MARKUS WINTSCH, CEO OF THE SWISSPARTNERS GROUP, AND SIMONE TÖLLNER, HEAD MARKETING, EXCHANGE IDEAS WITH GALLERY OWNERS CLAUDIUS OCHSNER AND DANIEL WAHRENBERGER FROM THE GALLERY WOS ON THEIR LOVE OF ART AND ON THE IMPORTANCE OF ART AND CREATIVITY AT SWISSPARTNERS.
Markus Wintsch: Art plays a central role at swisspartners and has done for the past 29 years. The founding partners, as well as the partners who joined through to the end of the 1990s, are all art lovers. They all share close connections with art. And the same partners have a long track record of erving clients who also have an affinity to art.
In some cases, partners have brought their own private artworks into the office. Building on this, we have gradually expanded our art collection in collaboration with various art dealers. When selecting works for this purpose, we have always insisted on them having a connection to the world of finance. We have also commissioned painters to create works of art exclusively for swisspartners. One picture, for example, embodies the swisspartners values.
Our affinity to art is also expressed in our slogan, “The art of finance”. This was created during the last makeover of our corporate identity. Today, it is an integral part of our corporate design. It is a highly versatile slogan that we mix and match in a variety of ways. In the case of Partners’ View, for instance, we have picked “The art of reading”.
“Our affinity to art is also expressed in our slogan, ‘The art of finance’.“
Markus Wintsch: Just like real estate or collectible cars, art has long been firmly established as an asset class in the investment portfolios of wealthy private clients. Many clients of swisspartners have been collecting art for decades. This is something we frequently only learn about when we visit them in their own homes. In their home surroundings, we are not only able to gain a better picture of our clients and their families, but also get to see how they live and what is important to them. Art often plays a prominent role here.
“I see my role as an opportunity to combine the fields of art and marketing.”
Claudius Ochsner: Through my former gallery Barr & Ochsner, I have been in close contact with Ralph Schuler ever since early 2000. Our collaboration took on a more concrete form when Simone Töllner came in.
Simone Töllner: Art in our organisation is a subject that is very close to my heart. Shortly after I joined swisspartners in July 2019, I met with the three owners of the Gallery WOS to set up a working partnership. This covers, on the one hand, the swisspartners art events and, on the other, support for our in-house art exhibitions. We enjoy a great degree of freedom and trust on the part of swisspartners’ management in advancing our art projects. This has naturally added to the success of our partnership to date. Thanks to art, we are able to bring new creative flair to our office premises and to inspire our clients at art events.
Daniel Wahrenberger: The letters stand for the gallery’s three owners, Wahrenberger, Ochsner and Schafflützel. Its ‘predecessor’ galleries, Barr & Ochsner and Wahrenberger, boast over 50 years of combined experience in the art market. Back then, Thomas Schafflützel helped out in my gallery. At a meeting with Claudius Ochsner, we came up with the idea of presenting a combined booth at the next art fair. Shortly after that, Thomas Schafflützel moved to Barr & Ochsner. We then launched our joint gallery, the Gallery WOS, in September 2019. You can find us in Zurich’s beautiful Kirchgasse, where we opened our premises in mid-2020. We inaugurated another showroom in Pfäffikon this March.
Claudius Ochsner: Due to the merger of two galleries, we are naturally very broadly positioned. On the one hand, we represent the programme of the former Barr & Ochsner gallery: classical modernism with a focus on German expressionism, American pop art and European art of the 1940s and 1950s. Daniel Wahrenberger traditionally has a different approach to art: He primarily represents a small circle of contemporary artists with whom he maintains personal contact.
“Only together with his friends could someone like Picasso become a person who influenced generations of artists.”
Simone Töllner: I was given the opportunity to join swisspartners as Head Marketing in 2019. My background is actually in the humanities: I studied art history, philosophy and German literature and followed up with a master’s in cultural studies and media conception in Zurich. After that, I qualified in marketing in part-time study. That makes me quite the odd one out in finance (laughs). Creativity is literally something I was born into, as my grandfather was a landscape painter of the classical Munich school at Munich Academy of Fine Arts. I spent my childhood between canvases and the smell of turpentine and linseed oil (painting materials – ed.). Before swisspartners, I worked for about 12 years in sales and marketing at several prestigious Swiss art galleries. As many of my former gallery clients were from finance, I was able to develop a high affinity for the finance sector during that time. I see my role at swisspartners as an opportunity to combine the fields of art and marketing. The working atmosphere in our organisation is characterised by individuality and creativity. That’s probably why I feel so at home here.
Markus Wintsch: Certainly a big one! The only thing I regret about the remodelling of our office premises is that art will probably have to take a back seat. But together with the Gallery WOS or our artist friends, I’m confident that we will find a way to integrate art into our open-plan layout. We would like to continue to give our team the opportunity to identify themselves through art and to create a creative atmosphere of well-being in our premises.
Simone Töllner: At swisspartners, we had two different permanent exhibitions in the past, each with a completely different ambiance. We are also noticing how strongly our employees have identified with ‘our’ art over time. As already mentioned, works of art that hung in our corridors and offices for many years were sold because of the redesign – in some cases triggering strong emotions.
Markus Wintsch: Clients have frequently picked up on our artworks as a talking point over the last 29 years. Often enough, we spoke at greater length about the art in our premises than about the performance of their portfolios (laughs). Because our redesigned offices will have an open-plan layout, it’s going to be a challenge to hang art here. In future, we will make more flexible use of the space we have available for creativity and art – among other things with loans from the Gallery WOS. Accordingly, we are now in the process of selling a large part of our art collection.
Daniel Wahrenberger: Not long after opening our gallery in July 2020, we had to go into lockdown. One positive outcome of the pandemic has been that because people had to spend more time working from home, they wanted to make their home surroundings more attractive. It goes without saying that art is an important part of this. Art also plays a major role when it comes to receiving visitors, whether at home or in the office. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Markus Wintsch: My great wish is that after the pandemic, people will be happy to come back to the office to exchange ideas and maintain social contacts. All of that has suffered over the last two-and-a-half years. Getting people to return to work from the office isn’t at all easy. But the remodelling of our office premises is bound to motivate our team to come and work in a superbly designed office environment and finally meet colleagues again. After all, we spend around two-thirds of our waking hours at work. As part of the redesign, we hope to incorporate ideas that were previously unthinkable, such as living green walls. So as well as promoting art and creativity, we will also to an extent be bringing nature into the office.
“We would like to continue to give our team the opportunity to identify themselves through art.”
Markus Wintsch: As our client base gets younger, the more important the team approach to customer service becomes for us as a financial boutique. Today, flexible advisory approaches are needed from different people with different know-how, strengths and weaknesses. In the past, you could cover all bases with a one-man or one-woman show – one Picasso, if you will. But growing specialisation has massively changed the game over the last ten years. Nowadays, no one person can know everything, or provide all services. It always takes a strong team. In the Picasso & Friends exhibition, it is the ‘friends’ who are the team. At swisspartners, we not only need friends from within our own ranks, but also friends from outside the company.
Claudius Ochsner: Picasso was, of course, an outstanding personality. Together with Georges Braques and Juan Gris, he founded Cubism. But if his circle of friends – other artists who were also productive at the time – had not taken up the movement, it would have remained a flash in the pan. Only together with his friends could someone like Picasso become a person who influenced generations of artists. In the other direction, his friends also influenced Picasso’s own work. He too took up elements from other artists and reinterpreted them. A good artist doesn’t live and work in isolation from the outside world. He or she goes out to see, hear, read and visit exhibitions. The result is either a poor impression of the collected elements – or something brilliant. In Picasso’s case, it was the latter.
“At some point, you embark on your own ‘art journey’, and that ends up resembling a tree that branches out in all sorts of directions, again and again.”
Claudius Ochsner: Paul Cézanne never fails to fascinate me as an artist. He is one of the founders of modernism, redefined the artistic eye for detail, played with light and shadow, left unfinished works that as far as he was concerned were finished, and anticipated Cubism and abstraction. Without him, 20th century art would simply not have happened.
Daniel Wahrenberger: My background is in contemporary art, as you know, and I have always actively worked with artists and also coached them. After we merged our two galleries, for example, I discovered modernist cynicism for myself. Committing to a single art movement would definitely be too narrow. At some point, you embark on your own ‘art journey’, and that ends up resembling a tree that branches out in all sorts of directions, again and again. There is always something new to discover, but everything goes back to the same roots.
Simone Töllner: My roots without question are drawn from the old masters. At the same time, out there in the fringes, there are many artists that I admire very much. But the common thread that has followed me through my entire life is figurative art. I am fascinated by art that depicts, or that completely distorts reality. At home, I have lots of portraits and full-length works – I like to surround myself with people and faces. I live with my ‘friends’ on the canvases and am happy in their company.
Markus Wintsch: When collecting, I focus on modern art, which is atypical for the finance sector. An important factor for me is to know the artists personally. For example, I have acquired 50 artworks from one artist, because supporting the livelihood of this artist and his family is a project close to my heart. I also love large-format paintings and value harmonious colours. Art has to flow as part of the contextual environment – the frame, the surroundings and the people who live there.
Daniel Wahrenberger: We are not short on creativity. The important thing is to channel it in an organised way. When you own a gallery and deal with different artists, art movements, projects, art fairs and so forth on a daily basis, creativity just flows of its own accord. It is important to find a common thread while staying open to new projects, such as with swisspartners.
Claudius Ochsner: Another facet of creativity is that we seek creative financing solutions for collectors who would like to buy something but do not have enough money at that moment.
Simone Töllner: Sure I’m creative, or I wouldn’t be where I am today. I might not create art as such in the way that an artist does, but I always try and find creative solutions.
Markus Wintsch: I like to bring my creativity to bear in the interior and exterior of investment properties – that’s my passion. Creativity is particularly needed in the property sector because buildings are often so monotonous. When it comes to the interior design of our offices, though, I’m happy to leave the creativity to Simone Töllner and Vanessa Burkart (Head Human Relations). They do a great job here on their own! I look forward to finally getting back together in person with the swisspartners team and harnessing our mutual inspiration in our redesigned premises.
“Art has to flow as part of the contextual environment – the frame, the surroundings and the people who live there.”
More about the Gallery WOS:
Your Wealth at a Glance.