Walking into the Williams room last Tuesday evening, one could have mistaken the otherwise formal reception area for a New York gallery opening. Creative energy and artistic enthusiasm was in the air as students wandered through the space commenting on different works of art on display.
The transformation of the space was executed by The Art Appreciation Club as they unveiled the new additions to the HBS art collection. This is an annual event made possible thanks to the kind gift of Gerald W. Schwartz (MBA 1970). If you look at the labels of the art in campus buildings, you’ll be hard pressed to find a piece that has NOT been donated by this Canadian alumnus. An avid supporter of the arts, Mr. Schwartz is a big believer in the power that contemporary art can have in an environment such as HBS. It is provocative and can inspire students to look at the world through different lenses-a lesson that is easily translated into the classroom.
One condition to Mr. Schwartz’s gift is that the annual new additions must be selected with student input. After all, the intention behind the installation of the works is to capture the imagination and inspire those of us who spend the most time in the halls of Aldrich, Spangler, Shad and Baker Library. This past summer I was fortunate enough to join Leila Heidari, co-president of The Art Appreciation Club, Mr. Schwartz along with a couple of his family members, famed Art Consultant Gracie Mansion, and HBS Director of Planning Sharon Black, for the art buying adventure of a lifetime.
Our day in New York involved visiting over a dozen contemporary galleries in Chelsea, talking to artists, dealers and gallery owners about different styles, emerging trends and the who’s who of the art scene. With only a quick stop for lunch, the day flew by as we bustled in and out of the numerous galleries discussing which pieces we thought would find a welcoming home in the hallowed halls of the business school.
The process was very democratic-when one of us identified something that we liked, we would call attention to it and discuss what made the work stand out. Even though Mr. Schwartz was the one making the final purchases, he was genuinely interested in our opinions-often asking us to explain in great detail what it was that drew us to the piece in question. By late afternoon our group was both pleasantly exhausted and satiated by the entire experience.
The process came full circle on Tuesday as the pieces were officially unveiled to the HBS community. I overheard a few conversations that were taking place in front of the works and was pleased that people were really engaged by the art. Some commented on the use of texture in the abstract painting by Ryan Wallace, others were fascinated by the stories behind the projected figures and the symbolism of the architecture in Shimon Attie’s photography. My favorite comment was from one student who insightfully remarked on the composition and use of layered spaces in Jeff Chen-Hsing Liao’s LIRR, Hunter’s Point. She went on to identify the location he was depicting and, leaning in closely, tried to pinpoint where her apartment was in relation to the scene.
The fact that students were contemplating the art, getting up close to it, becoming comfortable talking about it and using it as a catalyst to inspire a personal reflection or discussion with a friend, is proof that art has an important place in our campus. One which I would suggest goes well beyond being simply an ornament for an otherwise white wall.
I do not know if I will ever again have the chance to shop for art in the company of such incredible people. I do however know that whenever I walk through the campus and see one of the pieces we selected, it will remind me of a surreal day in New York. I hope you enjoy looking at the new additions to the HBS collection as much as we enjoyed selecting them!