Who is Using Vastari Collections?
Vastari Collections: a wonderfully idealistic project at its inception. We set out in 2012 to make it possible for anyone around the world to securely and anonymously share their works of art with museums for exhibition loans.
Many doubted whether it would take off, and through the years Vastari has gone through highs and lows, but by some miracle it’s been 5 years since I had the idea on a bench in Hanover Square park, eating a sandwich on my break from managing Trinity House’s Mayfair gallery. And now, the company is still going strong.
But, who really wants to collaborate with museums? As the years have gone by, more and more collectors have decided to make their pieces visible to museum curators using Vastari.
We now have over 900 collector members from all around the world. Clearly, there are many different types of drivers behind why a collector would like to share their works with museums. But I have here identified three major types of collectors who have been our “early adopters” if you will. These collectors have slightly different reasons to want to converse with museum professionals - but all are equally driven and passionate.
1. The Entrepreneurial Collector
Within the art world, it is a well-known fact that having your work exhibited at a museum can really add kudos to the piece, which often results in better valuations. A piece who has never been presented at a major exhibition would be valued very differently than a piece that has been included, and written about in exhibition catalogues.
There are many complex reasons behind this fact - but as a result, a certain type of collector is attracted to Vastari’s resources. This is the entrepreneurial collector, who almost views his collector as a portfolio of assets that will appreciate over time. Agree with this philosophy or not, by some accounts (notably Sjarel Ex of the Boijmans, while on stage with me at the Tefaf 2015 Symposium) auctions houses tend on average to add 20% to the valuation of any piece exhibited at a museum.
If you are the type of collector who thinks with an investor mindset, Vastari Collections is quite an attractive proposition. While owning your pieces, you can be notified of any shows related to your work, and apply to the curators with relevant objects. If you are so inclined, this is a type of investment into the future value of your “portfolio” of an art collection - particularly important with Post-War art which often runs through a certain time span of cachet. With Vastari’s search engine of objects, museum curators might find a piece using more general search terms, like “portrait” or “post-modernism” rather than the typical monographic research method.
Moreover, certain tax-efficient schemes that wealth managers love also incentivize these collectors to get involved with non-profit exhibitions. No matter what the underlying incentive is, our company’s mission is to make sure that the right piece is exhibited to convey the show’s message.
This entrepreneurial collector typically has a hands-off approach to Vastari’s collection system. They will upload the works to the database anonymously and happily respond to any museum who is planning an exhibition. But don’t expect them to know about loan agreements! They might need some clarity on how these types of loans work.
2. The Philanthropic Collector or Foundation
“If you ask why I do what I do - I want to make a difference. I don’t just want to maintain the status quo” - Eli Broad, quoted in the LA Times
Luckily, not all collectors are driven by this cut and dry investor-style way of thinking. There are many other reasons that collectors work with Vastari.
Many collectors have bought works that have grown in profile over time, particularly because of their support and commitment to the artists. For the philanthropic collector, the main responsibility of owning an artist’s works is having them exhibited - almost an unspoken promise to the artist throughout eternity.
These collectors often own more than they can possibly exhibit - and more than they can keeping track of. All of the exhibitions happening relating to the works they own can be quite a handful. Many of these collectors rely on art-fair circuits to discover the next upcoming shows, or have a relationship with an art advisor or auction house who help them stay in-the-know.
Vastari works as an telescopic lens for these collectors, looking outwards for each of the pieces and spotting any stellar shows that might be relevant in the future. The collector still handles their own loan agreements and often employs a curator to ensure everything is handled to tip-top standards but Vastari casts a wider net and ensures opportunities are not missed.
Many of these collections are already well-known to many museums - but the fact that Vastari is reaching new markets or different museums that these collectors have not yet exhibited their works at, is appealing to them.
“It is more important for me to work with small sized institutions which can offer something much more nimble, more cutting edge – where there’s a real sense of doing something together” - Sylvain Levy, quoted by Museums Sheffield
3. The Quirky Academic
The last and possibly my favourite type of collectors are the ones who are such experts in their fields, so much so that even museum professionals could learn from them. These collectors could be experts in anything from petit maîtres from the 17th century to samurai swords or Roman coins, or even board games, but if a museum is considering an exhibition about this type of object, they’re the one to call.
Sometimes the types of objects themselves are not that valuable, but seen in their entirety the collection provides unique insight into a specific time period, culture or facet of our human history.
The reason I love these collectors is because of their passion for their collections. These collectors often relish in uploading the works to Vastari themselves, dutifully cataloguing each work precisely and accurately. Some pieces may not have an authenticity certificate, but a museum would enter into a lively debate with the collector about the history of the work. (As Vastari does not verify every piece on the system, it is up to the curators to still vet the objects that they can find on the database, in the same way an employer will still need to check references for a recruit from Linkedin.)
Furthermore, these academic collectors sometimes even have the curatorial knowledge to put together an exhibition proposal. A great example of this is Richard Harris, whose collection was exhibited here at the Wellcome Collection in London. The works Mr Harris collected provided such an involved and gripping narrative that the museum hardly had to ‘curate’ the works on display. Rather, it was about working to highlight major themes and express the collectors’ discoveries.
On Vastari Exhibitions, these collectors can request our team to display their collection in its entirety as an exhibition for hire. For museums looking to save on costs, this is an attractive solution as it requires less logistical hassle to borrow from one lender.
As you can see, the myriad of collectors who use our resources is colourful and diverse. Museums will undoubtedly find common ground with the more philanthropic or academic collectors, however even the investor collector can be exposed to a different way of looking at his or her collection via the conversations possible using our platform.
Given where we came from, a park bench in Mayfair, it is a true pleasure coming into the office every day to work on improving relationships between collectors and museums for exhibitions. Our entire team feels extremely lucky to be helping a whole host of collaborations as a completely non-partisan platform. Many further developments are in store in the coming years, and in the meantime we continue to enjoy conversions by these types of collectors, or other, later adopters who may not fall into the categories of those who first understood what we were building.