Sebastien Montabonel, spent many years as a seasoned European Senior Specialist in Contemporary Photography at Phillips, giving him a wealth of experience collaborating with esteemed private and corporate collections. His remarkable journey includes pivotal contributions to expanding prestigious art collections worldwide. Notably, in 2011, Sebastien played a vital role in advising Tate Modern during the acquisition of the Jacobson/Hashimoto Collection, propelling it to become the most comprehensive collection of vintage modernist Japanese photographs in the West.
Building on his success, Sebastien initiated The Private Collector Project, a groundbreaking endeavor that brought influential private collections into the public sphere, in partnership with the renowned Saatchi Gallery and Phillips. He further secured the exhibition of the Juan Yarur Contemporary Art Collection in collaboration with the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Relations later that year. Presently, as the founder of Montabonel & Partners Post-War & Contemporary Art Advisory, he lends his expertise to Governments, Foundations, Private Collections, Museums, and International Companies.
Recently, Sebastien unveiled his latest creation, The Island, a digital platform forging partnerships with international museums to broaden their permanent collections and raise additional funds. The Island introduces a groundbreaking concept, commissioning on-chain artworks by traditional artists. The inaugural project features works by artist Stefan Brüggemann and aligns with Mostyn, a renowned contemporary art museum, to inaugurate their first-ever public art collection.
Let’s delve into Sebastien Montabonel’s journey, his groundbreaking platform, and his insights on the post-pandemic challenges faced by museums.
Can you describe the post-pandemic challenges that you see museums face? Would that be audience participation, funding, conservation, education, or all of the above?
In Europe, the challenges that museums are confronting with audience participation, funding, conservation, and education are closely tied to their respective countries’ cultural budgets rather than solely being attributed to the pandemic. For instance, I anticipate France and Germany to fare well, as they have recently demonstrated a commitment to bolstering their cultural budgets. France has impressively increased its culture budget by 7% and now allocates £3.86bn to culture, a record amount. Likewise, Germany has raised arts spending by 7% in response to the unprecedented crises of our time, reinforcing arts, culture, and media. In contrast, ACE (Art Council England) currently spends £446m a year in England. While English art professionals are resourceful and pragmatic, their cultural institutions may face challenges in executing and managing funding disparities.
Is the purpose of The Island to present in a digital format works of art from different collections?
The Island functions as a platform that collaborates with established traditional artists to create museum-quality on-chain art commissions. Leveraging our team’s accomplishments in the traditional art world, we aim to bridge the gap between traditional visual and conceptual artistic practices and the digital realm. The Island operates in three interconnected areas:
Collecting: We curate and commission museum-quality on-chain works from top established artists, elevating their value and visibility by placing key pieces in museum collections, exhibitions, and leading galleries.
Assisting Traditional Artists: We assist traditional artists in exploring and advancing digital and on-chain technology as an artistic medium, supporting their creative conceptual process and digital production through partnerships with leading digital production agencies.
Influencing Institutional and Traditional Art Narrative: Our goal is to help traditional art institutions embrace on-chain art to remain relevant in the digital era and engage with new audiences and generations. We aim to integrate on-chain art discussions into traditional art contexts through art publications, academic journals, conferences, talks, and panels, introducing traditional art collectors to on-chain art.
How would you describe The Island’s commission with Stefan Brüggemann to those who might not be familiar with the new digital world?
The commission features bold, impactful statements rendered in a minimalistic aesthetic. Stefan Brüggemann explores the power of language and its ability to convey complex ideas, emotions, and social commentary. By extracting final lines from iconic movies and presenting them as standalone statements juxtaposed with real-time headlines from media outlets, the artwork takes on a unique and dynamic form.
Each on-chain piece is distinct and sources new headlines three times a day using on-chain technology, often manipulating the wording through AI to mimic the artist’s editing process. These artworks dynamically incorporate headlines from prominent media outlets, creating a thought-provoking amalgamation of reality (news) and fiction (movies). The enigmatic and ambiguous selected lines encourage viewers to reflect on dominant themes and narratives present in our daily lives, prompting contemplation on the contemporary human experience.
What sparked your interest in art?
Art is a realm that transcends mere creativity—it is a platform where artists use their unique sensibilities to observe and interpret the world in ways most of us cannot. Their artistic language allows them to act, re-act, or re-enact significant moments in our lives, effectively turning their artwork into a mirror of our society. At their best, artists’ works become the memory of humankind, transforming into timeless cultural imprints. To be part of the process that initiates this transformative alchemy is an immense privilege, and it fuels my passion for the art world.
You wear many hats; how do you describe your work?
Indeed, my work encompasses various roles and titles, which can vary depending on the institutions I serve—whether it be a government, cultural institution, bank, or individual. Regardless of the context, my core responsibilities always revolve around knowledge, connection, interpretation, and creativity. The key to success lies in adapting how I transfer knowledge to suit each situation, as that can make all the difference in achieving positive outcomes.
The art world has seen significant changes since the ’70s, from the roles of women and minorities to the influence of money and power on who gets recognized and showcased. Can you discuss the practice of “instituting” and how it has evolved?
The art world’s ecosystem is perpetually evolving, and continuous re-assessment is crucial. The dynamics between money, power shifts, and trends are intricately connected in the art world. Art collections worldwide are reflective of geographical wealth distribution, and the timeline of collection-building often mirrors the economic health of regions. The data derived from art collections offers objective insights into societal progress, and the art world acts as a barometer of cultural and economic change.
Our foundation, AI21C, constantly monitors these changes and seeks to understand their implications on museums, exhibitions, markets, audience engagement, financial products, education, and artistic production. As society evolves, it is essential for art institutions to adapt and ensure inclusivity, diversity, and representation to accurately reflect the dynamics of the world we live in.
Sebastien Montabonel’s journey in the art world and his groundbreaking platform, The Island, stand as testimonies to the symbiosis between traditional and digital art. By fostering collaboration between established artists and embracing on-chain technology, Sebastien strives to propel the art world into the digital era, ensuring a vibrant and inclusive future for museums, artists, and audiences alike. As the art world continues to evolve, the insights of visionaries like Sebastien will undoubtedly play a vital role in shaping its course.