It is a July morning in Leighton House, Holland Park, with sunlight pouring through the high windows of the studio where Frederic Leighton conjured his classical creations. Piled on a table in the centre of the room is a sculpture by Dutch artist Bouke de Vries, formed from broken Chinese porcelain – peonies, roses and lilies spill from the cracked mouths of these antique vases. Breakfast is artfully arranged. At a table to one side, artist Eloise Fornieles paints details from Leighton’s extensive Iznik porcelain collection on postcard-sized cards, inviting assembled journalists to send them to their loved ones. This is the UK press launch of The Cultivist, the first global arts club, and this intimate, imaginative experience of art, set within a world-class museum, gives a foretaste of what it hopes to achieve.
Cultivist co-founders Marlies Verhoeven (who heads up the New York office) and London-based Daisy Peat (both pictured, left to right) worked together for six years at Sotheby’s, running the auction house’s VIP programme, Sotheby’s Preferred. There seemed to be no end, however, to the number of people wanting the service they could only offer to Sotheby’s wealthiest clients. So they raised $1.5m from angel investors, drew on their international network of artists, museum professionals and collectors, and launched The Cultivist.
For £1,900, up to 1,000 members (in the first year) will have bespoke access to the art world wherever they happen to be. With their membership card, identified by a unique portrait drawn by London-based artist Miranda Donovan, members will be able to skip the line at 100 museums and galleries worldwide, including Tate, MoMA, the Met, LACMA and the Uffizi, and gain privileged access to all key global art fairs. With 24 hours’ notice, the team will tailor an art tour in a destination of your choice, including arranging private tours at museums at no extra expense. There will be invitations to members-only events, curator-led first look exhibition viewings and artist studio visits.
Members already include artists, curators and both established collectors and those starting out. There are no qualifications for entry – the definition of a cultivist, according to Leighton House curator Daniel Robbins, being openness to art and culture in all its forms. The day I meet the team they are still enthusing over a private guided tour by artist Idris Khan, one of The Cultivist ambassadors, around the Agnes Martin show at Tate Modern. Those who are interested had better sign up fast – the list is at 400 already.
Art tours by Christie’s Travel might also tempt if you love to combine a holiday with exclusive cultural immersion, or for membership of a different kind, try the groundbreaking new wine club 67 Pall Mall.