Simon de Pury on what museums could learn from for-profit immersive experiences to stay relevant and financially afloat in the future


Each month in The Hammer, art industry veteran Simon de Pury lifts the veil on his life as the ultimate art world insider, his connections with celebrity and his invaluable understanding of the inner workings of the market. art.

This month, the Moco Museum in Barcelona will open its doors.

Located a stone’s throw from the Picasso Museum, the founders of Moco Lionel and Kim Logchies-Prins are reproducing a formula that has already worked well for them in Amsterdam. After several years of activity as art dealers and gallery owners, in 2016 they decided to open a museum by choosing a beautiful old building located a few steps from the Van Gogh Museum.

The main focus of their programming was on artists whose notoriety extends far beyond the art world; such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tracey Emin, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, KAWS, Yayoi Kusama, OS GEMEOS, Andy Warhol, etc. It was an instant popular and financial success. The revenue from ticketing and merchandising to its 650,000 annual visitors fully funded the operation. Although pandemic closures forced the museum to close temporarily, it has since reopened and visitors are flocking to the Moco again.

Kim and Lionel have many friends in the football world, and it was Patrick Kluivert, the brilliant former striker for Ajax Amsterdam, FC Barcelona and the Dutch national team, who found them the perfect place to Moco Barcelona, ​​a palace built around 1500 with large rooms and high ceilings. My implication in all of this is that Guillermo Lorca, a young Chilean artist whose first exhibition I organized in Europe in Asprey, caught Kim’s attention on Instagram. Kim and I then connected, which allowed two large galleries in Moco Barcelona to be entirely dedicated to this extremely talented Latin American art star.

Guillermo Lorca. Photo by Simon de Pury.

I am willing to bet that Moco Barcelona will have the same popular appeal and profitability as that of Moco Amsterdam. The founders have already been approached to open Mocos in various other cities around the world. In their attendance statistics, the percentage of young visitors, most of whom have never been to a museum before, is very high. They are very open to artists who have made themselves known through NFTs, like Beeple, and to creators of experiential art, like those promoted by Superblue Miami, like teamLab. The two designers will be represented in Barcelona. Kim and Lionel also understand the primacy of ssocial media as a means of promoting their activities. For two days, before the new Barcelona venue opens to the public, it will only be accessible to influencers, who will share their first impressions with the general public.

This private and entrepreneurial way of running a museum is reminiscent of what Fotografiska launched in Stockholm in 2010. Brothers Jan and Per Broman, with the help of Tommy Rönngren, transformed a large old building overlooking the water into a vibrant center for contemporary photography.

When I visited it, I was amazed not only to see the large number of people present for its temporary exhibitions, but also to visit the premises which made Fotografiska not only a cultural hub, but a place of predilection for weddings, birthdays, as well as a fully equipped nursery and a continuous program of lectures, seminars and films. It was conceived as a for-profit operation which also quickly proved its worth. Fotografiska then opened in New York and Tallinn. Another is due to open soon in Berlin and two more are planned in Shanghai and Miami. Fotografiska merged with NeueHouse earlier this year. As the name suggests, the places are entirely devoted to photography, which is both an advantage since specialization tends to help you excel in a given field but at the same time a limit, because their programming excludes from many other aspects of contemporary culture. .

Simon de Pury's youngest daughter is enjoying the Borderless teamLab experience in Tokyo in 2019.

Simon de Pury’s youngest daughter will benefit from the teamLab “Borderless” experience in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Simon de Pury.

Yayoi Kusama’s infinity chambers have proven to be the ultimate setting for the selfie-hungry generation. Wherever they are installed, endless streams of visitors are ready to queue for several hours to experience them. Kusama can be considered, among her many other achievements, as the mother of experiential art.

But teamLab, the Japanese collective of artists and tech programmers, has taken experiential art to a new level. In Tokyo alone, two of their large facilities attracted so many paying visitors that the initial production costs were recouped in a matter of weeks, instead of the years originally expected. After its successful Miami launch, Superblue, with the support of Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs; Rhythm Gallery; and the Therme Art Group, of which I sit on the board of directors, plans to open Superblues worldwide. They will have a pop-up opening in London this month with an installation by Studio Swine. They have effectively created a new business model where artists are funded to create experiences that will be enjoyed by paying visitors around the world.

Finally, I would like to mention what is arguably the most exciting cultural project that opened its doors during Covid: the Luma Foundation in Arles, France. It was created by Maja Hoffman, who is arguably the world’s greatest living cultural philanthropist. Over the years, she has supported countless institutions, such as the Kunsthalle Zürich, the Emmanuel Hoffman Foundation in Basel, the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation in Arles, Les Rencontres d’Arles, Elevation 1049 in Gstaad, and the New Museum, Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center. , and the Swiss Institute in New York, among many others.

Architects Frank Gehry and Annabelle Selldorf built an astonishing framework for Hoffman’s vision of a cultural laboratory, an ever-evolving work where artists and scientists come together to address some of the vast issues we face as humanity. Arles, the charming city that flourished in Roman times and attracted Gauguin, Van Gogh and Picasso, is once again a magnet for contemporary artists and is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in art. and culture.

Norman Foster and Frank Gehry at the opening of Luma Arles.  Photo by Simon de Pury.

Norman Foster and Frank Gehry at the opening of Luma Arles. Photo: Simon de Pury.

The Luma Foundation is much more ambitious than the other new cultural projects mentioned above. But while Moco, Fotografiska, and Superblue are clearly profit-oriented, Luma could never have seen the light of day without the generosity of its founder, and is unlikely to recoup the substantial financial investment it took to create it so soon.

At a time when the roles of museums and cultural institutions are being called into question and questioned, it is interesting to observe the different approaches currently deployed in this sector.

Hans Ulrich Obrist always asks the artists he interviews what their biggest unrealized dream is. Mine would be to create a for-profit cultural center, both physical and digital, that would integrate contemporary art galleries, design galleries, auction house, conference hall, restaurants, bars. created by artists, a concert hall, an art library, fashion boutiques, a recording studio, an experiential art center and the ultimate nightclub. The place would be open 24/7, bubbling with effervescence and would be a place of exchange for lovers of art, music, culture and life! “Dream On” was the title of one of my favorite television sitcoms of the 1990s.

Simon de Pury is the former President and Chief Auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Company and is a private dealer, artistic advisor, photographer and DJ. Instagram: @simondepury

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