From a haunting black and white tapestry accentuated in parts by hand-embroidered graffiti, to a richly coloured Indigenous art piece, Royal Bank of Canada's newest art collection brings together the company's Canadian roots and its connection to the UK.
RBC's headquarters, at 100 Bishopsgate in London, is now home to the bank's largest collection of art outside North America. More than two dozen unique pieces by a diverse cross-section of living artists from Canada were carefully chosen to not only reflect the company's values and commitment to the arts, but transform the seventh-floor space into a contemplative gallery experience for visiting clients.
“It doesn't feel like it's a collection that's defined by being Canadian,” says senior curator Corrie Jackson. ”It's a collection that's defined by exceptionally strong works of art in this space, and they happen to be part of a community.” It's also an exciting opportunity to present Canadian artists in an international setting, many of whom have ties to the UK, adds Jackson.
“The reality is all of these artists are engaged in international conversations and so is RBC.”
The RBC Art Collection
With more than 5,000 pieces by Canadian artists, collected over the course of nearly a century and showcased throughout Canada and some U.S. locations, RBC has long been a patron of the arts in its many forms.
The RBC Emerging Artists Project supports initiatives and organisations that help nurture up-and-coming artists. The programme includes partnerships with both The Brit School and The Old Vic.
“The partnerships we've had over the past five to 10 years supporting the arts have always been incredibly popular,” says Jennifer Sofianou, director of Sponsorships, Events and Citizenship at RBC Wealth Management in the British Isles.
Curator Jackson, based in Toronto, spent a great deal of time considering what the floor should look like and what the role of the art would be within it.
“Our spaces have contracted in different ways,” Jackson says of the pandemic. “I'm feeling more and more aware that the spaces we're in influence how we feel every day.”
That idea is central to the incredible amount of thought that went into choosing each piece and where they fit in Bishopsgate.
Choosing the perfect piece of art
The artworks are also meant to show RBC's vision and values, particularly around diversity and inclusion. This means making sure there are Black and Indigenous artists, other artists of colour, and a strong female presence represented. Not all of the Indigenous artists have a UK connection, but it was still important for RBC to include their perspective in the Bishopsgate installation.
Art is about looking at something in a new way, or showing the audience a new perspective, Jackson says.
Sofianou agrees. “We wanted to create a space that made people think, made people perhaps challenge conventional wisdom, or their own perspectives,” she says.
Featuring artists ranging in age from their 20s to their 90s, Jackson says it was crucial the collection supported living artists. She wanted them to benefit from the sale and also know where their pieces end up.
“It was really important to me there'd also be artists of different generations. Some of the artists are actually hung alongside those who taught or mentored them, demonstrating the importance of that intergenerational relationship,” says Jackson.
Letendre's abstract painting, Moon Glow, with its beautiful translucent line across the centre, was one of the first acquisitions for the installation. Painted in 1969, it's also one of the older works in the collection. Letendre, whose father was a First Nations Abenaki, has influenced many younger artists who work in abstraction. Anchor pieces like this helped guide the team in finding younger artists influenced by a similar artistic approach.
Other works of art include Umpehdu weeunpe dooweh eyeh/He who paints the day (Thunderbird) an etched acrylic piece by Jason Berg and Shannon Bool's Defaced Muse.
Nadia Belerique's 'Flood Frame, Blinds, Love in the Barn, Hybrid Horses for your Future, 2019' is one of the artworks on display at 100 Bishopsgate. Photo: Jonathan Bassett
Nadia Belerique's stained glass pieces, Flood Frame, Blinds, Love in the Barn, Hybrid Horses for your Future, showcases the way a medium plays with light beautifully. Scott McFarland's photograph, Sugar Shack, is perhaps the most Canadian image in the collection.
The haunting tapestry, Defaced Muse, by Shannon Bool is a particular favourite of Sofianou's. She also highlighted Inuit artist Darcie Bernhardt's Daydreaming about Ice-Fishing.
One of the first works of art visitors will encounter when they arrive at Bishopsgate is one of Kapwani Kiwanga's abstract sculpture pieces from her Glow series. A black, marble-like structure with a luminescent orb positioned on one side - the light's visibility changes depending on your point of view. Influenced by colonial laws that mandated Black, Indigenous and mixed-race people carry a lantern in the evenings to identify themselves, Kiwanga's work explores themes around surveillance and visibility.
“It's a really powerful way to enter the space and the piece has an important story behind it, too,” Jackson says.
Walking in clients' shoes to create a unique art experience
For curators, each individual piece must also respond to the architecture and space it occupies. Many of the pieces at 100 Bishopsgate, for example, deal with ideas around light, abstraction and the environment in the natural world.
Understanding how a piece felt in a space in person was important for Jackson, who saw many of the acquisitions in person before they were shipped across the Atlantic. But, she was unable to direct where they would go in person due to the pandemic. For that, she enlisted the help of a team of installers as well as London-based colleagues to discuss the pieces and do a walk-through.
“We were really lucky with the team on the ground and had a lot of trust in them. They were patient with us, walking us through every little nook and cranny, every light switch,” she says.
“If I walk past this in the hallway, how is it going to affect how I'm going to feel when I enter this room? Art has such a power to influence your experience on the floor.”
So every day for two weeks, Jackson would video conference her colleague Jane Hutchison, collection manager at 100 Bishopsgate and slowly go through the entire seventh floor with the installers who held up each piece to get the perfect height and placement.
“We wanted to make sure all the pieces were opportunities to spark new ideas. This is a workplace and meeting space, we wanted to be supportive of that kind of conversation and environment.”
Having input from executives in London also helped guide Jackson on how to choose complementary works. They know who the clients are who would be using the space and enjoying the art.
Continuing the journey around diversity and inclusion
From a client viewpoint, being surrounded by beautiful stimuli also invites a different kind of discussion before getting into the nitty-gritty of doing business, Sofianou adds.
“There's a moment for reflection and contemplation. Rather than just making the walls look nice, we really hope this is an experience that delights.”
Importantly, Sofianou hopes the diverse collection also inspires conversation.
“We've still got a long way to go before we reach the real diversity and inclusion that we need in order to properly reflect the societies where we live and work, and also our client base,” she says.
“I think there's acknowledgement that we're not there yet. So it's the striving, the constant North Star … Having this representation through art reminds us of that journey we're on.”
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