New York City has no shortage of institutional groups and advisory firms aimed at upwardly mobile young adults looking to navigate the often oblique and guarded world of contemporary art. Young Collectors League, a new entry into this space founded by former gallerists Lauren Licata and Anička Vrána, promises to offer access and more, all for a yearly fee.
The group’s headquarters is in a Greenwich Village building that provided affordable boarding for working men at the turn of the 20th century and later, from the 1950s on, hosted a variety of performers at the storied Village Gate nightclub in the basement, among them John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, and the Velvet Underground. Currently, it is a luxury co-op complex where rent on a studio apartment is listed online at just shy of $3,000 a month. Though neither Licata nor Vrána lives in the space, which they acquired a little over a month ago, they use their part of it for storage, parties, and a place to show art in a less formal than normal setting. “We have a lot of members ask, ‘But how do I live with that?’” Vrána said of collectors who wonder what art might look like outside of a gallery. “So it spurred us to get something that felt like a home.” (“Like, literally,” Licata added, “[this is] what it looks like over the couch.”)
Young Collectors League hinges on a two-tier yearly membership program, with a $1650 fee gaining access to the Gold level and $2500 moving up to Platinum. Both offer personalized art advising and access to group events and travel opportunities, such as a recently chartered trip to the Material art fair in Mexico City and a journey to Art Basel Miami Beach. The higher level includes day trips (to Jack Shaman’s space known as the School in upstate Kinderhook, New York, for example), plus offsite dinners and performances. There are also meet-ups at the group’s Greenwich Village headquarters, which have so far included a dinner and tea service featuring the Iranian-American artist Sheida Soleimani and an event called “Dealer’s Choice” that aimed to offer introductions between members and gallerists. (The organization often takes a commission if they broker a sale between a gallery and a collector.)
Licata and Vrána met while attending graduate school at San Francisco Art Institute, which led to friendship and eventually the formation of the gallery R/SF Projects, which they ran with Kaitlin Trataris from 2016 to 2018. After a move to New York, the pair started a pop-up endeavor in a storefront on the Lower East Side in 2018: Vacation, for which saw Licata and Vrána rented space to 10 galleries for one month each. It was through Vacation that, according to Licata, the duo began “accidentally advising young people” about art. “It’s not something that we ever intended to do,” she said. “But we were rotating so much there that it became this amazing way to show young people a lot of art all at the same time.”
As they progressed, the duo started taking collectors on studio visits and arranging for them to have drinks with artists. Using their VIP passes, they staged informal tours of art fairs. “We would just go through like 10 times a day—it was great,” Vrána said. Starting with a few dozen people and growing organically through social media, the group formalized and officially turned into Young Collectors League last July. They currently have around 60 members, mostly in their 20s and 30s, whose day jobs run the gamut from finance and law to tech, design, and fashion. The group has targeted a certain kind of early-stage collector–one who, in Licata’s words, has “already started purchasing artwork, or someone who really genuinely sees an acquisition happening in the next 365 days.”
Since YCL’s formation, Licata and Vrána have kept their members busy. Working primarily with emerging and mid-tier galleries, they have been throwing around four member events a month, ranging from intimate dinners at partner galleries (including Mrs. gallery in Queens and Jack Barrett on the Lower East Side) to studio visits and private collection tours. Last summer, they put on a rooftop event at the Lower East Side hotel Sister City that featured the performance-art duo FlucT. They even have a book club coming up.
The organization’s hybridized approach–part advisory, part community incubator, part educator–and lack of formal institutional support makes it a bit of an outlier in a crowded space. And for busy young urban professionals with financial resources but maybe not generational wealth or elite cultural access, Young Collectors League offers a way into areas of art collecting that can be alluring but also daunting. “Younger generations don’t know really how to interface with brands, so to speak, that aren’t accessible and transparent,” Licata said, speaking of an art world full of gatekeepers and secret codes. Vrána added, “A lot of [members] come to us like, ‘I just want the help, the hand-holding—show me what’s happening right now, who is at the forefront. I want to be part of this community.”
Speaking with Young Collectors League members, I got the impression of an organization filled with ambitious people attempting to navigate not just the contemporary art landscape but also hectic life in a confusing city. One member, Vicki Vargas, 29, told me the social and educational components of the group are what sold her on membership. She was born and raised on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where she currently resides, and though she got her MFA in poetry, she currently works in finance. After she met Vrána by chance at a bar on the way back from an art fair, she checked out a few YCL events and decided to join. She recently went to Mexico City with the group, where she bought an artwork—her second ever. “There was a lot of art I loved but couldn’t afford,” Vargas said. “But it’s nice to have aspirations.”