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What Bloomberg is to financial news, MutualArt.com aims to be to the art world.
Founder and chief executive officer Moti Shniberg has spent the past two years fine-tuning his plan to provide customized information to art lovers, dealers, collectors and artists. The by-invitation-only Web site officially bows in March, but members have already been signing up. A $300 annual fee allows members to track different categories of art or individual artists from thousands of sources. They will also get the heads-up about their areas of interest, whether that be exhibitions, lectures, opening parties, galas or auctions. But instead of being flooded with information, members can filter it in relation to their specific tastes. More than 250 publications, including Art Newspaper and Issue, have signed on so far as content providers. More than half of these aren’t available through search engines, Shniberg said.
MutualArt.com also has signed partnerships with more than 120 museums — including the Guggenheim Museum, London’s Tate, the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam, the Whitney Museum of Art in New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art — to plug their exhibitions and to offer the news services to their patrons, and has partnered with leading private banks, auction houses and private cultural clubs. By the end of 2008, Shniberg expects to have 2,500 galleries signed up. Art Basel director Sam Keller said, “MutualArt.com helps to make the expanding art world a global village.”
During an interview a few blocks from his Fifth Avenue office, Shniberg said, “Basically, it’s the aggregation of information from many different sources.”
With the help of special adviser Jerry Wind, the founder of the Executive MBA Program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, more than 1,000 European and American art lovers were polled to see what they look for when buying art and what would make that process better.
Shniberg has assembled a heavyweight team to help him. Citigroup’s co-head of investment banking Raymond J. McGuire is an investor and adviser, and banker Thomas Weisel and Warner Music U.S. head Lyon Cohen are investors. Shniberg also has been getting some guidance from Simone de Pury, chairman of Phillips de Pury & Co.; Lady Elena Foster, chairman of the Tate International Council; Ruth Kaplan, former deputy director of the Museum of Modern Art; Wenda Harris Millard, president, Media at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., and others. Their objective is to serve up information “that is only relevant to you,” Shniberg said.
This story first appeared in the December 28, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The MutualArt.com concept dawned on Shniberg while he was working with new-to-the-fold collectors from the finance sector. He realized art-related information wasn’t always readily available and what was out there was difficult to sift through and tough to distinguish from art-world hype, he said. Shniberg speculated about why such a service hasn’t existed until now. “It might have been deliberate — people didn’t want all that information to be transparent,” he said.
MutualArt.com isn’t Shniberg’s first business venture in the art world. In 2003 he started the Artist Pension Trust, which offers long-term financial planning for emerging and mid-career artists. The program now operates in more than 40 countries, with more than 700 artists affiliated with eight trusts in New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Beijing, Berlin, Dubai, London and Mumbai. Last year, Bijan Khezri took over as ceo and president to free up Shniberg so he could focus more on MutualArt.com. LTB Media’s founding president Ben Crawford serves as the online company’s chief marketing officer.
After developing the Artist Pension Trust, Shniberg dropped out of Hebrew University’s business school in Israel; the school’s dean and financial expert Dan Galai joined him in establishing the venture. They recruited the Whitney’s former director David Ross and consulted with such artists as Kiki Smith, Chuck Close and John Baldessari.
But art is only one vocation. In 1998, Shniberg founded ImageID, where he invented the Image-code concept that is used in the fields of logistics and event management for everything from Grand Slam tennis championships to White House galas. A few years ago, Shniberg bought a beach in Panama, a destination considered to be increasingly popular, and he is executive producer of “Rachel,” a film in development about the Russian poet Rachel Blawstein, from the scriptwriter of “Frida.”
One might expect a 34-year-old who has raised $10 million in financial backing for MutualArt.com, which is essentially an Internet start-up, to speak excitedly, but Shniberg has a tempered cadence and a steady gaze. Perhaps due to the fact that he never studied art, he is able to look at the medium more objectively. One of the key factors in the art market, as in the financial or any other market, is information, and the more you have and the more educated you are, the better, Shniberg said.
“I don’t consider myself someone who knows a lot about art, but I know a lot about the art market. For me, those are two different things,” he said.