The galleries of New York’s Museum of Modern Art were closed for the evening in October when I gently ran my hand up the bronze spine of Pablo Picasso’s She-Goat. I moved my palm from tail to neck, feeling her wide back and the delicate ribs protruding from her swollen belly. I wrapped my hand around her gnarled horns and marvelled at her ears, which felt as thin as autumn leaves. Then, after a surreptitious glance over my shoulder, I slipped my hand into her open snout to feel the rippled roof of her mouth and smooth insides of her cheeks.
The artwork is a highlight of the museum’s Picasso Sculpture retrospective, which has drawn throngs of visitors. But my after-hours tour of the show—and my close encounter with She-Goat — took place without the usual crowds. Instead, I admired the sculpture alongside a dozen members of The Cultivist, a new arts club that offers exclusive access to museums, galleries, fairs, and artists around the world. The club’s private tour that night offered a rare opportunity to view—and, even rarer, touch—the sculptures in solitude.
Access is indeed a key component of The Cultivist, whose services include VIP admission to more than 100 museums worldwide. But the club is much more than a means of first-in-line entrée to top institutions. Launched in June by Marlies Verhoeven and Daisy Peat—whose collective art-world experience includes the creation of Sotheby’s VIP Preferred Programme — The Cultivist provides comprehensive concierge services for art aficionados.
“We built the Sotheby’s VIP program into what it is today," says Verhoeven, who, along with Peat, left the auction house in 2013. “Now we want to take those kinds of services even further." Presently, the perks of a Cultivist membership are many, including early access to more than 40 international art fairs and exclusive connections with galleries around the world. Members-only events range from private previews of such high-profile exhibitions as Goya: The Portraits at London’s National Gallery to hosted dinners at the studios of such major emerging artists as Daniel Arsham. “People are first drawn to join for the museum access," Verhoeven says. “But they stay for the concierge elements and the private events."
In its first five months, The Cultivist welcomed roughly 350 charter members, among them fashion designer Valentino Garavani and photographer Cindy Sherman. Membership is exclusive, with a thorough application process and a firmly established cap on the number of members accepted per year. “We want to make sure that people are here for the art," Verhoeven says, “not networking." Annual dues of US$2,500 per person give members access to all of the club’s services and events—including intimate nights at the museum when breaking the rules is entirely encouraged.