News

20×200 Suspends Operations, Is Art Still For Everyone?

by Hrag Vartanian on February 1, 2013

A view of the empty 20x200 offices (via Pando Daily)

A view of the empty 20×200 offices in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood. (via Pando Daily)

The much beloved 20×200 affordable art retailer is “temporarily suspending operations,” according to an email sent by company founder and CEO Jen Bekman last night to a number of contacts. Founded in 2007, 20×200 has been a ubiquitous presence in New Yorks art and tech scene. According to a 2012 interview with Artinfo, the site sold nearly 200,000 prints to 70,000 customers, and it was expected to make $7 million in 2012.

updatesWhile the company website began a “stay tuned” stasis yesterday, their twitterfeed has been reassuring those asking if the service is kaput with “Not gone, just resting. :).”

Pando Daily reports that “a source close to the company said the shut-down was a result of a disagreement over the direction of the site between Bekman, who wants to keep her focus on 20×200′s community of artists, and her investors.” And the tech news site posted a photo of the vacated 20×200 offices.

In the last few years, 20×200 raised $2.8 million in venture backing from a number of firms (True Ventures, Founder Collective, and AOL Ventures) and angel investors (Caterina Fake, Zack Klein, James Joaquin, Scott Heiferman, Nion McEvoy, David Mahoney, and Brendan McGovern). Bekman told Artinfo last year that the company was already making $1 million a year in revenue when it initially began looking for investors.

20×200′s motto, “Art for Everyone,” symbolized the utopianism that many art world tech startups believed the internet would bring to a field often construed as elitist by outsiders. While 20×200′s success at selling prints is notable, the scale of art purchases has never approached the level of mass consumption — facilitated by technology — that music, books, or other cultural products have enjoyed with the public.

Hyperallergic reached out to Jen Bekman yesterday, but our request for comment went unanswered. Stay tuned for updates.

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  • http://twitter.com/chopsaw jamais

    I’ve bought prints from 20×200 and I love the site and the concept. I used to look forward to seeing what the new art was each week. Now, emails are daily and almost to the point of being too much. I don’t know if this aspect is in contention at all, but I love that they have had success, but it seemed more enjoyable experientially when it was an event that I could look forward to in my inbox. Now its just a daily. Its hard to keep up, there is so much. Before I knew almost the entire roster, and I took the time to look into the artists that I liked. Now its just an inundation. Maybe this is a good problem (how can I fault one for being successful?), but its just my two cents.

  • http://twitter.com/StudioBenKnight Ben Knight

    Consumerism 101. The site degraded art.

    • jjarvis

      Art was degraded to commodity status long before this site came along. Now it appears that “20X200″ is also becoming a commodity. It would not be the first organization to lose its soul to the siren call of “venture backing.”

      • arthistorian

        Artists, like Rembrandt for example, have commodified their work for centuries in order to earn a living — and many died trying.

        • JDBRD

          Hi, arthistorian! Certainly, art history is as much about success in marketing as anything. I fully support artists selling their work. I take “commodity” to mean something more speculative in which the artist sees very little of the profit-taking and work is valued only in dollars. To the degree that this system overlooks so many is one aspect of the degradation I mentioned. From the article, the indication that “20X200″ was beginning to market itself as a commodity seemed a good example of how a commodity separates itself from its own core.

          • arthistorian

            I don’t necessarily disagree. Capitalism creates an ultimately confusing atmosphere where most things are commodities and it then becomes one’s task to effectively reconcile everything under the sun as a valued thing and as a cultural artifact with separate importance. Art, I’d stress, is particularly complex in this regard because it’s generally the manifestation of important philosophical and ideological inquiry — how do we then value such critical thought and do so without jeopardizing its legitimacy as a source of social improvement, empowerment, and/or change? There’s not enough room here to even broach the subject, frankly, but suffice it to say it’s not unreasonable, I don’t believe, for something to be both commodified and legitimately what it is (in our case, a work of art). Being a commodity doesn’t negate its “artworkness” anymore than being a work of art means it can’t be commodified. The commodification isn’t “degrading,” as Ben put it, it’s simply a fact of the equation and it almost always has been. As observers we must acknowledge this and modify our reception of art and its many roles within a given culture and at a given time. Now, when it comes to the specifics of precisely how a given seller commodifies art, we begin to enter the realm of critical dispute. I didn’t see anything particularly ghastly about how 20×200 conducted its business; it was (is?) a primary seller, after all, so it’s not as if its practices were far removed from the interests of the artist him- or herself.

  • BradleyK

    Affordable art isn’t going anywhere. Sites like 1xRUN and ExhibitionA are doing very well and offer more exclusive, higher quality, signed and limited work that actually has value in the secondary market–collectors like myself expect that, not just cheap knick nacks. Regardless, sad to see a good NYC startup go under and respect to JB for her hard work and contribution to the art space.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thisisgrey Daniel Robert Prieto

      Those 2 sites look kinda terrible. The thing about 20×200 is that it looked great and had really nice art. There are art sites out there, hundreds… but all crap.

  • http://twitter.com/hsull Heidi

    I ordered something from them on January 22nd. Never got it. Did get an email sometime in Feb after inquiring as to what the hold up was.

    “Thanks for reaching out, and our sincerest apologies for not being in touch sooner. We normally try to let collectors know right away when their orders are experiencing delays. Right now, though, we’re in the midst of a transition here at 20×200, so there have been some hiccups in our process. We’re working hard to get things back on track, and will have more news about what’s next in the coming week….”

    Haven’t heard anything since.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Were you charged? Were you ever refunded?

      • http://twitter.com/hsull Heidi

        I was charged, only a few days after the order was placed which was odd, usually I thought you get charged once something has shipped. Have not been refunded yet. I’ve emailed a few times since I got this response, haven’t heard a peep. :

        • http://twitter.com/ducky_krupnik jill e.

          The same thing happened to me. I was charged a few days after the order, but have had better luck getting “updates” — possibly because I call and leave messages.

          • http://twitter.com/hsull Heidi

            What kind of “updates” ? I was wondering about calling but wasn’t sure if there would be anyone on the other line or even checking the messages.

          • http://twitter.com/ducky_krupnik jill e.

            You should call. I’ve been getting a few apologetic emails about how they are trying to figure out what’s going on with my framed print since it is still at the framer but no firm ship dates — hence why it’s “updates.” I’m am so frustrated with them!

  • http://en-gb.facebook.com/people/Ahren-Brunow/120809896 Ahren Brunow

    20×200 was a great place to buy art. It would be a huge loss if they didn’t come back. I created a site to sell artwork from artists in Toronto, http://www.artfromconcentrate.com. Check it out and maybe you can find something.

  • Glenn McInnes

    While eyebuyart.com is highly curated and therefore more appealing to me, 20×200 sure sold a lot of art. Whether it’s high art or low art, it’s hard to understand how 20×200 with $15 million in cumulative revenue and with business people on the board, could not make the fundamental decisions necessary to make a profit.

  • Glenn McInnes

    While eyebuyart.com is highly curated and therefore more appealing to me, 20×200 sure sold a lot of art. Whether it’s high art or low art, it’s hard to understand how 20×200 with $15 million in cumulative revenue and with business people on the board, could not make the fundamental decisions necessary to make a profit.

  • disqus_KbPi2kFGcB

    this company is disgusting and they are frauds. I placed an order back in Jan, and it’s 3 months overdue to be sent to me. I’ve been charged in full, plus $35 for shipping!!! No one ever returns my calls or emails. I’m going to have to contact my bank now. Don’t trust 20×200 they are crooks!!!

  • granadaPP

    Any idea when they will be back? They had some really interesting work on their site. I’ve looked into 500px.com, but it seems like their prints are a secondary thought. Another new site to the space is photopatron.com which takes the interesting approach of localizing affordable art, specifically photography. Other recommendations? Cheers

  • http://www.lengthbywidthbyheight.com/ Sharon Arnold

    you know there are a lot of smaller art sites working towards making art accessible – The Present Group, Art in a Box, and The Thing Quarterly have been doing this for a long time; my own project, LxWxH, began in 2011; and a bunch of other subscription project style models are beginning to pop up all over. as the idea that a collector doesn’t have to have millions of dollars to own and appreciate art grows, which is something 20×200 helped establish, then perhaps these kinds of opportunities for small, homegrown businesses will continue to grow. I don’t think it’s the end of an era at all. I’m still inspired by Beckman and hope 20×200 doesn’t fold. those who think this degrades art don’t see the writing on the wall – the value of art in our culture will cease to exist if we don’t make its value known. that means expanding outside our own self-imposed ivory tower.

  • artbuyer

    http://www.lusternyc.com
    New York based and represents vetted photographers. Amazing quality!

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