Absa mixes the work of South African masters with that of groundbreaking new artistic talent from across the continent to continue building one of the largest corporate art collections in the world.
The Absa Towers in the Johannesburg CBD is more than just a corporate HQ for the continental banking group – it’s also home to a collection of artworks which makes up part of one of the ten largest corporate art collections in the world.
Absa’s art collection numbers more than 18 000 pieces, with works ranging from Pierneef and Irma Stern to Helen Sebidi, Speelman Mahlangu, Walter Battiss and Gregoire Boonzaier. Apart from housing these artistic doyens it is also home to works from some of the continent’s most promising young artists. The collection is a living, breathing one – the works are prominently displayed in Absa’s corporate suites and branches around the country, and across the continent. When they’re not on exhibition, the pieces are carefully catalogued and meticulously packed away in a unique facility, which is as much an art library as it is a storage space.
Absa Art and Museum Curator, Dr Paul Bayliss and his team manage the collection and are also responsible for its growth and development. “We are extremely privileged to have a catalogue of exceptionally prestigious works – but we’re also always on the lookout for the youngest and brightest new artists from across the continent,” Dr Bayliss says.
Indeed, Absa hosts a competition dedicated to unearthing that continental talent – the Absa L’Atelier Competition (run in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts) celebrated its 33rd year in 2018 by inviting artists aged 21 to 35, from the 12 countries in which Absa operates, to compete for the main prize of a six-month art residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, a substantial cash prize and pride of place in numerous Absa exhibitions.
Dr Bayliss believes that Absa’s art collection should be used as an educational tool, teaching people that art is an alternative asset class for investment, while also giving them the opportunity to explore different types of art and appreciate a variety of work. “Art shouldn’t just be bought and traded as a commodity for the simple growth of wealth – people should buy artworks that resonate with them,” he says. “While there are significant investment opportunities in the art world, art should primarily be something that stimulates the senses. Buy what speaks to you – great art leaves a lasting impression.”
Written by Trevor Crighton
Published in PRESTIGE edition 98.