SETTING ASIDE concerns about feng shui, you could understand the restaurant owner's predicament. A nude sculpture had been installed in the lobby of a nearby building with its back turned prominently towards his own establishment. Diners certainly couldn't be exposed to that view over their chardonnay. Since the omens for business were bad, a feng shui master was consulted and approved another auspicious position for the statue. Fortunately, this satisfied the parties involved - and the more prudish diners. The sculpture is one of only a handful on public view either inside or outside commercial buildings in Hong Kong. It was commissioned by a property developer who recognised that art can and should exist outside a museum. 'We have consciously linked visual arts to our commercial buildings,' said Stephen Spurr, general manager and director of Swire Properties. 'This is very deliberate and differs from galleries and museums, where one tends to see art in isolation. We wanted people to interact with art and to break down the barriers.' Inspiring artwork and innovative design should be part of any cosmopolitan environment, but the government's efforts in this respect continually fall short of expectations. This leaves the onus on private business to provide meaningful and creative works in shopping centres and commercial buildings, but few are responding to the challenge. Installing a sculpture or a painting can be a complex process involving architects, engineers, designers, consultants and the artists themselves. Many property developers don't prepare for this when planning a new building. 'It needs to start when the architect is designing the building. Later on, developers encounter technical problems and find that it costs too much,' said Martina Yip, senior art consultant for Art-Lease.com, a Hong Kong consultancy specialising in leasing artwork to corporations. A relief sculpture intended for a wall inside a shopping centre in Central can take a long time to install, she said. The project also might not go ahead because structural engineers were unsure about the structure of the wall. 'Art is never urgent compared with other priorities, so they take their time,' she said. Ms Yip said money was another factor. Many companies perceive art as being expensive and having no direct commercial viability. Although Mr Spurr's company is committed to providing art for the public to enjoy, he admitted it was of little commercial benefit. 'I don't think it brings more people to our hotels or extra tenancies for our offices,' he said. Despite this, Swire Properties does see other non-financial benefits. 'I suppose we are fostering a critical tradition and helping Hong Kong audiences become active participants and arbiters of taste,' Mr Spurr said. Another advantage is that the association with art can raise or define a company's profile. Alison Pickett, director of Alison Pickett Corporate Art, said, 'A work of art can speak volumes for the building in which it is placed, and that can often attract a certain type of business tenant.' She added that it could also provide a creative edge for use in marketing a new development. Hongkong Land chief executive Nicholas Sallnow-Smith said it was natural for tenants to want their visitors and staff to be in an appealing environment. 'This enhances the tenant's profile and also helps with recruitment,' he said. However, Nick Bradstreet of retail property agent Savills, said tenants would not necessarily pay more for a building known for its artwork. Art was an intangible on a par with landscaping, he said. 'You can't fix a precise dollar figure because it's all part of aesthetics.' In such cases, it is more a matter of tenants believing they get better value for their money in a development with artwork. Mr Sallnow-Smith said: 'Our research shows consistently that the decision-making factors for a tenant are location, prestige, good property management and value for money. Art and an appealing environment play a role in several of these factors.' Exhibitions are a potentially less complicated and less expensive way of incorporating art into a development. Increasingly, they are being used to showcase local artists and performers and have the added benefit of attracting people to a commercial or retail area. An example of this was the decision to display Picasso's theatre curtain masterpiece Parade in Two IFC, which drew 50,000 visitors a day to Hong Kong's tallest building. Exhibitions in Swire's shopping centres tend to be more for the performing than the visual arts. Mr Spurr said: 'By definition, it is retail- or fashion-orientated, since shoppers have a shorter attention span. We keep the promotional programmes constantly changing and stimulating for our audiences.' For developers who complain about the expense and complications of traditional art, Ms Pickett offers an alternative. She suggests an artistic use for the giant video screens outside places like Times Square. 'It's the perfect forum for local video artists or for photographs to be flashed on screen. Art is not just sculpture and paintings and Hong Kong audiences can relate to other things just as well.' Hong Kong does, however, have one very solid commercial space apart from Taikoo Place which is renowned for its art - Exchange Square, home to Henry Moore's Oval with Points since 1974 - but it doesn't take a feng shui master to divine that if could benefit from more.