Does this woman have the world’s coolest job?
She jets around the world hosting A-list parties, skips the line at more than 100 museums around the globe and has major contemporary artists on speed-dial. Who is she? Marlies Verhoeven, CEO and co-founder of private art club, The Cultivist.
Photo by Bruce Damonte, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Don’t get us wrong: we love our job. But if there was one gig that us Jetsetters would kill to have, it’s Marlies Verhoeven’s. As the CEO and co-founder of The Cultivist, the world’s first members-only arts club, the Belgium-born art doyenne, who currently lives in New York’s West Village, travels the globe hosting the world’s hottest art events. Fancy a cocktail party in Paris’ Palais de Tokyo Arts Club? Or a private dinner in a Brooklyn artist’s studio? Or perhaps an after-hours tour of the Picasso sculpture exihibit at MoMa? Verhoeven has done all that and more. Siobhan Reid sat down with the ex-Sotheby’s staffer to talk shop, travel essentials, and the summer art events she’s most excited for.
So why a career in art?
"I grew up in Belgium as the only girl in a family of four boys, and my mom would take me on weekend trips to museums around Europe. Because of those experiences, I developed an interest in art from a very young age."
How did you come up with the idea for The Cultivist?
"I met my co-founder, Daisy, while working at Sotheby’s in London. Over my 6-year run there, we learned the importance of delivering impeccable service to a very elite, well-traveled clientele. But along the way, we started to realize there was a growing interest in art events from customers who weren’t necessarily Sotheby’s clients. We’d get daily phone-calls from them asking how they could go to so-and-so opening or talk. And that’s where the idea for The Cultivist came from."
I’ve read that big-name artists like Marina Abramović and Richard Phillips are both Cultivist members. So, what kind of access would I—as just a regular New Yorker—have if I joined?
"When you get accepted, you’re given a card that allows you to skip the line at more than 100 museums around the world like the Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art. You’re also given access to hundreds of Cultivist events and fairs such as Art Basel and FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain). And if you want to meet artists, experts or curators, we make introductions."
So it sounds like you’re on the road pretty often. How has travel enhanced your appreciation for art?
"I travel at least once every month for work, and every time I go somewhere, I rediscover art in a way that is very powerful and personal. When I saw Ugo Rondinone’s exhibit in Holland, for example, it reminded me of how much I love his work. Or two days ago, when we had a Cultivist dinner at Mexican artist Bosco Sodi’s huge studio in Brooklyn. He was speaking to the group about what art means to him, and he said that he would always create things even if it involved paying for the privilege because he doesn’t know any other way. That kind of passion transforms you."
Besides hobnobbing with some of the biggest names in the art world, what else do you and your team do on business trips?
"We go to art fairs, meet with artists, and explore new things to see and do, because we’ve got to keep up to speed on the most interesting and exciting experiences in any given city."
And what new things should we be excited about this summer?
There are a couple exhibits I’m really looking forward to, the first being Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s ‘Seven Magic Mountains‘ installation in the Nevada desert. Ugo has created these massive multicolored sculptures that tower over the landscape. If it’s anything like his previous work, I expect it to be an incredibly spiritual experience. Anyone traveling in that direction, should definitely swing by—and make sure to snap a selfie!
There are also two major museum openings taking place right before summer. Next month, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is reopening to the public, and will become the largest modern art museum in the US. The building is spectacular. And on the other side of the world the Tate Modern is opening a new wing. It’s the first time in years that the UK government has given funding to a project like this, so it’s bound to be pretty amazing. A Georgia O’Keefe retrospective will be on view in the wing after the opening.
Madrid’s Museo Del Prado is getting prepared to host the Hieronymus Bosch exhibit. The Netherlands’ Noordbrabants Museum was fortunate to feature some of Bosch’s panels earlier this year, and the exhibit was so popular that tickets sold out. So if that’s any indication of how incredible the Prado’s exhibit will be, I’d recommend getting tickets ASAP.
It sounds like you have quite the summer ahead of you! Now to back up a bit, have there been any places that you visited this past year that surprised you?
I’d been to Mexico for 6 weeks on an exchange program when I was younger, but for the most part, I felt like I had been there, done that. So when it came to going for work, to see the Zona Maco Contemporary Art Fair in Mexico City, I wasn’t super enthusiastic. But I was blown away by the art, the talent and the general good vibes, and I can’t wait to go back this year"
And what were your go-to travel essentials for the trip?
"My Cultivist museum card, of course, two back-up phone-chargers and these gorgeous, lightweight silk pajamas from Piamita that are so beautiful, I could wear them out to dinner. I’d also never travel without this one little suitcase I’ve had for forever—I don’t even know the brand, but I bring it with me everywhere. Every airline has different rules about the size of your luggage, but this carry-on fits a ton of stuff and has never caused problems."
I’ll have to check out those pajamas! Where will you bring them next?
To Marfa! I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never been, but I’m finally making the trip this year. I can’t wait."