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  • Writer's pictureMonica

Building the Next Generation of Digital Infrastructure for the Art World: Arcual CEO, Bernadine Bröcker Wieder

Updated: Mar 22


Hi Bernadine and welcome! We’d love to hear the story about your career in the art world and how you ended up where you are today.


Thank you! Sure, I don't think a lot of people know this, but I actually went to art school! I trained as a classical fine artist in a traditional way, where my first semester we were only using black and white, gradually incorporating complementary colours. This art school is called Altos de Chavon in the Dominican Republic, where I grew up. That beautiful experience laid the foundation for my career in the arts.



Bernadine Bröcker Wieder, CEO of Arcual infront of art
Arcual CEO, Bernadine Bröcker Wieder. Photo by Jolly Thompson



How did your journey progress from there translate into your career in the arts?


After art school, I moved to New York and attended Parsons. I began working as an agent for illustrators, primarily in the fashion industry, selling artists' illustrations to magazines. In this relatively “trendy” space, many people I worked with thought I was old-fashioned, and at some point, I decided to lean into this reputation and did further education at Christie's. Specifically focusing on art from the 1400s to 1950 - and it was inspiring to work in an auction house, value work - and be able to look at a silver spoon and see which year it was from.


This led me to work in an Impressionist and Modern gallery, where I had the opportunity to handle high-value artworks ranging from modern British artists to Impressionists like Monet and Modernists like Picasso. While in this job, I noticed a demand from museums looking for loans. As a gallery, this was not something we did - but the collectors and individuals who owned art were more interested in this, which sparked the idea for my own venture. In 2012, I founded a company that acted as a matchmaking platform, connecting museums with collectors willing to lend artworks for exhibitions. This concept stemmed from the realisation that many collectors were eager to share their collections but lacked a platform to do so.


Could you elaborate on the motivations behind collectors lending their artworks to museums? Do they get paid?


This is an interesting question - why would you want your piece to leave your dining room and go to a museum? There are several reasons: it’s not a quick money maker, but the financial consideration is that the more a work is shown to have art or historical relevance, the more value it gains over time. Thus, collectors often lend their pieces to museums for validation and exposure. In addition, seeing their artworks displayed alongside others from the same period or through the eyes of a curator is something many collectors enjoy. Additionally, lending allows collectors to share their collections and artwork (that might even be in storage) with a wider audience, contributing to cultural enrichment.


How did your venture evolve over time?


Although we initially focused on individual artworks, our platform expanded to facilitate the touring of entire exhibitions. By 2019, we were overseeing nearly $2 billion worth of art loans to museums worldwide. We had about 10,000 museums logging into our website, and we were ramping up to do many other things… However, the onset of COVID-19 disrupted our business, as it did the whole industry, leading us to pivot towards advising museums on NFT projects. Eventually, in 2022, I transitioned to my current role as CEO at Arcual.


As CEO, what are your responsibilities, and how does the company's structure differ from traditional startups?


Arcual operates more as a corporate innovation project, with a focus on decentralised governance. It was launched with the backing and expertise of the LUMA Foundation, MCH Group (the parent company of Art Basel), and BCG X in 2022.  While we have a unique company culture, influenced by our values and diverse team spread across Zurich, London, and Berlin. My role involves a lot of stakeholder management, given our diverse set of shareholders and stakeholders, who all have different needs.


In addition, we had to shift from a team that was built by consultants and, in a sense, create a “new” company culture. Through strategic workforce planning, we crafted a set of core competencies that underpin our organisational ethos and also nurture our expertise within the industry. The 5 Core Competencies include: Visible Impact, Effective Collaboration, Ceaseless Innovation, Commercial Awareness, and Strategic and Financial Mindset. You can find out more on the Arcual Blog.  


Aruceal team of employees at art event art basel
Arcual team members during Art Basel, Basel, 2023


If you have to explain to a six-year-old or a grandma on the train, what is Arcual like? What would be your pitch sentence to a regular person?


We just had a “Future Day” at work where one of our engineers' brought his twin daughters who are 12, so I’ve practised this before! Here’s my pitch:

Imagine when you buy something from a store and you get a little paper receipt that shows you paid for it - we are like that, in digital and specifically for art. Basically, Arcual is a digital receipt for an artwork purchase, that verifies everyone got paid and the artist approves of the purchase, whether you bought it at a gallery, an art fair, or in the studio.


What have the first reactions from galleries been like?


The initial response from galleries has been quite encouraging. There's a common feeling within the industry that change is needed, and there's excitement about the possibilities that digital innovations bring. However, there's also a degree of apprehension, as with any new technology. We're disrupting the established business habits in the art industry, which can be unsettling for some. 


For example, our system can ensure that the artist receives payment immediately, rather than the gallery holding onto funds. This represents a significant shift from traditional practices, where galleries may have been accustomed to using those funds before paying the artist. Despite initial concerns, once galleries grasp the benefits of this approach—such as streamlined transactions, enhanced security, and improved trust between all parties, but even a decrease in tax admin and better overall company financial health —they begin to see the value and potential positive impact on their operations.


And in terms of your organisational set up - who is responsible for managing the relationship with galleries?


Within Arcual, we have a dedicated team within our Business Development function, who are responsible for gallery outreach, known as the Client Experience Team (CX). The CX Managers serve as the bridge between our customers and the Product team, ensuring that customer feedback and requests are effectively communicated to the product development process. This close relationship between CX, product managers, and designers ensures that we maintain strong connections with our customers and address their needs efficiently.

Initially, our outreach strategy involved reaching out to galleries individually, engaging in direct communication and relationship-building efforts. However, as our operations evolved, we have also expanded our outreach efforts to include art fair partnerships. This approach allows us to reach galleries more efficiently and effectively, leveraging the broader audience and networking opportunities provided by these events. By adapting our outreach strategies over time, we aim to establish and strengthen connections with galleries while efficiently meeting their needs and fostering mutually beneficial relationships.


And is this something MCH Group/Art Basel can support?


Absolutely. Having multiple stakeholders offers valuable support in streamlining operations. For instance, we collaborated with Art Basel on a project during Art Basel, Miami Beach. Unlike our usual focus on artists' immediate payouts, this initiative was geared towards providing immediate support to charities. Through a product called "Access by Art Basel", powered by Arcual, a portion of the proceeds from artwork purchases automatically went to a designated charity in Miami. Access by Art Basel raised over $100,000 in charitable donations to The Miami Foundation and The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This demonstration showcased the effectiveness of our immediate payout model. Typically, when a gallery sells an artwork with a charitable component, funds are transferred to the gallery first, adding administrative steps. With our system, the charitable contribution is seamlessly integrated into the transaction, benefiting all parties involved without additional administrative burdens.



Arcual CEO Bernadine Bröcker Wieder and artist Phoebe Cummings, Art Basel, 2023
Arcual CEO Bernadine Bröcker Wieder and artist Phoebe Cummings, Art Basel, 2023

As you navigate the intersection of art and technology, what advice do you have for aspiring art entrepreneurs?


First off: simplify your offering as much as you can, so it’s easy for people to understand. Secondly, keep in mind the slower pace of progress in the art world compared to Silicon Valley; it's a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll need to be able to think long-term and be conscious of your spending. Finally, prioritise building trust and nurturing relationships, as they are fundamental in the art industry and take time to develop.


What advice would you have for those starting a new gallery and being able to compete with the more established galleries?


For those seeking to establish new galleries today, it's crucial to understand the evolving art market and position yourself in a smart and authentic way. There is also a new type of art buyer evolving, and newer galleries might be able to cater to this group quicker than an already-established gallery.


Digital Presence: Building a strong online presence is essential for reaching wider audiences. However, it's not just about being online; it's about standing out with a unique identity, approach and new ways to tell stories.


Authenticity and Storytelling: Centering your gallery's mission around a genuine love for art and its stories is crucial. Effective storytelling helps connect audiences with the deeper meaning behind artworks, distinguishing your gallery from others focused solely on trends.


Long-Term Vision: Prioritise art with enduring significance over short-term aesthetic appeal. This approach ensures that your gallery's offerings resonate across generations, fostering lasting impact.


Constructive Feedback: Surround yourself with honest advisors who can provide valuable insights and feedback. This helps refine your gallery's vision and adapt to changing market dynamics.



Woman in red skirt walking past colorful art at Art Basel
Guest and work by Michel Pérez Pollo in the Mai 36 booth @ Art Basel, Basel, 2023. Image courtesy the artist, Mai 36 Gallery, and Arcual


And what would your advice for art museums be to future proof themselves?


Even more than in other industries, due to the pandemic, museums faced a major “brain drain” as they had to focus on cutting costs and operations. However, even in underfunded sectors, it’s important to maintain a skilled workforce capable of addressing evolving needs - and taking time out of daily operations to think about a museum's future. This includes people who can blend the physical and the digital, crafting immersive digital experiences, and enhancing online engagement. Also, looking at future-proofing cultural institutions in terms of our technological tools like museum websites, databases, and infrastructures. By leveraging the expertise of such individuals, museums can effectively balance tradition with innovation, ensuring their relevance in an ever-changing landscape.


And for the readers, who are three art startup companies you look up to?


Art Money: This is a startup providing innovative solutions for art buyers by offering instalment payment options, allowing individuals to purchase art and pay for it over time. Art Money's approach to flexible payment terms addresses a common barrier to art acquisition, making art more accessible to a broader audience. They have a great team too, which is also why I have a soft spot for them.


Arternal: Developed by Sean Green, Arternal offers gallery operation software designed to streamline gallery management processes. With a forward-thinking approach, Arternal aims to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in gallery operations, catering to the evolving needs of the art industry.


Smartify: is a “culture in your pocket app” to use while you travel. What I like about them is that they’re a community interest company, they reinvest their profits back into the community, fostering trust and credibility, particularly with museums. Led by founder Anna Lowe, who also serves on the board of Tate, Smartify embodies innovation and social responsibility. Their utilisation of augmented reality (AR) in creating interactive audio guides showcases their dedication to reimagining traditional museum experiences.


Thank you for sharing your insights, Bernadine. Before we conclude we’d like to close with a We’re not really strangers question: What is something you changed your mind about recently?


I've had a recent change of heart about gardening, surprisingly! Initially, I never saw myself enjoying it and thought it would be more of a hassle than anything else. But now, I find myself spending most weekends in my garden, tending to the plants and nurturing their growth. It's become a newfound passion of mine. What's particularly fascinating is how despite the seasons, there are blooms all year round. Currently, my lawn is covered with vibrant purple crocuses, creating a stunning display across the grass.

I am not sure gardening is what the readers came here for but I guess I could tie it back to my role as CEO and the fact that I get joy out of planting seeds, cultivating ideas, and seeing them come to life!


Learn more about Bernadine and Arcual by staying up to date here.


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Our mission at Art Museums of the World is to reshape the art of communicating art and share stories from in and around the art world. We talk to creatives, curators and collector’s about their work and help creative institutions attract and retain future audiences. If you have a story that you think is worth sharing message us here.



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