During Facebook’s first few years, Mark Zuckerberg commissioned a street artist named David Choe to bring some life to the office’s walls. Choe accepted, covering them with his rough-and-tumble, graffiti-imbued figures, and was paid in the form of stock options that were valued at about $200 million when the company went public in 2012. With the Choe commission, so began Facebook’s reputation as a patron of street art, the genre that many in the art world consider youthful, raw, and rebellious. The move was even parodied on a recent episode of the HBO series Silicon Valley. But, just as the company has matured, expanding from its five founders to 4,000 employees at its Menlo Park campus in the past decade alone, so has the art that graces its offices.
Just don’t call it a corporate collection. While most blue-chip companies build their art troves through in-house advisers who cull pieces from art fairs and galleries, Facebook has an artist-in-residence program, which commissions artists to create installations wherever they feel inspired to do so around its 1 million-square-foot Menlo Park campus. The program began about two years ago with artist Jet Martinez, who painted a brightly hued floral mural in Building 18. Housed in the Analog Research Laboratory, the program exposes Facebook employees not just to new art, but also to the process of the artists, which they probably wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.
“We want to see how people are open to ideas and different ways of thinking,” says Drew Bennett, an artist, builder, and designer who directs Facebook’s artist-in-residence program.
“There was a lot more overlap between street art and David Choe [and Facebook], and the messages and the underlying values that I read in that work, some of those values still remain — the boldness, the openness to do whatever whenever are still attractive,” Bennett says. “But there’s other values in street art and graffiti that don’t pertain to this company anymore, and so in this program I’m looking to promote greater diversity.”
While, so far, about 80 percent of the artists in the program have been based in the San Francisco Bay area, Bennett says he’s looking to expand beyond the region that Silicon Valley calls home. One of the artists he recently recruited is London-based Stephanie Posavic, who created a dance map plotting out the interactions between a couple she randomly found on the social network. Other artists who have participated in the program include San Francisco-based Jane Kim, who did a series of bird portraits based on the species that live in the surrounding salt flats; Oakland-based Paul Morgan, who made a colorful mural of wooden triangles; and Kelly Ording, who has four different pieces in one wing, including a mural, and three geometric-based conceptual pieces along the stairs, one wall, and a pathway.
Although Facebook has the finances to make large art purchases, don’t expect to see anything by marquee artists like Jeff Koons, Banksy, or Andy Warhol along the walls of its campus. “Celebrity is something that’s inherently popular, and for me it’s important that the work speaks for itself,” Bennett explains.
With two art fairs in the area—Silicon Valley Contemporary, which took place last month, and the upcoming Art Silicon Valley, which is scheduled for October in San Mateo—along with a pop-up Menlo Park location for the blue-chip Pace Gallery, which is open through the end of June, the Facebook artist-in-residence program may just be helping to groom the company’s employees into art collectors. “These communities haven’t had a chance to intermingle yet, so this is a kind of great opportunity,” Bennett says.