November 25th, 2008

This Halloween I got a sweet treat in my InBox: One of the galleries whose mailing list I’m on sent me the following:

Mutual Art

Complimentary Subscription

We are delighted to offer you complimentary membership to MutualArt,a new personalized, subscription-based art information service that we have found very useful. Recently featured in The Art Newspaper, Flash Art, Forbes, Crain’s, and other publications, MutualArt has over 60,000 members, with more joining everyday.To learn more about MutualArt and to accept our gift of a freemembership, please go to:, click on “Access Code” and enter: xxxxxx

“Free” you say? ūüôā I’m in! I’ve been logging into MutualArt daily for almost a month now. Like many of the best things in life, eg. the poetry of e.e. cummings, Italian opera, and my kids, I love it, but I don’t completely understand it. What is MutualArt anyway? According to their About Us page: has a completely new approach to art on the web. Members can track categories of art – even individual artists – and receive new information on these from thousands of sources. They also receive advance notification of art events in the categories they choose – from exhibitions and lectures to opening parties and galas, to auctions offering works by their preferred artists. includes the world’s largest online archive of over 150,000 art related articles from over 250 quality magazines, newspapers and journals, as well as providing a conduit for galleries, museums, auction houses, art fairs and publishers to reach their target audiences over a single, global platform.

Let me get my confusion and caveats out of the way before I get to why I’ve been logging in daily. Basically, I understand what they do, but I don’t understand how or why they do it, ie. what is their business model and who is their audience? I got a free subscription, but how free is it? I can’t seem to keep from looking a gift horse in the mouth, so I asked them:

Q: How long is the free trial?

A: A trial membership to the Beta version of is free of charge. A trial membership will currently last several months. After the trial membership expires, you will have the option to continue your membership for an annual fee of $300. Unless you elect to continue your trial membership you will never be charged for using any function on the site.

I had assumed that their model was to rely on advertising revenue, with perhaps a nominal fee for a premium service. Nope. $300/year. They claim to target art enthusiasts, collectors and professionals, but what’s really peculiar is that their terms of service state, “The MutualArt Services are for the personal use of Members and Authorized Members only and may not be used in connection with any commercial endeavors.” This makes no sense, unless I’d see¬†different terms of service after I forked out the $300.¬†Are they making this up as they go along? To be fair, the site just went online this year, and they do have¬†an itty-bitty “BETA” superscripted above their logo.

So, what keeps me logging daily? When I first registered I had the opportunity state my preferences for Artists, Venues, Publications, Media, Events, News, Art Categories, and “Other” (my preferred location). I’m looking for representation in San Francisco for my photography, so I specified News, Press Releases, and Features on Photography Exhibitions in SF. I also entered the names of a few of my favorite photographers–Weston, Arbus, and Lux–to keep track of their exhibits regardless of geography.

Now when I log in I’m presented with event recommendations and news which are based on my preferences. It also provides “featured” news and events and a “Venue Discovery” pane which¬†are¬†not necessarily geared specifically to me, but I have found to be interesting nonetheless, and keep me from getting too myopic. The layout is a bit wide to reproduce here in its entirety, but below is the page that greeted me today, minus the Venue Discovery pane at the bottom and the right-hand headlines and top news/events:

Is that beautiful, or what? The red checkmarks indicate that the item specifically matches my preferences. (Note that this time even the featured news and events happened to match my preferences.) I’m hooked, and that worries me, because I don’t know when my free subscription that lasts “for several months” will be pulled, leaving me writhing in DTs and jonesing for a fix of art news.

Want a taste? As a member I¬†can invite five people to try out the service. I was going to proactively send the invitation to a few artist friends,¬†but I really don’t know what the invitation entails. So I asked them:

Q: What happens when I “invite a friend”? Does this give them a special privilege, or just the regular free trial?

A: If you decide to use the invite a friend feature, which we are excited for you to do, it will allow them to use the site free of charge for several months.

Hmmm…. that really didn’t answer my question, did it? So I’ll tell you what: I’ll send the invitation to the first five people who post a reply and ask for one (and send me their e-mail address). Otherwise you can check out the site¬†yourself at¬†Just don’t hold it against me if they suck you in then leave you craving more. OK? See you in rehab.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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4 responses to “MutualArt”

  1. Bella says:

    Hi Michael,

    Great post!
    I’m also a member of (I was invited by my favorite museum) and I love the service.
    I receive the recommendations and it works great… I get information according to my personal interests.
    Thanks for your generosity…

  2. Watson says:

    Thanks for the info on This is very ironic. I have been looking for something exactly like this! Your on top of it! Good post.

    Also, congrats on the upcoming show at Autobody Fine Art! Looking forward to hearing more about the show.

  3. […] week one of MutualArt’s featured news and events was “Babydisco.”¬†The summary of the video read as […]

  4. […] and Michael Wolf’s “The Transparent City” at Robert Koch Gallery. According to my MutualArt calendar the shows were about to end. In fact they weren’t, and with most of the galleries in […]

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