How much would you pay for a priceless piece of contemporary art?
Rabbit is a sculpture created by artist Jeff Koons. In 2019, this sculpture sold for $91.1 million, making it the most expensive piece to be sold at auction by a living artist.
If you assume that this piece was acquired by an eccentric, cloistered collector, you're wrong. The man who purchased that sculpture started his life working at Goldman Sachs.
How does a banker become a billionaire art dealer?
That is the story of Robert Mnuchin, whose shift to the art world would yield the Goldman Sachs Art Collection. Read on to learn more about one man's transition to the world of fine art, and how his connections helped build one of the world's most brilliant corporate art collections.
Who Is Robert Mnuchin?
You may have already heard of Robert Mnuchin. He's the father of Steve Mnuchin, who was Secretary of Treasury under former president Donald Trump. Long before his second son's birth, however, Mnuchin was already making moves in both the banking and art worlds.
Robert Mnuchin was born in Scarsdale, New York in 1933. At that time, art was already a part of his life. His parents were fond of fine art, owning a small collection of pieces during his childhood.
Mnuchin did come from privilege, and that does play a role in his success. He'd soon leave Scarsdale for New Haven, where he attended Yale University. Following his graduation in 1955, he'd serve two years in the army before immediately taking work at Goldman Sachs.
Time at Goldman Sachs
It would have been easy for the man's story to end there, with a successful career in banking with a major corporate firm. Mnuchin would spend thirty-three years working at Goldman Sachs, first as a partner, then as the head of the trading and arbitrage division. By 1980, he was a member of the management committee, and by 1994 had retired.
He'd complete his career at Sachs as the head of the equities division. It's important to note that, in this role, he was involved in developing the firm's block trading business. This would give him an inside view regarding how high-volume transactions move in the worlds of finance and art.
During his time at Goldman Sachs, Mnuchin had earned the nickname "Coach," and was beloved by employees for his leadership skills. By the time he declared his retirement, he seemed to be at the peak of what could have been a much longer career, making a salary of $8.7 million annually.
That wouldn't be the end of Mnuchin's legacy at Goldman Sachs, however. Art aside, his eldest son, Alan G. Mnuchin, would become one of the Vice Presidents of the firm by 1995. His influence on the art and culture of the company would go much deeper.
Mnuchin in the Art World
How did the man go from Robert Mnuchin Banker to Robert Mnuchin Art Dealer? And how could he leave a position where he was making millions, with room to grow?
From Banking to Art
According to Mnuchin, he was ambivalent about the decision. He claimed he was ready "to have other experiences in life." It was time for Mnuchin to focus on his love of art, which began back in his childhood home in Scarsdale.
Mnuchin fed his passion for art by visiting museums, which is easy to do in a culture-rich city like New York. His first acquisition was a simple Picasso print, which only cost him $175. Over time, he would transition from spectator to collector, purchasing a few personal financial wall art pieces, then quite a few more.
The truth is, by the time he retired, Mnuchin was already a seasoned collector. He owned several impressive works, with a particular passion for the art of Willem de Kooning. He had pieces by American artists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko in his personal collection as well.
A Challenging Transition
As much as he had come to love art, Mnuchin had no formal background in the art world. Despite his millions, he couldn't make the leap to the world of museums without education and experience in the fine arts. Instead, he did the next best thing and opened his own art gallery.
The Mnuchin Gallery, known initially as C&M Arts, was a collaboration with James Corcoran. He used the gallery to curate shows that displayed his passion for Post-War art, including abstract impressionist pieces by his beloved de Kooning. In fact, it was de Kooning's work that hung on the walls during the gallery's very first show in 1992.
Mnuchin was serious about his work at the gallery. Each of his shows was well documented with a publication with contributions by critics and art historians. The gallery even became an early home for work by one of today's greatest living American Artists, David Hammons.
Once Mnuchin's gallery became a success, his influence in the art world grew. He would transition to the role of advisor, helping the rich and influential would-be collectors acquire pieces for their private art collections. Koons' Rabbit was one such piece, though Mnuchin will not disclose the name of the client who purchased the work.
At present, Mnuchin is considered an expert on the work of many beloved twentieth-century artists, including Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, and Alexander Calder. He continues to run Mnunchin Gallery, as well as an additional West Coast gallery.
It's clear that his success at Goldman Sachs was not a fluke. Mnuchin has proven to be as astute in the art world as he was in the financial environment, and his success continues today.
The Goldman Sachs Art Program
Mnuchin's success in the worlds of banking and art proved that the corporate world and the art world can go hand-in-hand. Mnuchin maintained many of his connections with investors. He became a link between wealthy corporate would-be collectors and the pieces that they prized.
Over time, Goldman Sachs itself would begin to look a little less like an office building and a lot more like a gallery. Some of the work is in the firm's offices themselves, while other, high valued pieces are reserved for the eyes of important clientele.
Not all of the art is for investors' eyes only. You may be familiar with the massive piece 'Mural' in the lobby of the Goldman Sachs building in Manhattan, which was mounted in 2010 by Michigan artist Julie Mehretu. Because of its prime location and size, it is one of the few works in the Goldman Sachs collection that the public can enjoy.
That begs the question - what other artistic marvels are behind those walls? And why hide masterpieces away in the walls of a banking firm in a city full of galleries and museums?
Why Corporate Art?
Psychologists say that art in the workplace has benefits for employee well-being. It can boost mood and productivity and gives the company a heightened sense of identity. In the case of Goldman Sachs, however, the prized pieces in the corporate art collection may be intended to impress those like Mnuchin.
The art is primarily on display for senior management, CEOs, and Board members, who may have a taste for fine art. It's intended to impress those who can contribute to the company, and serves as a conversation point when having critical conversations.
The art itself is also an investment, as we learned from the record-breaking sale of Rabbit. Major companies like Goldman Sachs can afford these pieces and can benefit from their sale later on, once they have increased in value and desirability.
Connecting Through Art
While Mnuchin chose to go into the arts for art's sake, the pieces in corporate collections often become the centerpiece for events. Someone interested in seeing the art may make their way into a private event in the Goldman Sachs office, and end up utilizing the firm's services. In that sense, the pieces also become important marketing tools.
The individuals who serve to benefit the most from a corporate art collection, such as the art program at Goldman Sachs, are artists. Every piece acquired by a corporate collection serves to stimulate the cultural community. Furthermore, the purchase of an original work can be viewed as philanthropic, in that it supports the creation of more works by living artists.
The Legacy of Mnuchin and the Goldman Sachs Art Collection
Ultimately, the average art lover will never get to see the incredible contemporary work that is on display in the Goldman Sachs Art Collection. We can only hope that one day, the works may be lent to museums or acquired by other collectors.
Are you ready to start your own corporate art collection? Financial professionals should consider starting with financial artwork from Traders Creed. Visit our shop to browse the pieces that could be improving the lives and increasing the productivity of your employees!