The John Deere Art Collection
In 1965, William Hewitt, then chairman of Deere & Company, established a corporate art collection. For two decades Deere amassed major art holdings with works by such significant artists as Grant Wood, Alexander Calder, Toulouse-Lautrec and Marc Chagall. The previous year, Deere had hired the renowned Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen to design the company’s new corporate headquarters in Moline, Illinois. The building was constructed in the progressive International Style, signifying the company’s emerging global identity. While the art collection was intended to complement the distinctive architectural spaces of Saarinen’s modernist headquarters, the company also sought to expose its employees to the many diverse countries and cultures in which Deere conducts business.
In 2009, the Figge Art Museum formed a unique program with Deere & Company to curate and display significant pieces from the John Deere Art Collection. This exhibition is the first opportunity in which the company’s important art holdings have been showcased in a museum and made available for viewing by the public. Providing a visual tour of the company’s expansive international collection, the exhibition is divided into the geographic regions of North America, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia.
The North American section highlights an array of art and includes farming scenes by the cherished Deere illustrator Walter Haskell Hinton, paintings by folk artist Streeter Blair and modernist works by Calder, Fritz Scholder and the Abstract Expressionist artist Hedda Sterne. Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous lithographic poster La Chaine Simpson (1896) is featured prominently in the area devoted to Central and Eastern European art. The provocative trend of Latin American nationalism merged European modern styles with indigenous cultural symbolism and is represented through major works by Rufino Tamayo and Alejandro Obregón. Intricate prints and paintings by Sadao Watanabe and Matazō Kayama reflect an internationalist movement in post-war Japanese art, which sought to universalize modern art through a fusion of Eastern and Western aesthetics.
In building its collection, Deere simultaneously acquired works by modern American masters as well as notable examples of international art. As a result, the collection embodies a central ethos of the company. While Deere is committed to the traditional values of the Midwest and the regional farming community, it also has sought to strengthen and enrich the company through its alignment with diverse and innovative global perspectives. In many respects, the strong internationalist thrust of the Deere art collection can be seen to have anticipated the current phenomenon of global art, which has resulted in complex multicultural forms of expression and hybrid styles. Through June 12, 2011