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571 LOGAN STREET, DENVER, COLORADO  80203   |   303–292–1212   |  

www.LAW WEEK ONLINE.com

VOL. 09  |  NO. 32  |  $6   |   AUGUST 8, 2011

Legal Terms Of Art By Matt

Masich

LAW WEEK COLORADO

DENVER—Lawyers increasingly work in the virtual world, but a law firm’s physical space still goes a long way toward creating its identity. To the extent that the clothes make the man, so does the office make the firm. “And there’s only so much you can do with paint and tables and chairs,” said art consultant Martha Weidmann. She and business partner Molly Scharfenaker are principals at Nine Dot Arts, a Denver corporate art consulting firm, where they help law firms tell their stories through art. There’s a stereotype of what law firms look like, Scharfenaker said: “Stuffy environments clad in dark woods with window offices and closed doors — and safe, traditional art.” Some law firms look to consultants like Nine Dot to differentiate themselves, create an impression that will stick in clients’ memories and foster pride among employees. Scharfenaker estimates about a quarter of her clients are law firms. She’s recently worked with Perkins Coie, Long & Page and Robinson Waters O’Dorisio to fill new or redesigned offices with art. The widely divergent results show just how much a firm’s personality can carry through to its art. The psychology behind a firm’s art is apparent from the start of the selection process, in which the Nine Dot consultants administer their “Rorschach test” — a quick slide show of an array of art to gauge a selection committee’s visual preferences. Long & Page’s Steve Long had a strong

Above, Martha Weidmann and Molly Scharfenaker are principals at Nine Dot Arts, a Denver corporate art consulting firm, where they help law firms tell their stories through art.  |  LAW WEEK PHOTO  MATTHEW MEIER

want to send? Using the responses to these inquiries, the consultants will narrow down a list of possible works of art, calling on artists they’ve met at galleries across the country or even online. The artists will send their work to Nine Dot’s studio, where the lawyers will come to make the final pick in person.

No yellow. Yellow is the What’s normal? While most law firms have some art color of wimps.” hanging on their walls, many firms, if not — Steve Long preference for bold, energetic work with black and red “power colors.” He had a visceral objection to a slide featuring a mostly yellow abstract painting. “No yellow,” he said. “Yellow is the color of wimps.” Long grudgingly compromised with partner Reid Page on one painting containing orange, which was a little too close to yellow for his taste. Perkins Coie’s Bob Miller, meanwhile, favored scenes of nature and Colorado locales. The consultants also ask open-ended questions to draw out a firm’s identity. What’s your story? How did you come about? What differentiates you from your competition? What kind of message do you

most, wouldn’t classify theirs as an “art collection.” “Like many other law firms, Faegre & Benson has never felt the need to house a formal art collection,” the firm said in a statement. “We have a number of nominal pieces that you would expect to find in any office environment (for common areas, etc.), but we prefer to let our lawyers and staff decorate their work spaces with art they have purchased and that reflects their tastes.” When law firms go in for an art collection, they go for quality. “Law firms do not use posters, law firms do not use reproductions,” Weidmann said. “Otherwise, you’ll be the cheap-looking law firm” How much does it cost to start a collection from scratch? It tends to come

out to about $2.50 to $4 per square foot. Weidmann advises firms without a big art budget to get two great pieces for a reception area rather than cover every wall with lower-quality art. There are a few general rules: nothing political or religious, no portraiture (with the possible exception of a firm founder) and no nude figurative works. On that last point, Scharfenaker urged caution when

selecting seemingly innocuous art. She recalls a mentor telling her of a firm that purchased a giant cloud scene to hang behind the reception desk. It stayed there six months before the receptionist noticed that if viewed from a certain angle, there were unmistakable depictions of “people fornicating in the clouds.” The firm removed the painting. If firms must have a photograph of one

Dave the Art Dog at Nine Dot Arts.  |  LAW WEEK PHOTO  MATTHEW MEIER


of Colorado peaks, Scharfenaker urges them to avoid the Maroon Bells. “There are only so many times you can do that in an interesting way.”

Thoroughly Colorado

Perkins Coie moved its Denver office at the start of the year as one of the first occupants of 1900 16th St., just west of Union Station in lower downtown. The firm wanted new art to go into the new space, and it called on Nine Dot Arts to make that happen. The first step was to “deaccession” its old collection, mostly through charitable

to Miller as he was walking with Guthals from the old office to the new one. “I looked at that scene and said, ‘You know, that would be a great painting. I wonder if we could find someone to do that,” Miller said. About four months later, his idea had become reality.

Up and away

The reception area and corridors of Moye White’s office resembles an eclectic modern art gallery as much as it does a law firm. “I think you can look at the art and tell a lot about the personality and culture of

Law firms do not use posters, law firms do not use reproductions. Otherwise, you’ll be the cheap-looking law firm.” — Martha Weidmann donation, though it sold one piece that had increased significantly in value. Partner Bob Miller (Denver managing partner at the time of the move) and office administrator Laurie Guthals worked out a theme for the new art. “We were trying to say that while we’re a national firm, we’re located in Colorado, with Colorado clients from all over the state,” Miller said. After hearing the firm’s input, the consultants picked a big selection that might work. Miller and Guthals paid two visits to Nine Dot’s studios to give each piece the thumbs up or thumbs down. They ended up choosing pictures depicting scenes from downtown Denver, southwest Colorado, the western slope and eastern plains. Original photographs make up much of the collection. “We didn’t want to be too lavish,” Miller said. “I’m not much of a modern art guy,” he said. “I like the classics and I like landscapes.” But he took the consultants’ advice and mixed different mediums: photographs, collages, paintings, drawings and sculpture. The few abstract pieces at the firm are by Colorado artists. The firm also wanted images related to the practice of law — things like courts and scales of justice. “It was great because it presented a challenge,” Scharfenaker said. “How do we take what could be seen as a stale item [like scales] and turn it into a beautiful piece of art?” The result was “Justice in the Balance” by Carol Fennell, a 15-panel ceramic work that pops out from the wall in a conference room. It was commissioned especially for the office, as was an oil painting in the reception area featuring Union Station with the firm’s building looming beside. The idea came

the firm,” Moye White founding partner John Moye said. “Most of our art is relatively playful, cheerful, happy — it evokes a smile when you see it.” Whimsy abounds in the firm’s collection, which includes many sculptures and installations in addition to paintings. There’s a surreal rural landscape with a farmhouse hovering well above the ground, milkweed pods floating from the ceiling and a neon sculpture that climbs the wall. Moye admits that his advocacy on behalf of the neon sculpture got him fired from the art selection committee, but says his colleagues have since come around. “It’s a great smiler,” he said. “When you walk people by it, they look at it and start smiling.” The firm purchased a lot of art when it built out its new space, but makes fewer acquisitions these days. The firm owns most of the art, with some additions from the personal collections of Moye and partner Ted White. Moye’s personal “pièce de résistance” are three balloons floating on the wall in his office. Balloons feature prominently in the firm’s art, evoking feelings of buoyancy and uplift. “You’re here more than you are at home, so you might as well have art on the walls that you really like,” he said. At the request of clients, the firm’s lawyers have given hundreds of art tours. No client has ever suggested the firm spend less on art, Moye said.

A founder’s legacy

The modern art collection in Kutak Rock’s Denver office keeps alive the spirit of the firm’s charismatic founding partner, Bob Kutak. He had a conservative personal appearance, with a flat-top haircut and horn-rimmed glasses, but when it came to art, Kutak’s tastes veered toward the cutting

Bob Miller with “Justice in the Balance” by Carol Fennell at Perkins Coie’s LoDo office.  |  LAW WEEK PHOTO  JAMIE COTTEN

“Sending Joy” by Laurie Fowler is displayed at the Moye White office in Denver.  |  LAW WEEK PHOTO  JAMIE COTTEN


Kutak Rock Partner Fred Marienthal in front of a vibrant modern painting by Steve Samerjan. LAW WEEK PHOTO  JAMIE COTTEN

edge. He used his family fortune to amass a vast collection of paintings by up-andcoming artists, some of whom have since become highly collectible. “Anyone can buy expensive art,” longtime Kutak Rock partner James Arundel remembers Kutak saying; he preferred discovering new talent, such as Boulder artist Frank Sampson. The collection drew many compliments, but Kutak was unfazed if someone didn’t appreciate a modern piece. “It didn’t matter if you liked it or not. He wanted you to notice it.” Kutak also had a great mind for business, growing the firm from a 12-lawyer Omaha outfit in the early 1970s, to a 180-lawyer multistate firm by the end of the decade. And wherever the firm went, including Denver in 1977, Kutak’s art would follow. “It’s on all the walls in every office,” Arundel said. “We think it’s a very unifying theme for our 16-office firm.” Kutak’s expansionist art policy wasn’t confined to offices. “He would come to your house for dinner and show up with a piece of art,” Arundel remembers. “If you had anything on your wall, he’d take it down and he’d put up his piece.” After Kutak died unexpectedly in 1980 at age 50, his sisters sold his entire collection — the full extent of which was unknown — to the firm for a small sum. A year later, the firm got a bill from a storage facility in Minneapolis, where it discovered another 300 to 400 paintings. The Denver office designed its space around its collection, and while it has acquired about 20 complementary paintings in the decades since Kutak’s passing, Arundel said, “most of it is Bob’s.”

Past, present, future

Holland & Hart’s art collection embodies the firm’s “The Law Out West” tagline. “Our collection really is all westernAmerican related art, and that goes back

A painting by Gary Steffen awaits preview by a potential buyer at Nine Dot Arts.  |  LAW WEEK PHOTO  MATTHEW MEIER

Perkins Coie’s Bob Miller looks at one of his favorites, “Bison in a Spring Snow Shower” by Lisa Purdy.  |  LAW WEEK PHOTO  JAMIE COTTEN

to our two founding partners, John Holland and Steve Hart,” said firm partner Joe Halpern. Holland donated the most significant pieces in the firm’s 300-piece Denver collection, a group of hand-colored lithographs of American Indian scenes by artist George Catlin, published in 1844. Hart helped the Colorado Historical Society acquire original glass-plate negatives of frontier Colorado taken by pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson, and the firm has many photographs taken from those. Halpern and human resources director Sharon Busheff have co-chaired the firm’s art committee since the 1990s.

Actually, they’ve constituted the entire committee: “The firm has found that if you have too many cooks stirring the pot, it doesn’t work quite as well,” Halpern said. The firm has added to its founders’ collection with lithographic portraits of American Indians by Thomas McKenney and in 2005 works by Karl Bodmer, who traveled the American West with a German nobleman in the 1800s. “Because the collection is so visually and historically rich, it lends a feeling of authenticity and depth to our environment, which reflects the firm’s values,” Busheff said. “It’s a real connection to the past as well as present for people to

work in.” The art is spread across the firm’s eight floors, in both public and internal areas. Staff members research the individual Indians portrayed in the pictures near their offices, and a running joke challenges people to find the exact number of buffalo portrayed in the collection. “We’ve been resourceful in acquiring pieces between build-outs, on occasion by trading pieces we have for other pieces, or finding occasional pockets of money.” The firm has worked with Patrick Jolly Fine Arts for the last three decades to track down potential acquisitions.  • — Matt Masich, MMasich@CircuitMedia.com

"Legal Terms of Art"  

Law Week Colorado featured us in their Aug. 8 issue! "Legal Terms of Art" is a captivating look into Nine Dot Arts' work with law firms.

"Legal Terms of Art"  

Law Week Colorado featured us in their Aug. 8 issue! "Legal Terms of Art" is a captivating look into Nine Dot Arts' work with law firms.

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