I sat down with one of my clients the other day in order to better understand the challenges of running an artist estate. Magda Salvesen, who runs the estate for her late husband Jon Schueler, is an expert on the matter and has even written a book about it.

According to Magda, the main struggles with running an estate are the lack of time and resources. Unlike a Foundation that has a board helping to run it, an artist estate is usually run by an individual who is a member of the artist’s family. Part of running an estate is often the planning for it to become a Foundation. This includes the cataloguing of the artist’s work as well as identifying ownership and location of the pieces.

There is also a need to raise revenue, which is usually generated by selling the work still held by the estate. In order to do this, there is a constant need to promote the artist. In the past, the gallery representing the artist would help to promote its artist by organizing traveling exhibitions and creating catalogues of the artist’s work. Many galleries are now pulling back from doing this because of funding issues.

Although museum curators sometimes organize shows, they are less interested in helping an exhibition they create to travel, focussing instead solely on their own in-house content. This can be remedied by the person running the artist estate writing a proposal for a choice of exhibitions and distributing it to curators at several museums. An interested curator will then travel to the artist estate to look at the work and make a selection of work for the show. In this way, the exhibition is a true collaboration between the artist estate and the curator.

Traveling exhibitions solve several issues for the artist estate. First, they get the work out of storage and into museums and galleries. Often times art scholars learn about an artist through a show and connect with the artist estate in order to do further research.

Second, traveling exhibitions help build awareness and educate the public about the artist’s work. Many artists like famously, Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890) and more recently, Peter Lanyon (1918-1964) who had a show at the Courtauld Gallery in 2017, were not really “discovered” until after their death, so getting an artist’s work into galleries and in front of a new audience is essential.

In some cases, the artist estate will put together a touring show that is ready-made, available to a museum for a hiring fee for usually three months. Not all museums agree with this approach, so artist estates should be strategic in their approach to different institutions.

Finally, revenue can be raised by eventually selling a piece to a gallery or individual, who learns about the artist because of the added exposure from a show. This is indispensable to an artist estate.

Vastari helps by offering an artist estate the chance to connect with the thousands of museum curators who use our platform and are always on the look-out for interesting content.

Since I started working with Vastari I realised how touring exhibitions can promote an artist’s career and how much easier this is with the help of technology. Our team of museum experts is able to leverage its connections to inform curators about an artist and use algorithms to find the best match for each project. Curators appreciate the connections as they are time-poor. It can be very time-consuming for them to source new and exciting art that the public may not have had access to previously. Curators look to Vastari not only for traveling exhibitions to show at their museums, but also for projects with which to collaborate. In my mind, Vastari is a matchmaker that is helping to create more exciting exhibitions by connecting artist estates and museum curators.

Image by Jon Schueler (1916-1992)
(o/c 1131, Forgotten Blues: II, New York, 1981, 72 x 120 in/182.88 x 304.8 cm, oil on canvas)