Meet the New Innovators: 6 Entrepreneurs Who Are Inventing the Future of the Art World, Now
These six individuals are helping to raise the bar when it comes to building technology that serves the art world.
A version of this article first appeared in the fall 2020 Artnet Intelligence Report, which you can download for free here.
These founders, visionaries, and upstarts are part of Artnet’s New Innovators List. Whether developing new software or constructing novel platforms for exchange, these six innovators remind us that you can’t build the future with outmoded tools.
See the complete list of the New Innovators here and check back for more in-depth profiles in the coming days.
Tyler Woolcott, 38, Director of StudioVisit, London
Thanks to Tyler Woolcott, artists can now make much-needed money by offering bespoke visits to their studios, priced up to £250 per person. “They are fully in control,” Woolcott says. “StudioVisit gives artists the tools to become a self-sustaining, independent institution.” The expat American has nearly 40 artists on his books—and the list is growing. Tours are by necessity mostly virtual now and range from Zoom-like teleconferences to customized cocktail-making sessions (courtesy of the duo Cooking Sections). In July, the London-based activist photographer Mark Neville became the first to offer an in-person studio experience.
Sean Green, 38, Founder of Arternal, Los Angeles
Like many in the art market, Sean Green has been astounded by the antiquated business practices used by even some of the world’s biggest galleries. The difference is that he also spent years developing a powerful way to upgrade them to 21st-century standards.
Arternal’s pioneering workflow software aims to give all galleries, regardless of market tier, the tools they need to leverage data, professionalize operations, and maximize efficiency. From instantly scanning new business cards for contact info to sending custom messages to an entire client list in hours rather than days to systematizing follow-ups after an art fair, Green’s solutions seek to help even the smallest dealers perform at an elite level.
“We’re constantly thinking about the evolution of the art market and where it needs to go,” he says. “Part of our work is to be able to have this sort of art-world finesse coupled with engineering horsepower and know-how.” Next on Arternal’s agenda: helping implement streamlined payment systems to improve galleries’ cash flow—an innovation that will be more important than ever in the new normal.
Daniel Birnbaum, 57, Curator and Artistic Director of Acute Art, London
Looking back over his illustrious art-world career so far, Daniel Birnbaum says, “I’ve done almost everything except selling.” Acute Art, the latest venture from the Swedish-born former Moderna Museet director and Venice Biennale curator, puts him at the heart of the mixed-reality phenomenon—and it’s his most commercial venture to date. Available for mobile phones and virtual-reality hardware, the app provides access to commissioned digital works by big-name artists, including KAWS and Olafur Eliasson, with some available for purchase as limited editions. It boasts more than 500,000 users to date.
“It’s great to explore, laboratory-style, with artists again,” effuses Birnbaum. For him, the project marks the beginning of a paradigm shift he sees fully evolving over the next five years or so: The lockdown “helped us understand that all these festivals, triennials, and big shows are just not sustainable.” Acute Art’s plans for expansion include producing performances; Birnbaum confirmed that he is exploring possibilities with the acclaimed poet and artist Precious Okoyomon.
Balazs Farago, 44, Founder and CEO of Walter’s Cube, New York
It might seem far-fetched to envision a world where visiting an online exhibition is, as Balazs Farago puts it, “as common and easy as watching Netflix.” But mass engagement is the goal of Farago’s groundbreaking platform, Walter’s Cube. Unlike an online slideshow or video walk-through, each Walter’s Cube exhibition is digitized as a 360-degree 3-D space—fully explorable by users in their own ways, at their own pace, as a mobile, desktop, or virtual-reality experience.
Farago—who has a background in architecture and software development—says that he wants audiences to form “real memories” through Walter’s Cube of shows that, in some cases, never existed IRL. The enriched experience translates into greater engagement time: visitors spend an average of four minutes in a Walter’s Cube exhibition, versus a maximum impression of three seconds for an Instagram post.
More than 500 galleries and institutions have already digitized their spaces and shows on the platform—including heavyweights Hauser & Wirth, Paula Cooper, and Tate Modern—and visitors have virtually gallery-hopped from more than 2,000 cities worldwide. Maybe Netflix audience numbers aren’t so far-fetched after all.
Annika Erikson, 39, CEO of Articheck, London
Annika Erikson, a former Tate conservator, founded Articheck in 2013 as a mobile app and web platform for analyzing and cataloguing the physical condition of artworks. “The innovations Annika has proposed for the sector really are instrumental in pushing us into the 21st century,” says Bernadine Bröcker Wieder, CEO of the museum-programming intermediary Vastari. Where conservators, registrars, and restorers were once “so attached to the traditional pen and paper,” she says, Articheck created a new industry standard in digital shorthand to quickly and accurately share condition reports—a not-particularly-glamorous but essential tool for both lending and selling art. With an eye on climate change, the company is working on a virtual courier system that aims to streamline transportation and help institutions reduce staff travel, budgets, and carbon emissions.
Brendan Ciecko, 32, Founder of Cuseum, Boston
Brendan Ciecko is proof that the art world needs outsiders. As a teenager, he built a lucrative business developing web and mobile products for the music and entertainment industry without high-flying connections (his mom was a school bus driver and his dad a plumber). He came to realize that the world’s greatest cultural institutions had been “left behind in the digital transition.” He founded Cuseum in 2014 to work full-time on fixing the problem.
Although Cuseum—which counts SFMOMA and the Nasher Sculpture Center among its clients—offers an array of future-facing tools, it derives most of its income from two core products: an award-winning “digital docent” that provides a self-guided, multilingual, multimedia-enhanced alternative to clunky standalone audio guides; and digital membership credentials that offer a green replacement for printed cards. Both products run on visitors’ smartphones, making their trips to the museum richer and easier while also handing institutions turn-key technological solutions that save time, reduce waste, and slash expenses. “I didn’t want it to cost an arm and a leg to have modern standards for visitors,” says Ciecko.
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