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Decking the Business Halls With Fine Art : Culture: The idea of putting art objects in the workplace is catching on, and some customers and employees are all for it.

April 05, 1990|LESLIE BERKMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — A white marble dog that sits on the first floor of Allergan Inc.'s office building in Irvine receives lots of pampering from employees.

At Christmas, they tie a red bow around the dog's neck and give it bones. Sometimes sunglasses are perched on its snout or cans of dog food placed at its feet. The company had a contest to name the dog. The winning entry: Lens Pup.

This kind of heart-felt response is gratifying to consultants and others who are promoting the establishment of fine art in the workplace.

"It means they are noticing that dog and they are interacting with the environment, and that is the whole idea of corporate art," said James Lodge, an art consultant to Orange County businesses. He noted that the marble canine by Los Angeles sculptor Gwen Murill is part of an extensive fine art collection at Allergan, a manufacturer of eye-care products.

Increasingly in Orange County, employees formerly accustomed to wall posters or innocuous prints color-matched with the office decor are finding museum-quality art--some of it rather eye-catching--in plazas, waiting rooms, corporate suites and even beside their own desks.

Art consultants say the Orange County business community gradually is overcoming its reputation as a bastion of artistic conservatism. This awakening to fine art is most evident in the new office-building complexes that have been sprouting up in Costa Mesa and near John Wayne Airport.

Developers such as the Koll Co. and C.J. Segerstrom & Sons have set the tone with monumental public sculpture by internationally known artists. And some tenants who have moved into the new office spaces, such as Taco Bell and Security Pacific, have turned their quarters into virtual art galleries, even offering specially arranged tours to the public.

When Taco Bell moved into a new 12-story building in Koll Center Irvine in late 1986, the office space was specially designed to display a collection of about 170 pieces of abstract Expressionist art ranging from paintings to sculptures, collages and lithographs.

Taco Bell, which has long been based in Orange County, has become more involved in corporate art because of the influence of its corporate parent, New York-based Pepsico, said Elliot Bloom, a Taco Bell spokesman.

Similarly, Security Pacific's decision to establish a public gallery on the ground floor of the new 12-story building it occupied last June near South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa reflected a corporate-wide policy. The bank allocated 5% of its interior-furnishings budget in the new building to the purchase of high-quality office art.

Miriam Smith, a corporate art consultant, said new firms coming to the county from other metropolitan areas have been leading the way in adding art to the workplace.

"Those (firms) who have been long established in Orange County," she said, "tend to be still very much hooked into conservative thinking as far as spending and awareness. They are worried that clients or employees may not like the art, and so they don't take the risk."

But there are notable exceptions, she added. A handful of locally grown companies such as Allergan, Fieldstone, a Newport Beach home builder, and the Irvine Co. have well-regarded art collections.

Businesses purchase or lease art to please employees and clients, to project a progressive corporate image and to support the local art community. But some firms acknowledge that, for many employees, contemporary art takes getting used to.

"If you put art up on the wall, you will get a reaction. Otherwise you have wallpaper," said Tressa Miller, a Security Pacific vice president and director of cultural affairs.

Developers say sculpture in lobbies and courtyards generally is welcomed by tenants and lends prestige to a project.

But when employees or building tenants object to a particular artwork, the prudent employer or landlord frequently decides that the offending piece must go.

Last June, for instance, an outburst of tenant disapproval prompted the Koll Co. to oust a controversial ecologically themed sculpture from the lobby of the Wells Fargo Bank building in Newport Beach. The work by San Clemente artist Deanna Salo was made of debris washed up on the Orange County coastline, ranging from plastic foam cups to bits of shell, ribbons and balloons.

Morris Thurston, a partner at the law firm of Latham & Watkins who helped to select the photography collection in the firm's Costa Mesa offices, said some lawyers complained about a picture of former Beatle John Lennon that symbolized his violent death.

"It was too sad, they said, to be reminded of day in and day out," Thurston explained. So the photo came down.

Sometimes, employees find modern art pieces too distracting. Such is the case with an innovative wooden sculpture entitled "The Music Box" in the executive lunch room of Security Pacific's Costa Mesa office building.

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