acquisitions. The idea was to illustrate the links that have grown between the collection then and now, and to show how lively its development over the years has been. Since 2013, the ten-story steel frame construction designed in the late 1970s by architects Gerkan, Marg and Partners has seen entire floors given over to artists such as Jan van der Ploeg (NL), José Loureiro (PT), Ekrem Yalçindağ (TK), Heimo Zobernig (AT), Malene Landgreen (DK), Esther Stocker (IT), Jaroslaw Fliciński (PL) and Yves Oppenheim (FR), in a striking demonstration of how art and architecture can blend symbiotically and at the same time enhance the viewer's awareness of space. In this way, curatorial work imbues the collection with social relevance, transforming discrete artworks into a single aesthetic experience. The result is a space that people are happy to work in; it is, after all, becoming increasingly clear in this digital age just how much the workplace is enhanced by encounters with original ideas.
Sponsorship of the arts as a prime responsibility
In deciding to start an art collection the EPO member states were consciously trying to give this new European institution a cultural side too. Since ratifying the European Patent Convention of 1973 the contracting states have played a major role in building up an international organisation which was one of a kind in Germany at the time. This exceptional commitment was also behind the EPO's arts-sponsorship initiatives, which were strongly promoted by its first president, a Dutchman named Johannes Bob van Benthem (1921-2006). He saw sponsorship of the arts as a prime responsibility of the member states, thus laying the foundations for the EPO's collection. To this day, the EPO's cultural work is about building on those foundations, in the pioneering spirit of our early years, and then presenting the resulting collection to the public.
Now, at a time when for many people the symbolic significance of the European idea seems to have become an abstraction, it is especially important to reflect on what European unity has achieved in terms of progress, economic growth, prosperity and peace. The creation of the EPO has been part of that process. For that reason, the EPO bears a social responsibility to promote contemporary art, thus raising awareness of the continent's rich cultural roots and showing that today, more than ever, European society needs art and culture.