By Malorie R. Medellin
When you get off the elevator and onto the sixth floor of the 300 N. LaSalle St. building, it's easy to forget where you are.
To your right is a balcony terrace showcasing stainless steel and stoneware sculptures by Richard Hunt and Corinne D. Peterson. To your left is a wall with water trickling down it created by artist Archie Held. Before you, a sculptural light installation by Spencer Finch illuminates a white, circular reception desk. Next to each piece a polite sign asks that visitors not touch the art.
While this may look like a contemporary art museum, it's not; this is Kirkland & Ellis' Chicago office.
"Most people don't think about lawyers and art mixing," said Linda Myers, partner at Kirkland and leader of the firm's debt finance practice.
For three years Myers has helped manage and acquire pieces for Kirkland's Chicago art collection that features 21 artists and contains about 40 individual pieces.
"Creative is not the first word that comes to mind when you think about lawyers, but we need to be creative," she said.
Kirkland & Ellis has these lit ships hanging in its office. The artist is Adam Kurtzman and the art is untitled.
Photo by Marina Makropoulos.
For Myers, the art in the Kirkland collection makes conceptual and metaphorical statements about the firm. For example, in the entrance to the seventh-floor conference center, five suspended sailing ship sculptures by Adam Kurtzman highlight the room. Most clients get sent to the seventh floor and Myers said the ships represent the legal waters lawyers attempt to navigate. She said she hopes the fleet of ships provides clients with a feeling of protection.
Further down the hallway, near the main Kirkland boardroom, hangs a series of paintings by Chris Cosnowski titled "Captain America and Captains of Industry." In each piece Cosnowski illustrates a toy superhero action figure, like Flash Gordon or Wonder Woman, as symbols of corporate America's leaders. Fitting for a firm whose client list includes Intel, General Motors and Boeing.
"I could be headed to a buzz saw of a negotiation and when I walk past those toys I just feel better," Myers said.
Myers said the art reflects one of the firm's central tenets — diversity.
"The artists we selected were really diverse, from all different genders, races and sexual orientations," she said. "That's the kind of diversity we are trying to create in our lawyer population."
In April 2009, Kirkland moved its offices from the Aon Center to 300 N. LaSalle. The move presented an opportunity for new art investments.
Linda Warren, owner of Linda Warren Fine Art Gallery and curator for the Kirkland collection, said moving into a new office goes hand-in-hand with finding new art for the walls.
"People are still investing in their businesses," Warren said.
She said corporate clients and law firms demonstrate more interest now, during the recession, than they ever have before.
"It's interesting how many lawyers are sprucing up their offices," she said.
Putting the pieces together
Whether through the committed love of art or a desire to make a statement about their firms, enthusiast partners or the group effort of small committees of attorneys, beautiful and vibrant pieces of art have filled the hallways of Chicago law firms for years.
While firms like Kirkland & Ellis created collections for new offices, other firms like Duane Morris and Goldberg Kohn pieced together their collections over time.
Duane Morris has this self-portrait by artist Lee Godie decorating a wall in its firm. The piece is called “Untitled self-portrait.”
Photo by Marina Makropoulos.
When you walk into the reception area of Duane Morris you'll meet "Bob."
Bob, as lovingly referred to by attorneys and staff, is a large African tribal dance mask from the Dan culture in the Ivory Coast. Created by an anonymous artist, Bob has been with the Chicago office for about a decade.
In addition to Bob, the collection features a number of self-portraits by Lee Godie, a self-taught street artist who sold her French Impressionist-style paintings on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago. Godie's work is everywhere.
Her "people" have long, straight hair and large eyes. They appear to be watching the comings and goings of the office.
In some cases, the works help to announce firm events and philanthropic opportunities with small, white speech balloons taped near their mouths. Godie's works appear to be the unofficial office mascots.
When Duane Morris moved three years ago to 190 S. LaSalle, instead of investing in a build-out that would cover the office with wood paneling, Duane Morris filled their stark, white walls with their existing collection.
"It's a portable identity," said Neville Bilimoria, a partner at the firm.
Bilimoria said the art created an authentic Duane Morris brand. Vibrant and unique, the 100-piece Chicago collection consists of either self-taught or contemporary, nonrepresentational pieces and represents only part of a larger 1,600-piece collection. The entire collection can be traced to the dedication and passion of a single partner — Sheldon Bonovitz.
Bonovitz, a partner in the Philadelphia office, served as firm chairman from 1998 to 2008 and selected the art for the firm for about 20 years. Bonovitz can be credited with single-handedly introducing artists who were self-taught to all 23 Duane Morris offices. His love of self-taught art, also known as "outsider" or "intuitive" art, began almost 25 years ago when he and his wife started their own collection. Fifteen years ago that collection began to outgrow their home and Bonovitz started bringing pieces into work. That was just the beginning.
As Duane Morris' offices grew, so did the collection. When the Chicago office opened in 1999, Bonovitz focused on featuring Chicago artists like Karl Wirsum, known for his "Plugman" mural on the side of Block 37; Ray Yoshida, a teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago; and, of course, Godie.
"It's awkwardly comforting," said Mark Silberman, a Duane Morris associate. He said the art collection connects employees across the offices.
"Many of these artists came from very humble backgrounds," Bonovitz said.
He said some of the artists in the collection were born into slavery, some lived on the street, while others were placed in mental health institutions.
Bonovitz said he appreciates their brilliance and the stories they reinforce with their art.
"This art has become iconic," he said. "It's much different than what you would normally see in a law firm."
The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago (INTUIT) gives tours of the Duane Morris office — a testament to the quality of the collection.
Terry Moritz, a principal at Goldberg Kohn, also brought his love of art to the office. Founder of the firm's litigation practice, Moritz has selected the artwork for Goldberg Kohn for about 25 years.
Shortly after joining Goldberg Kohn, Moritz became friends with fellow attorney David Ruttenberg. At the time, Ruttenberg was an avid collector of photographic art and his interest in the arts inspired Moritz.
Ruttenberg went on to donate his art collection to the Art Institute and Moritz took the lead at creating a collection for Goldberg Kohn.
While he doesn't limit his selections to a particular style of art, he said he tends to buy pieces that are moderately edgy but not offensive.
"I want these pieces to be thought-provoking," Moritz said.
A floor to ceiling piece by John Buck called "Fact + Fiction"hangs in the conference room just down the hall from Moritz's office. A limited edition print, "Fact + Fiction" consists of two human outlines that dominate the piece and rest on a background of varied images that include a face covered in tongues and a caged crow.
Ogletree Deakins has this piece of art hanging in a conference room. The artist is attorney Michael Cramer and the piece is called “Chuck Murphy.”
Photo by Marina Makropoulos.
When Michael Cramer goes to work he sees his own art.
Cramer, a partner at Ogletree Deakins and an artist, got his start drawing cartoons for a local newspaper in college and law school. After he graduated from law school, he continued to sketch, draw and paint, displaying his art at Chicago art festivals.
When Ogletree Deakins' Chicago office moved in October of last year with a budget specifically for art, Cramer was at the top of the list of people to consult. Having been involved with the Chicago art community for years, Cramer became one of four people on a committee who selected the 25-piece collection. Among the pieces were works by Cramer.
"Other attorneys will point out my work and the fact that I'm an attorney with the firm," Cramer said. "Clients respond to that. It shows a little something different about our firm."
An honorary portrait of Ogletree founding partner Charles Murphy is among the works that Cramer contributed to the collection.
Murphy died three years ago and has a conference room named after him in the Chicago office. In the portrait, Murphy wears half of a suit and half of a Hawaiian, flower-print shirt, a testament to his love of Hawaii. Above his head flutter sketches of pigs, one of which wears a construction hat. The construction hat and pigs symbolize Murphy's experience in construction labor law and his habit of having new acquaintances draw pictures of pigs as a way of predicting their personality.
"Explaining this portrait to clients requires us to think about Chuck and tell his story," Cramer said. "It's more personal."
It's not just firms like Ogletree Deakins that take the time to invest in art.
Jeffrey Deutschman, of Deutschman & Associates, started a small collection of his own for his office in the Temple Building at 77 W. Washington St. Deutschman opened his personal-injury practice in 1992 and the office now employs four attorneys.
Despite the size of his firm, Deutschman took the time to invest in pieces by emerging artists like Nina Rizzo, Eric Esper and Emmett Kerrigan.
One piece, for Deutschman, has come to truly represent the heart of his practice.
"The Eastland Disaster"by Esper captures the Eastland disaster of 1915 in which a passenger ship rolled on its side in the Chicago River, killing 844 people. The piece has become a focal point of the office.
"I would have been very happy to take a case against the Eastland Boat Co.," Deutschman said.
He said very few people notice or comment on the art in the office, but that doesn't bother him.
"I like them, so I buy them," he said.
For love or money
For the attorneys at some of these firms, the value of a particular piece of office art isn't as important.
"The goal was not to buy art as an investment. The goal was to buy art that people would find pleasing," said Cramer, from Ogletree Deakins. "You don't make art and you don't pick art just because it matches the couch or rug."
Kirkland & Ellis has three “toy paintings” by artist Chris Cosnowski hanging in the Chicago office. The pieces are called “Captain America and Captains of Industry.”
Photo by Marina Makropoulos.
The committee at Cramer's firm picked pieces they liked that were within the budget, not work they thought would deliver a financial return down the line.
Gallery owner Warren said the chances that a particular piece of art will appreciate are slim.
"To get an original painting and to be confident that it will appreciate you have to be willing to spend over $100,000 for a single piece," she said.
Kirkland's Myers said when a firm owns expensive art many clients end up feeling like they paid more for the art than for the legal services.
"You are saying something with your surroundings," she said. "You can't be too opulent."
Moritz, of Goldberg Kohn, agreed.
"It's not appropriate for a law firm to have a huge amount of money invested in art," he said. "We're a collective and when you spend money it's a cost to the collective."
When Moritz decorated a large wall in the reception area he said he opted to shop at a Chicago art fair instead of getting pieces commissioned, which would have been pricey.
"You can create a great collection with limited means if you know what you're doing," he said.
Paint by number
For law firms interested in starting collections, Moritz said there are a number of resources available — whether it's researching the art yourself, hiring an art consultant or doing a little bit of both.
"There are multiple ways to refine your eye," he said.
Moritz suggested starting small.
He said those interested in learning more about art should read the arts section of the newspaper, visit art galleries and sign up for printing house newsletters.
This untitled artwork of four canes covered in beer bottle caps with faces hangs in Duane Morris’ Chicago office. The artist is Mr. Imagination.
Photo by Marina Makropoulos.
Moritz also recommended going to websites like artnet.com,where interested buyers can monitor online auctions. However, Moritz will also be the first one to admit that if you don't have an interest in art you should reach out for help. That's where art consultants come in.
Kirkland & Ellis turned to Warren because they liked the artists she represented and were interested in commissioning their work.
However, courting gallery owners to help curate a law firm's art collection is not common practice, Warren said.
"A gallery owner will usually only promote the artists they represent," said Warren, who admits that firms usually contact independent art consultants to put together collections since the consultants can pull from a wider range of artists.
For firms like Goldberg Kohn, Duane Morris and Ogletree Deakins, an attorney on staff expressed an interest in art and knew where to go and what to look for. However, even at these "do it yourself" firms, art consultants can still play a role.
Properly placing the art you purchase is no small feat. Warren warned against the pitfalls of bad placement and lighting.
"If you're going to buy art, you better light it properly," she said, reinforcing the idea that finding the appropriate place to hang the art is just as important as deciding whether to buy it at all.
Goldberg Kohn's Moritz said he used art consultants to help hang and light the art he purchased. Consultants also helped Moritz acquire more difficult pieces from certain printing houses.
For those on the opposite end of the spectrum that want to sell an existing collection, Warren has some advice.
She said while selling art at an auction may bring in some financial returns, it's best to shop the collection around at different auction houses first to get value estimates. She said it's possible that the value of the collection sold may not be as high as the value of the tax write-off if the pieces are donated — something to consider if you're getting ready to clean house.
Whether it's buying a new collection or adding to an old one, Warren said firms should look around and get a feel for what they like.
"Try and be as open-minded as possible and simultaneously trust your gut," she said.