Sponsoring Art Commissions

July 2024

We visited the Serpentine Pavilion, by Minsuk Cho – the beautiful star-shaped structure in Hyde Park. It’s the 10th pavilion sponsored by Goldman Sachs so we thought we would reflect on the opportunities commissions bring to a business sponsor.

A big commission can certainly demand attention. New work is news and there are multiple moments to build an activation campaign around - the announcement of a selected artist, the creative process, the unveil, and response to the work.

Smaller, commissions are often activations of art fair sponsorship. Champagne Runiart regularly commissions new work for art fair lounges, BMW uses its famous art cars at Frieze, UBS Art Collection commissions work it displays at Art Basel. As well as being art in themselves, these pieces become headlines, marketing content, decoration and possibly investment.

At another level, commissions can become products. Coffee brand Illy commissions artists to design coffee cups. Over 25 years the Illy Art Collection has grown into one that includes 465 different cup designs by more than 120 international contemporary artists each interpreting the historic white cup designed in 1991 by Matteo Thun.

The most exciting thing about sponsored commissions is that make it possible to provide opportunity to an artist or gallery, and a new piece of inspiration and enjoyment for audiences.

Creating new art can be expensive and sponsorship funds can balance the budget. The Serpentine Pavilion commission is for an architect who has not had a building built in the UK before. Hyundai’s commission in Tate’s Turbine Hall is an expensive cornerstone of its contemporary art programme. Morgan Stanley’s sponsorship of a series of commissions at Somerset House is an example of smaller commissions that provide an opportunity to artists of under-represented groups.

The very nature of a commission means it is a risk. It’s also a great example of managing risk - which happens in every business – and is a team endeavour.

This is why the selection of a partner organisation is important. You need to have faith in their vision, choice of artist, expertise and delivery process. Working with a major institution perhaps has more security, but a smaller commission has the same gamble as a start up – the warm glow of making a difference and the fun of perhaps picking a winner.