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According to faculty Roxanna Zarnegar, if you are trying to disrupt something, change something, or build something new, the art world is the ultimate place to be an entrepreneur. As part of our lecture series this past summer, Roxanna unveiled who she considers to be the top nine entrepreneurs of the art world today.


#1 Sarah Thornton

The first on Zarnegar’s list, Thornton dissects culture with an entrepreneurial eye. Formerly the chief correspondent on contemporary art for The Economist, Thornton has written for many other publications, including Artforum, The Guardian, and The New Yorker, and has contributed to broadcasts at the BBC, NPR, and ZDF. Her book, Seven Days in the Art World (2008) reveals the inner workings of the institutions that contribute to an artist’s place in art history. Named one of the best art books of the year by The New York Times, the book is an international hit, currently available in twenty languages.

yan-walther#2 Yan Walther

Walther was the CEO of Fine Art Expert Institute, one of the first labs to use forensic science on artwork for authentication, inspection, condition assessment, and more. The information is collated digitally, which marks a sea change from the historically written condition notes. Per Zarnegar, “Walther created a new gold standard for conditioning, catalog raisonnes, all the things we usually looked in books for.” Fine Art Expert Institute was since acquired by SGS Art Services, and Walther is now serving as Global Manager of SGS Art Services.

harry-blaine415#3 Harry Blain

Now the director of the Blain Southern Gallery, Blain was in finance until friends convinced him to come to art world. He founded, an online platform that enables its users to find and buy art -- yet only art that is in a digital format. Not only is the digital medium on the vanguard of fine art practice, the platform’s transactions are absolutely transparent -- something that the opaque art world rarely, if never before, has seen.

Zarnegar calls the site "highly addictive." Instead of hanging a painting on the wall, you can browse your digital vault and decide which piece to display at any given time. Major artists, such as Tracy Emin, Yoko Ono, and Damien Hirst, are creating art in this platform. “Are artists bored of painting?” Zarnegar asks. “This gives them an opportunity to explore new types of creativity.” Collectors can also explore the emerging discipline through analyzing market trends. They are able to understand the value of their digital holdings at any given time based on the market shifts of others trading works on the platform.

syed-mohammad-albukhary#4 Syed Mohammad AlBukhary

AlBukhary founded Islamic Art Museum Malaysia (IAMM) in 1998 and is the director today. Dedicated to Islamic past, the IAMM is consistently listed as one of top museums of world. In true entrepreneurial spirit, AlBukhary didn’t hire consultants or specialists, but undertook a two year journey to see museums and learned everything he could about - from the front of house to the backstage inner workings. IAMM has its own restoration lab, and AlBhkhary unveils the usually hidden processes of museums by ensuring visitors can see antiquities being worked on, foregrounding transparency.

florian-ortkrass-hannes-koch#5 & #6 Florian Ortkrass & Hannes Koch

Best known for creating “Rain Room”, Ortkrass and Koch have an engineering background and lean toward the conceptual. As they said, “ideas were always more interesting to give to people outside of a commercial context, so they don’t have any preconception of what to think. And that’s kind of how the arts fit with how we both work.” They signed on when the lifestyle retail chain Restoration Hardware opened a contemporary gallery in Chelsea in New York City (it has since closed), taking their gallery backgrounds and placing their artworks in an unusual venue for the ivory towered art world. Now, Ortkrass and Koch are omnipresent at Art Basel and other major art fairs with their experiential and experimental work, often based in robotics.

arcis-02#7, #8, & #9 Tom Sapienza, Kevin Lay, Walter Biggs

Sapienza, Lay, and Biggs, the three directors of ARCIS, are building the first foreign trade zone for fine art in Manhattan. In addition to the rare designation they secured through US Customs, ARCIS will be the first sustainable and eco-friendly fine art storage facility. As a foreign trade zone, ARCIS is a property designated as outside of the United States and an extension of U.S. Customs - a system known in other areas as a ‘freeport’. Such facilities help the movement of art stay liquid before they officially cross borders with accompanying tariffs and taxes. As Zarnegar says, “ARCIS has broken a barrier that has never been done before.”

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