An Englishman in New York, an Ecuadorian in Leeuwarden


As I write this from the Museum Vereniging Museumcongres in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, I have decided it is time to put my headphones on. All the Dutch surrounding me is confusing me, making me believe at points that I speak it.

Coming here as a non-Dutch speaker, I was initially reluctant as to what I could learn and how I could contribute to the conference. I was however, pleasantly surprised and can now directly relate to a common Spanish idiom that says ‘You’ll never go to bed without knowing something more’.

Upon my arrival, I looked around, and I must admit I was a bit lost and felt very out of place - it doesn’t help that I am 5ft2in either. Nonetheless, as the first morning rolled out I realised that my inability to speak Dutch would in no way stop me from learning and sharing ideas.

The subject of the conference was ‘Collectie Boppie’- which loosely translates to ‘Raise/Long Live/Hooray for the Collection’. What does this mean in this day and age where at times we see museum collections as antiquated and obsolete things?

After all, prices in the art market have reached such extortionate levels that the museum is now unable to be an active collector and must resign to being simply a receiver, an heir, a keeper.

As a result, the conference pressed on the idea of the need for museums to use the resources they have both in house and beyond the walls of the museum. One of the main points of one of the discussion panels was to actively work with private collectors in various ways, not just in sponsorship and patronage opportunities. The speaker stressed the point that these modern collectors are the current holders of art and museums must welcome them into their spaces. Curators must work with these collectors to build better exhibitions and to engage the public with the works they are showing.

Upon hearing all this, I thought to myself ‘well doesn’t this sound exactly like what we are trying to do?!’ To my relief, we weren’t the only ones who thought this! Funnily enough, after the conference several people came up to our stand asking if we had sponsored that talk, which of course we hadn’t. It is moments like this when you reassure yourself that you aren’t the only crazy person in the world who thinks more must be done to connect private collectors and museums. More action must be taken to guarantee these two parties cooperate and succeed together.

A couple of days in The Netherlands taught me that people are more open than what we believe. Museums expressed their concerns in regards to budget cuts, and how sometimes they must set limits on the visions that curators have for exhibitions because the numbers simply won’t add up. However, we must not think of these situations as limits, but rather as challenges that with a little thought and open mindedness will enable museums to go beyond their vision.

Happy Birthday Museums Association!

Happy Birthday Museums Association

This year the Museums Association formed in York in 1889 is celebrating its 125th birthday. The General Meeting took place in Cardiff on the 8th and 9th of October and was attended by over 700 delegates from all over the world, including countries as far as Argentina.


Welcome drinks at the Welsh Senat the day before the official opening.

The Association is doing better than ever and the number of members reached the record 6,500.

The first day of the conference was opened by Mr Ken Skates AM, Welsh Government deputy minister for culture, sport and tourism, who enthusiastically wished the delegates an enjoyable and thought-provoking event.


The conference took place in the stunning setting of the Donald Gordon Theatre in Cardiff Bay.

In his opening speech David Anderson, director general of National Museum Wales and president of the Museums Association quoted the great thinkers of the 19th century as an inspiration for the fellow museum professionals. Those early trend setters such as William Morris were particularly aware of the social injustice and saw the museums and education as a way to erase it. Anderson quoted Henry Cole and his public lecture from November 16th 1857 given at the South Kensington Museum opening: Museums will be like a book with its pages open and not shut.


The main slogan this year is Museums Change Lives was reflected in the sessions focused on how museums should open up and work with all social groups in order to inspire and revitalise the local communities. Many example stories followed.

The concurrent sessions focused on those tasks to help museums reinvent themselves and their role in the local communities. Many of the sessions were also dedicated to the financial strains the museums are currently facing and the ways to overcome these difficulties without losing the goals along the way. The museum workers were introduced to inspiring examples of entrepreneurial thinking.

The first day ended with a celebration reception at the Cardiff National Museum, where more speeches and toasts were delivered by the Museum Assosciation director general and the director of the Museum.


Jubilee drinks at the main hall of the National Museum Cardiff.

The second day begun with a moving performance ‘Cabinet of Curiosities. How Disability was Kept in a Box’ by Mat Fraser: actor, performer and activist supporting the disabled in museums- both fighting to change how they are shown and to improve their experience as visitors.

All the way throughout the event the omnipresent Welsh accents (bilingual signages and greetings by the many of the speakers) culminated in a gripping performance by the event’s poet in residence Martin Daws, who presented his poem at the farewell meeting in the main auditorium. ‘Be strong and brave’ he told his the assembly, ‘people need you’.

'The Axis Shifting East'- Symposium during Asian Art in London

Asia is the focus of attention of the whole art world. Fast growing economies, new fortunes, changing legislations in the Far and Middle East all influence the art ecosystem in Europe and America. Whatever happens there will soon affect all of us.

It is difficult to make judgments on the new phenomena from our local perspective. Multiple queries Vastari received from collectors and curators alike inspired the company to organise a panel discussion regarding three hot topics to coincide with Asian Art in London.

The Rise of Private Museums in China

Lifting of Sanctions on Export of Art from Iran

Mutual Vision: 400 Years of Artistic Exchange between Japan & the West


 Pingtan Art Museum will become Asia’s largest private museum.

These three slightly controversial subjects will be discussed with the support of a panel of professional speakers.

Philip Dodd, Sylvain Levy and Lori Luo will be analysing the trend of private museums mushrooming around China in the recent years. We hope their thoughts will shed a light on this cultural boom and what it means to the European institutions.


Soheila Sokhanvari Hoochie Coochie Man 3, 2014  Crude oil, 22ct Gold, Egg tempera on calf vellum, 40 x 33 cm

Janet Rady, Daniel McClean and Soheila Sokhanvari will give us a dealer’s, a lawyer’s and an artist’s overview on the legal and practical implications of lifting sanctions on export of art from Iran and the Gulf area.

Inspired by the exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum, we once again go back to the 400 anniversary of contact between Japan and the West to look at the way the Western artists viewed the Japanese people, and vice versa: how the Japanese saw the foreigners arriving at their doorstep during the Edo period.

The discussion will continue into the way the Japanese see themselves until the present day. Curator Aleksandra Görlich and contemporary woodblock print artist Paul Binnie will help us understand the subject from the artistic, historical and anthropological point of view with insightful questions from Marta Olszewska, the head of Asian Art for Vastari.


Hasekura Tsunenaga in Rome. Claude Deruet, oil on canvas, 1615.

Asian Art in London is one of the most important events of this kind in the world. The audience will include both dealers and businessmen as well as collectors and scholars and to provide an interesting platform to exchange thoughts on those pressing subjects in a friendly relaxed manner.

The event will be a great occasion to ask questions and voice opinions alongside the authorities in the field. Held at Asia House, New Cavendish Street, the symposium will precede opening gala party of the Asian Art in London, this year held at the British Museum, only a short walking distance from the event venue. 


Event venue: Asia House in Cavendish Street

Event Details:

30th October 2014

4PM, with refreshments at 6PM.

Asia House, New Cavendish Street, London W1G 7LP

For more information or to RSVP:

+44 (0)20 7723 3079 | marta@vastari.com


'Art isn’t radioactive you don’t just get cultured just by being exposed to it.' : 2014 ICEE Meeting

This Saturday the International Committee for Exhibitions and Exchange concluded its annual meeting, which had started on Tuesday the 23rd.

The conference was held in Finland and toured from the capital in Helsinki to Espoo, Tampere and Mantta. It was the first time that the committee met at another location than the annual ICOM (International Council of Museums) conference, implying a shift in focus. The subject of exhibitions and exchange thus requires more time than just being an annex of a larger conference.


View from the tower at the National Museum of Finland. 

With an exciting programme including international speakers, museum visits, receptions and even a traditional Finnish sauna, the meeting attracted hundreds of participants from over thirty different countries, including Qatar, Korea, Taiwan, Albania, Estonia, France, Japan, United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.

The main focus of the event was to bring together museum professionals, exhibition designers and suppliers to provide a forum to discuss the theoretical and practical issues involved in the making and exchanging of exhibitions.

Dr. James M. Bradburne, Director of Palazzo Strozzi, opened the conference with a very provocative and charismatic keynote speech. Dr. Bradburne drew the attendees’ attention on the difference between exposing visitors to art and getting them to engage with what they are looking at. “Art isn’t radioactive” – Bradburne mused, “you don’t just get cultured just by being exposed to it.”

ICEE Board.

He suggested that the way forward for museums may be to focus on making visitors engage with their permanent collection, by constantly working on creating new narratives with the same pieces. All collections have multiple stories to tell, and will thus engage the audience with the new interpretations.

The keynote speech was followed by a report on the current position of touring exhibition activities for museums in Europe, a presentation from the Swedish Culture Ministry’s agency for exhibition exchange, and a “marketplace of exhibitions” – an insightful session to exchange ideas on the future of travelling exhibitions, and market one’s own projects.

During this session the Vastari team presented its new Travelling Exhibition Network, a new online platform and search engine for exhibition organisers to keep in touch, thus making the most out of the connections that happened during the conference and the international network that exists for travelling exhibitions.


Francesca Polo presenting VTEN

When a museum is curating a show, Vastari’s VTEN platform allows its curators and/or registrars to upload the exhibition to find partners for co-curation or simply to find a second venue. Additionally, museums can upload shows that happened in the past and are still suitable to tour - or find a show that fit within their exhibition programme.

This day closed with a visit to Espoo, where a great 20th C. building has been transformed into a grouping of 5 museums known as “Weegee.”


Other themes at stake during the week were cross-sector museum collaborations very eloquently presented. The second keynote speaker, Robert Mac West, President of Informal Learning Experiences, focussed on the evolution of cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Michael John Gorman, CEO of the Science Gallery in Dublin, shared his experiences bringing together art and science to engage with a young audience.  The conference was closed with a fascinating session on drama and cinema as means to make exhibitions more engaging for the public.


An Encounter with Prehistory


A fascinating exhibition Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story at the Natural History Museum is closing on the 28th of September. If you are quick, you can still touch a cast of a foot imprint left by a Homo Antecessor on the English coast one million years ago or look into the face of a Neanderthal and an early modern human- an experience which, I admit, made me almost emotional.

"The project took 13 years to complete", Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum told Vastari. “It was wonderful for the whole research team to see this exhibition come to fruition”, he says.

Recreation of Neanderthal male in his twenties and a middle age early homo sapiens by the Kennis brothers are the most scientifically accurate models ever made. Source

The recent research pushed back the date of the first human arrival to the British Isles to one million years ago. Many people are unaware of the fact, that it was not us who put the first dibs on Britain.  For some of us it is hard to believe that more than one species of hominids occupied the planet at the same time. When homo sapiens left Africa and arrived in Europe around 40,000 years ago, it was already taken. We shared it with our cousins the Neanderthals for 10-30,000 years. New discoveries by the Max Planck Institute show that contrary to an early belief, the two species interacted and interbred. Every person born outside of Africa carries 1-4% of the Neanderthal genome.

The show gives the opportunity to learn more about our distant cousins and our relationships in the murky prehistoric times. The fascinating finds are part of the trend of new developments in the research of this unclear period of our history.  

After recognising Neanderthals as a separate species during the 19th century, it was widely assumed they were a crude, unintelligent and brutal race. However further discoveries throughout the 20th century show that they actually cared for their sick, buried their dead, used ochre as adhesive and body paint, supposedly adorned themselves with feathers. They were also highly sophisticated hunters, which indicate use of a form of language to pass knowledge and experience to one another.

If they spoke, what were their stories? If they nursed the weak, they must have loved. All those thoughts revolved around the main questions stated by the exhibition curators: what does it mean to be human? The only difference with homo sapiens was that the Neanderthals did not produce jewellery and art (that survived), but even that has been recently disputed by new findings in Gibraltar.


Physically better adapted to the changing climate of Europe, they dominated the continent for almost 350,000 years, which makes our 60,000 of existence seem unimpressive.  Having survived climate changes we haven’t dreamed of they suddenly disappeared about 30,000 years ago. The reasons for this abrupt end still remain a mystery.

In their book The Neanderthals Rediscovered, Dimitra Papagianni and Michael A. Morse speak of a whole trend of Neanderthal tourism. This ranges from the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany on the site where the first Neanderthal remains were found at the top of the list, to the the replica of a Neanderthal as a Rodin’s Thinker in the Prehistoric Museum of Halle, Eastern Germany.

A Neanderthal model on display in the Prehistoric Museum of Halle, eastern Germany. Source

"We have had so many positive comments, both from other researchers and from members of the public, and it has been really satisfying to see the impact it has had in its eight months. Parts of it will re-appear at venues around the country", says Professor Stringer.

Whether you embrace your inner Neanderthal or not, the exhibition is a must-see and a fascinating food for thought, putting our daily lives and problems into a much wider perspective. Highly recommended for both kids and parents.


Young homo sapiens with a model of a Neanderthal adult male in Mettmann Museum. Source

Banding Together: The Case for Museums

In times of trouble, people join together to solve problems and face a common enemy.

That is the case with museums. These institutions have been faced serious government cutbacks, across the board worldwide, since the crisis of 2008. When times are tough, it seems – logical to some – culture is one of the first things to be cut back on.

As a result, museums have to start looking in new places to improve their business models and engage the public.

The first way they have innovated is social media. One only has to look at last week’s #askacurator day, now in its fourth year, to open the door for anyone on Twitter to ask a question to the museum’s top curators. The event is a great success, trending worldwide and bringing very interesting questions to the fore. Organiser Mar Dixon, a Brit, is a great proponent of social for museums, speaking at various events and consulting with many institutions on how to be more engaging through these means.


Image courtesy of Museumnext

Events are the second way that museums are banding together. I don’t mean having events at their institutions – this is a normal activity and has always been there. More and more events have popped up for museums to discuss trends in their industry and think of new ideas with each other. For example, the Collections Trust hosts an Openculture event, now in its third year, to discuss the trends in digitisation and collections, Museumnext has become a go-to place to learn about the newest developments in museum culture, and “We are Museums” where Marta went in June is another initiative to bring the industry together to brainstorm and learn.

The last event, which is starting tomorrow and is in its first year, is the International Committee for Exhibition Exchange – the ICEE, a subdivision of international organisation ICOM. This event promises to be very exciting. Not only is the programme full of engaging speakers and interesting visits to Finnish museums (yes it is in Finland), there is also a marketplace of exhibitions where museums and/or partners can pitch projects that are available or need collaborators.


Museums have had it tough the last few years; but rather than shrink, it seems that they are now growing. They are working together, embracing social media and being entrepreneurial in their endeavours to survive the storm together. In an increasingly globalised world on both an economic and cultural level, this seems like a very wise decision.

The Luxembourg Freeport: A 360° Overview Report from the 7th Deloitte Art & Finance Conference.

The 7th Deloitte Art & Finance conference last week was completely dominated by the subject of the opening of the Luxembourg Freeport. Taking place in the stunning setting of the Philharmonie Luxembourg it hosted over 300 attendees from financial, art management and museum industries respectively.

Solo presentations and panel discussions all revolved around the potential influence of the Luxembourg Freeport on the local art ecosystem and the location of the facility in the European landscape. There are more than 150 freeports in Europe, what makes the Luxembourg one so special?  Many specialists unanimously endorsed the project for various reasons.

In his opening speech Mr. Pierre Gramegna, Luxembourg’s Minister of Finance mentioned the low import tax (6%- lowest in Europe) and its robust security as the main reasons why this freeport is bound to succeed. Posing Luxembourg with its 150 banks as the financial centre of Europe as well as the investment commerce and e-payment leader outside the US, he said Luxembourg perfectly fits into the landscape.

imageOpening speech by Mr. Pierre Gramegna, Luxembourg’s Minister of Finance.

Mr. David Arendt, the Managing Director of the Freeport said he was almost emotional during the opening ceremony the night before. In his eyes, the 22,000m² storage facility with eight showrooms sets new standards for art logistics and with its reported 99% result on the GRASP report (Global Risk Assessment Survey Program), it has a multibillion insurance capacity. He described the undertaking as an entrepreneur Swiss concept, German technology, Italian design, Portuguese street art and Luxembourgish execution. The last task is to convince all the doubting ‘Thomases’ that the Freeport, already booked in 60%, is going to help Luxembourg become the cultural hub of the region.

'I hope for more synergies between collectors and museums to take place here.' -David Arendt, the Managing Director the Luxembourg Freeport

Mr. Arendt also added it will not be inconsistent with the local VAT regime.

imageLunch and networking opportunities at the Philharmonie Luxembourg.

The following panel discussions with logistics and finance specialists presented more diverse opinions. A question regarding Geneva’s bank secrecy met an answer that bank secrecy is becoming a thing of the past and freeports are now taking over the role of storing valuable assets. Another query about import tax which implied that it would be easier to import art via London to save on import tax was dismissed by a vague explanation that shipping costs further into Europe would make costs the same.

An exciting statement came out from Nicholas Mackel of Luxembourg for Finance, hoping that:

‘…the art stored in the Freeport will stimulate the local museums, as long as the owners agree’. 

It seems like the freeport has all the tools to become an interesting solution to many problems. We hope it will rejuvenate the cultural life of the region and become the international hub for valuable assets it aspires to be.

First Look at the Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam

Ratatouille and Smoke Bush (2014), Daniel Gordon © the artist. Courtesy of the artist and Wallspace, New York

Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam calls itself ‘the fair with a festival flair’. Food stands, bars, installations and outdoor exhibitions surround the grounds, and on entry you get a wristband similar to those given out at concerts, colour-coded depending on who you are – press, collector, exhibitor, VIP. The whole structure has been done in a makeshift, hippie style reminiscent of a Woodstock or Glastonbury.

The fair only shows work by new ‘unseen’ artists, or new bodies of work by established ones. The joint venture between Platform A, Vandejong Creative Agency, and FOAM Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam is now in its third year, and has attracted 53 Dutch and international galleries to its premises in the historic Westergasfabriek. It’s also lined up an impressive accompanying programme. The Unseen Book Market exhibits unpublished ‘dummies’ submitted by artists, as well as limited editions from publishers from around the world. The Unseen Living Room – an informal meeting place to exchange ideas – brings together leading minds such as Simon Baker of Tate, Matthew Leifheit from Vice and Thomas Seelig from Fotomuseum Winterthur.

Caco Twisted Balloon and Elliptical Aperture (2013), Lorenzo Vitturi © Lorenzo Vitturi and Flowers Gallery, London

More big names are exhibiting at the fair itself. The established Photographer’s Gallery in London is there, selling the work of a select group of artists. Anstice Oakeshott, the print sales coordinator for the museum, explains that this commercial arm ‘has always existed within the museum’s structure, the aim being to nurture photographers and collectors and to encourage interest in collecting.’  Undoubtedly, the status of this relatively young medium has grown thanks to initiatives like TPG’s.

I was also excited to see that Library of Birmingham has partnered with a curator from Division of Labour, to present a body of work by artists responding to their archive. The result is inspiring work, from a series of images that have been painted over with a white wash, showing how big corporations’ use of stock photos makes an artist invisible, to Stuart Whipps’ cunning reinterpretation of a form of sign language developed by Christopher Wren (who knew?) in a limited edition of prints.

‘With the funding cuts, though we are still backed by organisations like Arts Council England, public institutions have to look to the private sector’, says Nicola Shipley, the co-director of GRAIN, the Library of Birmingham subdivision behind the Unseen selection.

The Birmingham exhibition shows how artists are pushing the boundaries of photography, and there exists a strong trend more generally toward using the medium in inventive ways. As, Matt Lipps(one of the artists in FOAM’s new exhibition ‘Under Construction’, which discusses exactly this issue) stated: ‘professional photographers need to think about what they are saying now that everyone can be a photographer using their own smartphones.’ Lipps’ work reflects on the Time-Life standards of photography, with photo-collage works questioning the appropriate forms of photojournalist shots or studio imagery.

Also at FOAM is a solo show of Paul Huf award-winner Daniel Gordon, who takes the ‘what is photography’ question to the next level. In massive prints that resemble Matisse canvases, he plays with abstraction, collage and colour. The photographer is ‘making’ an image, not simply ‘taking’ it. At the main fair, further examples of this trend were visible. Lorenzo Vitturi, who made the fair’s cover image and is exhibiting on several stands, plays with planes and textures in painterly still-lifes.

Horse and Rider (2012), Carmen Freudenthal and Elle Verhagen © Freudenthal/Verhagen/The Ravestijn Gallery

Carmen Freudenthal and Elle Verhagen’s Horse and Rider uses in-your-face textiles; Matthew Murray’s dark, textured Stripperseries at Gallery Vassie is more subtle. Artists use archival paper to make images look historic, like Clare Langan’s triptych at Galerie Anita Beckers. Or they print on experimental surfaces, like Kasia Klimpel who even adds a spirit level to one of her works (off-centre). The atmosphere at the fair infectious: photography is exciting, inclusive, disruptive and fun. Those who are expecting to find traditional flat photography in a rectangular frame will be pleasantly surprised.

Unseen Photo Fair is at Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam, from 18–21 September.

Bernadine Brocker, CEO Vastari

Note: This article was first published on 17/09/2014 for Apollo Magazine. To view original please click here.

Vastari & Sotheby’s Institute of Art

We are excited to announce that Vastari will be lecturing at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London on the topic of  ’Online Resources for Museums and Private Collectors’. 

Our team is eager to present and will be discussing how museums and private collectors are increasingly using a range of resources to manage collections and connect with each other and the public. 

The lecture will place strong focus on how these two parties are embracing these tools and how they are using them to reach their goals based on the vision they have for their respective collections ending with a Q&A session for those attending. 

The Luxembourg Freeport: What Should we Expect?

Vastari representatives are attending exciting events in Luxembourg this week. The official opening of the Luxembourg Freeport, an international hub for valuable assets, on September 17th will be followed by the Deloitte 7th Art and Finance conference. The conference will take place in the stunning setting of the Philharmonie Luxembourg and will host Mr. Pierre Gramegna, Luxembourg Minister of Finance as guest speaker. The talks will revolve around the launch of the Luxembourg Freeport. We are hoping to learn about the local art ecosystem, Luxembourg Freeport Customs and Tax aspects and more.

Philharmonie Luxembourg

Mr. David Arendt, Managing Director the The Luxembourg Freeport

The launch of the Luxembourg Freeport was announced by Mr. David Arendt, the Managing Director of The Luxembourg Freeport at the Art Business Conference in Westminster on September 4th. It was pitched as a competitive alternative to Geneva, a next generation of Freeport offering a variety of collection management facilities such as art storage, private showrooms, logistic and insurance services for art collectors, investors and galleries. The space is going to maintain high security standards and work closely with the government against any acts of corruption.

Art and Business Conference, Westminster

After Mr. Arendt’s presentation there have been critical voices from the audience that unlike in Geneva, there is no bank secrecy in Luxembourg and so it cannot be presented as an equivalent. The claims of high security, keeping the insurance costs low failed convince the listeners, as premium is based on risk. In the end, storing accumulated works of art in a single location would make Luxembourg Freeport just as pricy as Geneva. The Freeport was pitched as a one stop shop for storage, sales, exhibition and restoration for high net worth individuals, but one could argue that it is simply an elegant warehouse.

We look forward to hearing to what the feedback will be at the Luxembourg conference. Hopefully the presentations will explain how the management is going to live up to the promises given at the Art Business Conference.