Teaching Business History in Art Collecting: Industrialists of Fossil Fuels and Big Pharma

I have written research papers on collectors of Asian art and on institutional history of major art collections in the United States. With a project entitled Teaching Business and Labor History to Art and Design Studies, funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant for Humanities Connections Implementation, I have learned new ways of connecting my research interests to teaching business history of artists or art institutions. This is a case study in which I survey development of technology in art making in materiality and techniques in juxtaposition with major business enterprises in their art patronage and invention of new products. Before I started this project of “Teaching Business and Labor History,” I did not realize that significant art institutions were tied to major industries of fossil fuels (H. C. Frick & Company, Standard Oil/Exxon Mobil/Rockefellers, Getty Oil/Getty Center, Pennsylvania Coal), heavy metals (U.S. Steel of J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie; Alcoa; Pennsylvania Railroad), or Big Pharma (Arthur M. Sackler; Albert C. Barnes). The more I find ways in which to engage students with ethics of business both in art and in any given industry they chose to work for, the stronger I felt the need to connect the foundation of wealth in these companies and their philanthropic art projects. These companies also hired a number of artists and graphic designers to raise awareness of the public awareness of their “new” products (for example, The Lamp, a magazine by the Standard Oil). By sharing a new course, “History of Business in the Visual Arts” that grew out the above concerns, I will focus on intertwining of artists, industrialists, and their products. Three examples will be: advertisements for fossil fuels; industrial lacquer paint for artists; and fabrication of contemporary art.