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The buttoned-down culture of most big law firms, where logic, reasoning, and analysis are paramount, may seem like the antithesis of artsy. But despite that reputation, firms are spending plenty of time, energy � and money � on fine art as a way to enhance their work spaces and to market their brands. From Robert Rauschenberg to Robert Motherwell, Robert Indiana to Frank Stella, much of the artwork adorning the walls of law firms across the country is museum quality. Some spend millions; others, far less. But whatever the budget, they realize that poker-playing dogs simply will not do. “It says, ‘We’re people who live in the contemporary world, and we are relatively sophisticated,’ ” says Debevoise & Plimpton partner William Beekman, referring to the firm’s collection in its New York office. It includes pieces by David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, and other recognized artists. As with many firms, Debevoise strives not only to create a stylish workplace for its employees but also to impress upon clients who visit the office that the firm has a certain savoir-faire. “I don’t think the art should be the most striking thing, because we’re not art dealers,” Beekman says. “But it should be something other than horsey prints, sailing ships, and dead presidents.” And while reflecting an upscale image is important for firms that collect high-caliber art, it is not just about the “look,” says Mary Dinaburg, an independent curator for Clifford Chance in the firm’s New York office. “The firm wants a cultural identity,” Dinaburg says. “It uses art to reach out to people.” Buying art almost always comes in tandem with a firm’s renovations or relocation, says art consultant Lisa Austin. Based in Miami, she has worked with several large firms, including Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham, and Washington-based Howrey Simon Arnold & White. It is not uncommon for law firms to spend millions remodeling their offices or moving into new space, she says, and increasingly, part of that expense is for noteworthy work on the walls. “If you’re going to that level with the architecture, you need to go to that level with the art,” Austin says. Another aspect of outfitting new offices is parting company with the old stuff. “You’ve got to get rid of all the schlock,” she explains. Some law firms conduct in-house auctions for the old work. Others donate the pieces to nonprofit groups. Depending on the size of firms, they may spend up to $1 million to buy art when they relocate or renovate, she says. But many firms spend far less and are able to acquire quality work, with the average budget for a large firm updating its art at about $150,000, she says. Part of the consideration in buying the art is client expectations. While clients want their attorneys to work in sleek, sophisticated spaces, they also want their dollars spent wisely, says Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher attorney Ken Anderson. “It’s very important to strike the right balance,” Anderson says. “You don’t want to send a message to clients that you’re pouring lots of their dollars into artwork on the wall.” Semi-retired from the Los Angeles-based firm, Anderson is Gibson, Dunn’s curator of sorts, working with consultants and selecting the art when the 780-attorney firm redesigns or moves offices. It has 12 locations. When the firm began renovating its Los Angeles offices two years ago, it expanded its collection, which initially included works by California impressionists such as Arthur Gilbert, Edgar Payne, and William Wendt. In the last three years, the firm has purchased more contemporary art, including sculpture and mixed media, Anderson says. He operates within a budget that is “much less than I want,” he says, although he finds it more challenging to work with less money than more. “When you don’t have a very big budget, you are forced to be a little more creative in terms of what you’re buying. It’s more fun,” he says. CUTTING-EDGE ARTISTS Firms frequently select contemporary art to complement their spaces, and many of those pieces are created by cutting-edge artists, whose work often sells for less than entrenched, well-known talent. Clifford Chance’s New York office has several such pieces, plus its own curator, who does the purchasing. In addition to its permanent collection, the firm displays revolving exhibitions throughout the year. It invites clients and others to attend those exhibits and regularly conducts tours of its permanent collection. Last fall, the firm presented an exhibit, Syncopated Rhythms Ensemble Improvisation, which showed works whose artists were inspired by jazz. For the holiday season, Clifford Chance hosted an art reception featuring student artwork. It also provides tours guided by Dinaburg, the curator, for employees. “We have a real interest in creating a lively intellectual environment and an environment that enriches our people with more than riches,” says John Carroll, managing partner of Clifford Chance’s U.S. offices. In addition to the cost, striking the right balance with the content of art is also crucial. Debevoise, for example, has very little figurative art, Beekman says, which rules out nudes. “Ours is more understated than some, because we are Debevoise, after all,” he jokes. Philadelphia-based Duane Morris, however, prides itself on a collection that is “not mainstream,” says the firm’s chairman, Sheldon Bonovitz. Many of its pieces were created by accomplished artists who were self-taught. The collection includes a painting by Lee Godie, a woman who lived on Chicago’s streets and often sold her drawings and paintings outside the Chicago Art Institute on Michigan Avenue. Four months before her death in 1992, she was recognized with a career retrospective at the Chicago Cultural Center. Duane Morris also purchased “Camp,” a deceptively complex perspective drawing of a covered wagon by Eddie Arning, a prolific artist institutionalized with schizophrenia. His work is found in collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the National Museum of American Art here. A frenetic abstract piece created with house paint on wood and Formica by Purvis Young, a former convict, also found a home in Duane Morris’ collection. Young’s art is displayed at the Studio Museum in Harlem and elsewhere. ART BY COMMITTEE What art a firm will buy is often decided by a committee, which works with consultants in making purchases. And while complete consensus is rare, the groups are valuable for ascertaining strong positive or negative feelings among its members. At Latham & Watkins, for example, its four-member committee is made up of a partner, an associate, a paralegal, and a secretary. “The [art] work is for everybody,” says Barry Sanders, a partner at the firm and chairman of its art committee. Latham & Watkins’ photography collection, which totals 450 pieces and spans 12 floors of its Los Angeles location, has signed works by Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Irving Penn, and other renowned photographers. It includes unknown artists and lesser-known works, as well. “If all you’re doing is collecting works by famous people, you’re only showing that you have a checkbook,” Sanders says. Leigh Jones is a reporter for The National Law Journal , the ALM publication where this article first appeared.

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