Bauhaus master Herbert Bayer first met the legendary oilman Robert O. Anderson in Aspen, where Bayer was working for the industrialist Walter Paepcke. This meeting marked the beginning of a long friendship and sparked Anderson’s passion for contemporary art. He became an insatiable collector, his assemblage of paintings and sculptures eventually overflowed from his home and into his company offices. With the formulation of the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) in the 1960s, Anderson assigned Bayer as the company’s Art and Design Consultant responsible for not only overseeing the growing collection, but also for directing corporate branding, architecture and office design. By the time Anderson had moved the ARCO headquarters to Los Angeles, the collection had grown to nearly 3,000 works housed in the newly-built, fifty-one story ARCO Plaza.
As the company grew, so did the collection and artwork was sent to be displayed in offices across the country, occupying executive suites and common areas, lobbies and even copy rooms. Under Bayer’s direction the collection grew to over 15,000 works ranging from original paintings and works on paper, to photography and tribal art, managed and cataloged by the ARCO Corporate Art Collection staff.
When asked why he invested in contemporary art, Anderson explained, “Because I like it. It makes you think. I didn't get where I am because I took the same path as everyone else. One of the reasons ARCO is successful is that I encourage my people to look at all issues from every possible angle. That's one of the many reasons contemporary art is beneficial to society. It inspires you to think outside the box and use your imagination. If you examine a problem closely and think about all the possible solutions, you'll come up with the best possible answer. That's part of what made ARCO a success”.
Anderson retired from ARCO in 1986 and when the Atlantic Richfield Oil company was purchased by British Petroleum in 2000, the company’s then chairman ordered that the collection be liquidated. Portions of the collection were offered at auction as well as donated to various institutions. Prior to his death in 1985, Herbert Bayer requested that a collection of his work which had been housed in the ARCO’s Santa Barbara offices should be donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.