For those wondering about the age of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP’s Toronto office, the clues are everywhere at its 24th-floor reception in the Bay Adelaide Centre.
The firm’s lawyers have had a little bit more than a month to settle into new offices, a fact to which the pristine full-length windows, gleaming marble floors, and store-fresh smell emanating from the sofas will attest.
But they’re not the only new things at Faskens. A refreshed art collection is taking shape on the walls of the barely completed corridors with a host of new contemporary works at its heart.
Eighteen months ago, after finalizing the move, the firm seized on the opportunity to update a collection that had been gathering dust on the walls of its old offices. To do so, it established an art committee of seven young partners with a mandate to restart the collection almost from scratch after many static years.
“We had a very nice collection, but it just wasn’t really up to date,” says Robert Elliott, one of the members of the committee. “We wanted to have a more contemporary feel.”
Some selected works remain and are now interspersed among the new purchases to maintain a connection to the firm’s past, but Elliott says he hopes the new approach to art reflects Faskens’ outlook more generally.
“We wanted the art to be forward-looking and project an image that the partners who will lead the firm in the future will be happy with,” he says.
The firm bought some pieces more than a year ago but held them in storage until earlier this month. “We wanted the splash of the new space to include the new art, so this is very new for most people,” Elliott says.
The long-range planning involved unique challenges for Jeanne Parkin, the art consultant who guided the committee through the process. “I had to work from floor plans,” she says. “It was being remodelled, so I’d never even seen the space. I’ve never worked like that in my life.”
Close to the reception desk, an early favourite has emerged. A video installation by Montrealer Luc Courchesne, “Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California,” captures the scene from a fish-eye lens that gives an elliptical 360-degree view of waves lapping up against the shore.
The label describing the work hasn’t gone up yet, but that hasn’t stopped people from enjoying it, according to David Menzel, the conference floor co-ordinator. Already, he has seen many guests and employees mesmerized by the images.
“People just stand there looking at it, watching to see what the people on the beach are doing,” he says. “If you wait long enough, you can see a dog running in and out of the water.”
Elliott says the committee was keen to broaden the scope of a collection previously dominated by oil and acrylic paintings.
“Contemporary art today uses all sorts of media, and I think it’s important that we show we understand the world that we are living in. . . . We live in an electronic world - why shouldn’t we have electronic art?”
The committee also added a sculpture made from recycled venetian blinds by James Carl and a number of photographs, including a triptych from Edward Burtynsky’s renowned Quarries series.
The images of a Portuguese quarry, which have received pride of place outside of the main conference room, are designed to reflect Faskens’ leading role in the global mining world.
Around the corner, a blank wall awaits adornment while workers on ladders complete alterations to the lighting fixtures that will illuminate the art. Elliott says the move gave the firm an opportunity to design its space around the collection.
Wide corridors and specialized lighting optimize viewing conditions, while tinted glass doors allow plenty of natural light into the space without risking the damage that direct sunlight can do.
“Our old place wasn’t really good for showing art,” Elliott says. “The way they designed this place, it’s like a gallery.”
At the same time, the fresh environment has given a new lease on life to older paintings that made the trip from the old office in the TD Bank Tower.
A work featuring a Barcelona street scene by Vancouver artist Ian Wallace, which the firm has owned for 15 years, has never looked better, says Elliott. “There’s a dialogue with the other pieces, and it’s in a space that is quite contemporary.”
In the meantime, Elliott hopes the committee won’t simply slip into the background now that the moving project is nearing completion. “I think we’d like to buy a new piece or two periodically to keep the collection looking like it’s evolving and fresh,” he says.
Elliott notes the committee included people with varying degrees of knowledge but with a shared enthusiasm for art. According to Parkin, that sentiment was evident during her dealings with the committee.
“They’re having a ball,” she says. “It’s so exciting to see because they’ve come so far in the last couple of years.”
[span style="font-style: italic;"]This is the fourth instalment in the Law Times summer series looking at law firms’ art collections.
For more on Law Times' summer art series, see "Torys not afraid to raise eyebrows through art" and [span style="font-style: italic;"]"Why do lawyers love art?"