The company helping collectors to navigate the art world and ‘to give back in meaningful ways’

How the founders of CURA Art, Georgia Powell and Liza Shapiro, act as advisors and go-betweens for institutions, artists and private collectors at a time when philanthropy and socially conscious patronage are more important than ever

CURA Art founders Georgia Powell (left) and Liza Shapiro in the library at Oakley Court in Berkshire, England

CURA Art founders Georgia Powell (left) and Liza Shapiro in the library at Oakley Court in Berkshire, England. Photo: © Jayne West Photography

‘The art world can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate,’ says Georgia Powell. ‘But with guidance, collecting can be an incredibly fulfilling experience that turns passion and interest into a joyful and rewarding journey.’ She and Liza Shapiro founded CURA Art in 2019 with the principal goal of supporting art owners with everything from collection care and management to patronage and philanthropy.

The pair identified a need for what they term ‘collector support’ around 10 years ago, when they worked together at The Redfern Gallery in London. ‘When people came into the gallery, they would always ask us the same types of post-sale questions,’ explains Powell. ‘Where can I get this framed? Where can I get this restored? How can I catalogue my collection?’

And so CURA Art was born. Powell is now based in London, Shapiro in Los Angeles. Through their international network of specialists, they care for and manage collections around the world, helping galleries, museums and private collectors to preserve works of art and promote the artists that make them.

‘Contemporary patronage is much less about elevating your personal status and more about building relationships with artists and supporting their practice’ — Liza Shapiro

Collecting is far more than the mere transaction of acquiring art, they say. ‘It can be personally inspiring, uplifting and educational, but it can also have a positive and long-term impact for culture and society.’

For this reason, helping collectors to harness their potential both as responsible custodians of artistic and cultural heritage, and as supporters of artists, is central to CURA Art’s work.

‘The private collector has a fundamental role in the art ecosystem,’ says Powell. ‘Philanthropy and patronage are vital to the arts, especially with recent cuts in public funding.’

Talk turns to the Indian-born collector and philanthropist Aarti Lohia, who heads up the SP Lohia Foundation. The foundation is the leading philanthropic supporter of modern and contemporary art programming at the National Gallery in London — a role that has traditionally been the preserve of large corporations. Lohia is also committed to the digitisation of South Asian art archives.

‘I think it’s incredible that she’s focusing on archiving and digitisation, an area that gets little philanthropic attention, and spearheading a cross-cultural programme that wouldn’t be anything like as prominent if she was not involved,’ says Shapiro.

The collection of a CURA Art, London, with works by Aaron Wolmark and Keith Vaughan

The private collection of a CURA Art client in London showing Nudes in a Red Light (Adam and Eve), circa 1913, by Alfred Aaron Wolmark and a partial view of Bird-Man, 1972, by Keith Vaughan. Photo: courtesy of CURA Art. Artworks: © Estate of Alfred Aaron Wolmark. All rights reserved, DACS 2023. © The Estate of Keith Vaughan. All rights reserved, DACS 2023

Lohia’s initiatives are representative of a new, socially conscious era, say Powell and Shapiro, in which patrons understand the value of their resources and how they can help fill institutional gaps.

‘Artistic patronage has a long history, but there appears to be much less ego attached to it now,’ notes Shapiro. ‘Contemporary patronage is much less about elevating your personal status and more about building relationships with artists, supporting their practice and raising awareness around under-represented groups.’

‘We’ve definitely seen a rise in collectors wanting to give back in long-term and meaningful ways,’ adds Powell. ‘Sometimes they just don’t know how to realise their ideas, which is where we come in.’

Shapiro and Powell installing I was born to love not to hate (8), 2018, by Los Angeles-based artist Alexandra Grant

Shapiro and Powell installing I was born to love not to hate (8), 2018, by Los Angeles-based artist Alexandra Grant. The work is now in a private London collection. Photo: © Jessie Webster Photography

In addition to providing services such as cataloguing, framing, conservation and storage logistics, CURA Art has helped organise tours, talks and courses that highlight the role of the private collector today — among them the recent 21st Century Collecting course with Christie’s Education. The company also works with collectors on museum loans and donations, as well as educational and philanthropic initiatives that offer access to their clients’ works.

They cite VN XX CAS as the kind of project they would like to emulate. A joint initiative between the philanthropist and collector Valeria Napoleone (a CURA Art client) and the Contemporary Art Society, it funds the acquisition of one significant work by a living female artist for a regional British museum each year. ‘As one of the first collectors to commit to promoting women artists, Valeria has always been a great supporter of under-represented artists and an advocate for change,’ says Powell. ‘It’s inspiring that she’s providing help where it’s most needed.’

2022 She CURAtes The Residency artists Soumya Netrabile and Precious Opara at Villa Lena, Tuscany

Artists Soumya Netrabile and Precious Opara at Villa Lena, Tuscany, for the month-long programme She CURAtes The Residency, 2022. Photo: Eugenia Pavlenko. © She CURAtes The Residency

Another is She CURAtes The Residency at Villa Lena in Tuscany, Italy. The residency was established in 2020 by Powell, Shapiro and Mollie E. Barnes — founder of She Curates, a platform championing equality in the arts — in response to a growing international demand for accessible residency programmes.

The month-long summer programme is currently open only to women and non-binary artists, in a bid to address gender imbalance in the art world. Last year’s residents were the London-based artist Precious Opara, championed by Barnes, and the Bangalore-born painter Soumya Netrabile, supported by CURA Art.

‘Supporting artists is obviously a huge part of it,’ says Powell, ‘but it’s also about encouraging a dialogue about the importance of patronage and what a patron’s very direct support for an artist can do.’

The 2023 summer residency sees the art historian Ferren Gipson supporting Hilda Kortei, Ghana-based collector Nish McCree supporting Remi Ajani, and entrepreneur Stephanie Manasseh supporting Alejandra Aristizabal. Each artist is funded by just one patron. As Shapiro explains, ‘We deliberately pick patrons who might add something new to the artist’s practice. We’re asking more of the patron than just financial support. We’re asking them to be mentors.’

The response to the initiative has been extremely positive. ‘Previous patrons have said that this is the fulfilling kind of collecting they want to be involved in,’ says Powell. ‘The two parties often develop deep connections that last long beyond the residency.’

Soumya Netrabile, a participant in She CURAtes The Residency in 2022

Soumya Netrabile, a participant in She CURAtes The Residency in 2022. Photo: Eugenia Pavlenko. © She CURAtes The Residency

Is there a correlation between the rise of social media and the growing interest in connecting personally with artists? ‘Absolutely,’ says Powell. ‘The internet and Instagram offer direct access to artists and art-world professionals, opening up the conversation like never before.’

Social media has also brought new art buyers. Thanks in part to the pandemic lockdowns, next-generation collectors are increasingly comfortable discovering, buying and selling art online. ‘When we were all stuck at home, many people focused their attention on finding creatives who could bring us joy,’ says Powell. ‘Scrolling through Instagram was such an easy and accessible way of doing that.’

Whether their clients are new or established art buyers, private individuals or public institutions, Powell and Shapiro encourage them to collect responsibly from the outset. ‘You’re not only adding value to your collection by documenting it and promoting it, you’re also ensuring a legacy for it,’ says Shapiro. ‘With care, a work of art or collection can live on long after we’re gone.’

Powell, Shapiro and Mollie E. Barnes in the London studio of artist Hormazd Narielwalla

She CURAtes The Residency founders Powell, Shapiro and Mollie E. Barnes in the London studio of artist Hormazd Narielwalla. Photo: © Jayne West Photography

Is ensuring the longevity of collections what they find most rewarding? ‘Yes, but I also love the relationship that is created with a collector,’ says Powell. ‘And the relationship with the artist that ensues.’

‘It’s very fulfilling working with people who are extremely passionate about what they do,’ says Shapiro. ‘It’s so uplifting when you witness a collector finding a new artist or doing something that gives back.’

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An additional reward is the potential for new discoveries. While researching a client’s collection recently, Powell realised that a work attributed to one artist was in fact a highly important commission by another. ‘I’m continually learning, and the collections we work on are continually yielding new information,’ she says. ‘What could be more rewarding than that?’

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