"OK, let's make this a real thing."
Gesine Borcherdt talks to Eugenio Re Rebaudengo, founder of ARTUNER
What to do, when you come from a noble family in Turin, your mother has amassed a huge art collection, and you’ve been sitting at tables with great artists ever since you were a child? Well, it's best to have your own idea. Eugenio Re Rebaudengo launched the online platform ARTUNER, becoming collector, dealer and curator all at once. How does all this work, and why does it makes sense? Eugenio Re Rebaudengo explains in this interview.
Photo: Alessandro Vasapolli
ARTUNER is a platform for curated online shows from which you can buy art works. How did this idea come about?
I wanted to create something that brings value to all the different players involved in the process: artists, collectors, gallerists, and so on. It started as a project for my Master’s degree where, at LSE (London School of Economics), I worked on a theoretical business model that would later become ARTUNER. Then after graduating I said, “OK, let's make this a real thing.” Being raised in a family of contemporary art collectors, I caught the art bug and am fortunate enough to have had my passion become my profession.
What’s the advantage of an online platform when there are already plenty of options to see art and meet people directly? Fairs, biennials, exhibitions. The failure of the VIP Art Fair showed that people still love the social part of art.
It’s difficult to generalize about the reasons why other platforms no longer exist. The VIP Art Fair experience was conditioned by many factors including the servers crashing multiple times and the fact that in any business it takes years to establish a brand. In any case, ARTUNER’s business proposition is very different. I don’t believe that a website can ever fully replace the experience of viewing art in the flesh. Indeed, ARTUNER as a platform has now hosted several physical pop-up exhibitions around Europe. What I want with ARTUNER is to enhance the traditional collecting experience by complementing it with a highly curated online offer of artworks and content.
Who do you want to address with ARTUNER? Mainly a new generation of art collectors?
We want to address different streams of collectors: those who are already collecting and have a familiarity with the artists that we work with, and novice collectors who are interested in learning more. There is definitely a high percentage of collectors under 40 – but also quite a consistent group of people over that age and still very interested in accessing great contemporary artworks.
You are switching roles between collector, curator and dealer. Is this permeability paradigmatic for the art world at present?
It’s difficult to apply labels in today’s art world. I would say yes, this variability is becoming more and more evident in every single segment of the industry, with a lot of important museum directors moving to commercial gallery positions and vice versa, and galleries themselves often organizing ambitious shows that resemble museum exhibitions. I think crossovers are good as long as the projects are high-quality and there is a real interest in supporting the artist.
How do you choose the curators and artists you work with?
The choice of the curators and artists comes from a mix of sources. Personal taste is a factor but not the only one. The artists that we propose have been chosen after extensive research internally and with a network of external curators and experts. Only when we are all convinced that the artist and his or her work follow the parameters of quality that we want to exhibit on ARTUNER is a given work presented online. For the curators, we tend to focus on a program of individuals who we are interested in working with, while fostering exposure and nurturing them along the way.
You don't limit yourself to online curated shows. In March you are going to show a combination of artists at Max Hetzler's galleries in Berlin and Paris under the title "Open Source. Art at the Eclipse of Capitalism". Can you tell me more about this project? How is this activity connected to ARTUNER?
Yes, it’s true that we are also developing different offline events and exhibitions. The Hetzler collaboration is a great opportunity to work with one of the most prestigious art galleries in Europe. For the show, which will open in the two spaces in Berlin on March 12 and in Paris on March 13 (and on March 14 there will be a panel discussion at Palais de Tokyo), we wanted to start from a strong conceptual framework based on the writing of the economist Jeremy Rifkin. We will present the works of around 30 artists from different generations, who touch on some of the social and economic aspects that the author explores in his writing. I’ve been involved in co-curating the show with Lisa Schiff, and sourcing the artworks. ARTUNER will be the digital venue where the show can be accessed and explored through an extensive variety of related content.
How do galleries and artists react to ARTUNER?
We’ve had a great deal of support from both artists and galleries. Artists see the highly curated context as an ideal form of exposure. Galleries also appreciate the academic contextualization of their artists, and the different forms of endorsement we can give them with our exhibitions. I feel that our desire to focus on quality over quantity is definitely one of the reasons that we’ve received such positive feedback. For example, cross-generational shows such as the current one, “Take Care. Ettore Sottsass and Jesse Wine”, are very appreciated by artists, galleries, and collectors.
Do all the artists you show know that they are being curated into your shows? Where do you get their works from?
Yes they do. Artists are involved in the process. They often create new works for ARTUNER.
How do you cope with sales? Do you split with artists and galleries?
Of course it depends on the artist and the agreement that we’ve forged with them.
You obviously benefit from the family contacts that put you in touch with important art people from very early on. You are also part of different advisory boards, such as Whitechapel Art Gallery or Tate Modern. Do you feel this background gives you a credibility that other people have to earn? Or is it more difficult starting a young project while coming from a famous art dynasty?
Growing up in a family of collectors, I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to many contemporary artworks. My upbringing enabled me to forge strong relationships with artists, curators, gallery owners and other collectors. Also being part of the boards you’ve mentioned helps broaden my exposure, especially in the non-profit context. I feel like my background helps and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had. It is definitely an advantage, but it is also just a starting-point, and I’m aware of the responsibilities that come with it.