When designing corporate spaces, including art has become de rigueur, finds Anusha Parthasarathy

Metal waves that run across the ceiling, large canvasses that occupy entire walls and quirky installations that exude character — corporate houses have always liked art but they are now going mainstream with it, with everybody investing in it either for aesthetic reasons, as an initiative to support upcoming artists, or for appreciation. And architects are increasingly commissioning site-specific works in their corporate projects.

International Tech Park Chennai (an Ascendas IT park) runs an initiative called Ascendas Gift Foundation, through which they concentrate on art, community and environment. They hold art exhibitions, provide space for upcoming work and already have a collection of 22 paintings and 6 sculptures in the 2.01 million sq. ft office space just off Rajiv Gandhi Salai.

“Art creates a pleasant and inspiring environment for employees and gives a creative touch to the workplace. Apart from installations, we also promote art through various channels such as exhibitions and workshops,” says Thomas Theo, CEO, Ascendas India Operations. “Our goal is to create and inspire communities through our philanthropic efforts.”

Art in corporate houses goes beyond being just an investment and acts as stress-buster or inspiration to closet artists. Mahesh Radhakrishnan of Madras Office for Architects and Designers (MOAD) agrees. “Interaction with art is an essential experience and this makes art relevant in any space. The fact that it is introduced in a corporate workspace offers a break,” he says. Sriram Ganapathi of KSM Consultants calls them ‘creativity generators’, “Visual art is probably a direct generator. And while many corporate offices are taking an interest in art as a part of their CSR initiative or as an investment, the greater good is to liven up their spaces.”

Paintings and installations often become a part of the building and the office’s character and identity. “There have been instances where large murals have become an integral part of the architectural language of a building,” says Suniil Philiip, director, PSP Architects.

Ganapathi recounts experiences where the inspiration for art was centred on the project and its surroundings. “The artist for a hotel project we were doing drew inspiration from a beehive that he saw on the site when he first visited it. The resultant installations, murals and sculptures were created around the theme of a hive and the honey flowing out. At the Vodafone Corporate Office in Chennai, the client had an artist come over from Kolkata and since the office is by the coast, he was inspired by the sea and did a series of paintings based on the beach and its ecosystem.”

Ascendas’ sculptures, too, capture the waves that the employees create (through the water feature at the front), their spirit and creativity (the installations by the entrance) and the liberation (the dancing waves on the ceiling). The paintings in the lobby of the first phase done by notable Singapore-based artist P. Gnana also express the diversity of the 20,000 employees on the campus, called the Harmony series, where many shades blend and co-exist.

“In India, art is diverse in its techniques and expression,” says Theo, “and because of its uniqueness, several corporates and institutions are extending their support through various means such as sponsoring and endorsing artists and commissioning artwork.”

Radhakrishnan believes that involvement in art leads to upward mobility. But the bottom line is that it makes an aesthetic statement. “In this line, it is seen more as a personal interest and aesthetic statement to incorporate art in work spaces. Graphic art (indoors) is the new equivalent of public art while an installation will depend on the space available,” he adds.

Philiip seconds this opinion and says that most corporate houses may not invest in fixed art. “We have been working on corporate interiors since the late 1990s and many of our early clients have invested in art that has appreciated over the years.

"They are aware of its inherent value and often hire consultants to advise them on what to buy. But investment is largely made on paintings and sculptures rather than murals or installations because of their mobility.”

Clearly, the fundamental purpose of art has been aesthetics but the commercial value is a great by-product.