The art on the walls

The building in which I work is filled with art. Every floor, from the lobby and cafeteria to my perch on the 9th, is rife with paintings, sculpture, hanging installations, name it, my employer has it in the collection. Walking through the building and getting up to my desk every day is like taking a trip to a very large, haphazardly curated museum where a very old lady with widely varied taste has dumped the last 70 years of her wealth-enabled collecting. 

Some of the art is, at least to my untrained eye, very good. There's a beautiful blown-glass vase I've scoped out more than once, a few abstract paintings that I've stopped to admire, and a wanna-be Monet ripoff that I would hang in my own home. Other pieces call to mind flea markets and garage sales: the bloated, oil-painted dogs, the Calder-esque wire mobile that just makes me think of drycleaning hangers. 

The collection is too incoherent to have been the product of some mid-90s boom period in which the company decided to invest in just doesn't read that way. A former audit client of mine, for example, had strong ties to the Lutheran faith, and collected Christian art as a satellite objective. Their collection was immense, varied, yes, but cohesive by virtue of the common theme of the artwork. Here, a floor-to-ceiling oil painting of cowboys and Indians shares wall space with a still life of strawberries and orchids and a sculpted, luridly pastel teapot in a glass case. Further, I can't envision this milieu being the result of some sad, corporate-drone CEO desperate to prove he has a soul and can see the world outside dollars-and-cents creatively. 

Walking to lunch a few days ago, however, everything was explained to me after I commented on a particularly odd installation piece...a painting designed to look like it was being lifted off the wall, revealing a fake safe behind it. The administrative assistant I was talking to informed me that, after certain property claims, my company has the option to salvage whatever can be saved from a damaged home to sell, retain or repurpose it. The art that fills my building is the byproduct of those salvages...collections of other people's art, reflections of other people's taste, the last remnants of whatever was left after destruction hit these families hard. 

Now when I walk in every morning and out every evening, I find myself attaching little stories or characters to these pieces. That ripoff Monet? An eccentric French ex-pat with a bad case of nostalgia. The Calder hanger-sculpture? A twenty-something seeking credibility and edginess, making his first "big investment" in "real art." The cowboys and Indians? Some wealthy playboy's Rocky Mountain ski palace leftovers. It all makes me smile...I have always had an overactive imagination and loved seeing what other people gravitate toward reflecting their personalities. It makes me a little bit sad, though, to think of these people separated from their art. Do they miss it? Do they think of their strawberries and teapots and seascapes and wonder whatever happened to them?