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21st Century World Insurance

It is my intention to present to you a design which provides an answer to your commission to artistically enrich the entrance of the new building, and furthermore addresses ohra’s intention to establish an art collection.
The good relations between large companies and artists are undeniable. Big corporations often have art collections and many office buildings are adorned with grandiose artworks. The generous disposition towards art generally expresses itself in the ample dimensions of artworks applied to buildings. The artist is funded and for compensation the company acquires the potent aura of patron of the arts. One could make a comparison with the past when art could prosper courtesy of rich commissioners, who in turn demanded to be recognised in the artworks.
Yet there has occurred a fundamental change in this symbiosis of old. If an artwork of the past should be as transparent an expression of the power, religion or ideology of its client as possible, today it is required instead to mask it. The large materialist organisation covets an image which delineates its immaterial sensitivity, its cultural interests and its humane disposition. A growing amount of artworks adorn the entrances to office buildings intending to represent a business, which has detached itself from all too businesslike, rigid and opportunistic policies. Our company has feelings and wants to express these, so that the client may feel comfortable.
The commissioner and the artist are both looking for a sensitive connection with the subjective, but in fact they jointly and carelessly think up an advertisement which tricks the people into buying the product.
It is remarkable that this mechanism has been understood as long as it exists. Art can only clarify, never veil. Artworks that try nonetheless always miss their aim. The non-professional does not experience anything in such artworks and the connoisseur judges them immoral because it is so manifest which purpose they serve. Where such artworks try and mask the ‘cultural insecurity’ of their clients, they only succeed in uncovering it.
In ‘About art, emotion and criticism’ in De Witte Raaf no.60, Bart Verschaffel states that “for those who want to advance in life, art and literature, in short culture, is a desirable good. At the same time, this culture is new and unfamiliar, never self-evident, and dangerous territory. How to know what to buy, what to see, what to like? It is governed by such intangible things as ‘good taste’. Driven by the anxious desire to be ‘right’, but strengthened by the power of numbers, the ground is laid for a poetics and aesthetics. At the bottom of the petty bourgeois’ relationships to art and culture lies insecurity...” I would like to reinvigorate this ‘cultural insecurity’ and contextualise it with a ‘security company’, which insures insecurity.
In the West, insurance is based on an economic principle. People buy security and ohra sells it. Many non-western cultures see insurance from a different angle, mostly based on religious or culturally determined grounds. Insurance, or fighting insecurity, is a world-wide phenomenon with far reaching existential implications.
My proposal is to build a crypt into the new ohra building and, from a global perspective, collect therein instances of ‘struggle against insecurity’. Not a collection of exotic objects that represent the war against insecurity waged elsewhere, but a presentation, a current affair; the actual insurance in the bowels of ohra. Material remains endure and constitute the collection. In front of the main entrance, a glass roof gives to this underground space of about 10 by 4 meters, in which a continuous battle against insecurity can be observed.
It takes serious research to determine whether people and objects can be brought to this room without loss of ‘security potential’. Does, for instance, a ritual dance yield the same result in ohra’s crypt as in the jungle? What is the effect of such a dislocation? How does this ritual relate to the last or the next? Apart from that, of course, ethics play an important role. However, with sufficient anthropological and art-theoretical expertise, enthusiasm by ohra and good communication, it is possible to make responsible and exciting decisions in this matter.
Anthropologist Dr. Raymond Corbey, at Leiden University, points to the anthropological importance that this project, by virtue of its artificiality, may have. He, the Arnhem municipal museum and a number of interested ohra employees have by now formed a team which strives to shape the ohra collection. There will be need for a continuous reflection on the current contents of the collection and its extensions. Many an act or object, however beautiful, will prove to be unfit or infeasible. But in the end, there will grow a collection, which perhaps will not always be highly aesthetic – although one certainly should not rule out that it could –, but which is as of its time as ohra itself.
Art in large companies often misses its target, as has been remarked earlier on. This proposal answers ohra’s need to build a proper art collection, but it demands a special commitment. The unconventional manner of collecting offers a direct reflection on your existence as insurers, but also appeals to your own sense of security. Whether this artwork can place the insecurities of life in a broader perspective remains an open question. But by constructing into this new temple of security a room for insecurity, ohra certainly casts a new light on its building. A modern pyramid deserves a modern crypt.

Source: Hans van Houwelingen, clarification of proposal for ohra headquarters, Arnhem, January 1997.
Note: ohra initially accepted the plan, which was later cancelled in the midst of preparations for its realisation.