I was very curious when the National Gallery approached Hiscox at becoming their first ever ‘contemporary art sponsor’. This after all is the Valhalla of Rubens, Michelangelo, DaVinci and a thousand other Great Masters of the past. What on earth were they doing treading where an angel, Botticelli or otherwise, might fear to tread?
But I had forgotten my own recent past. The very first ever corporate event I attended when I joined Hiscox in 2005 was a dinner to celebrate our sponsorship of the then artist-in-residence, the very modern, and talented John Virtue. There is a history here, and a good one.
We love contemporary art at Hiscox. We insure it, we sponsor it, and from 1970 under the refined eye of Robert Hiscox, we have collected it. We were in in the early days of the Young British Artists, as well as being lucky enough to collect some of the greatest British artists of the 20th century – Bacon, Freud and Auerbach – before they largely disappeared beyond our reach. It is in our DNA, we know it attracts better staff and motivates us all, and we love it unconditionally.
It has however become a very crowded space, both as a collector and as a sponsor. I tend to agree with Rachel Whiteread when she said recently that the new generation of contemporary artists think they just need to turn up and fame and fortune will shower them all. You see it in the bubble of the contemporary art fairs and the art market. There is a lot of rubbish out there these days, with little new to say.
And that’s the major reason why we have decided to partner with the National Gallery once again. Quality. Its commitment to quality is relentless and unending. In a world of transient taste and flash money it is uncompromising in its desire to navigate the pitfalls of fad and fashion. It is constant, and happy to challenge the conventions of the day.
All this resonates with us at Hiscox. A commitment to quality is at the core of everything we try to do for our clients across the globe. Our values provide our loadstone and our map, every single day. Our advertising strap line may be ‘as good as our word’, and that works well to attract business, but it also acts as a pencil in the small of the back of every one of our staff. Constancy in most walks of life pays long term dividends, even if there are commercial compromises along the way.
So we are delighted and excited to open the first of our collaborations – a marvellous exhibition by Chris Ofili. I like Chris, not just his work (which we have in our collection), but also his wonderfully refreshing views of the art world.
You may have seen the recent article in The Observer where he made two points that strongly resonated with me. Firstly of how he loves living in Trinidad for, amongst other things, there is no sense of the art market “constantly nipping at your heels”. And secondly, his scepticism of the fascination with artists beyond their work. I wholeheartedly agree with him. It should all be about the work. And his work in this exhibition is quite magnificent. He certainly challenges convention in his own way and we are all the better off for it.