Vaguely-defined art startup Art.sy has found some pretty incredible backers, among them some of the biggest names in both contemporary art and tech. Larry Gagosian, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Russian heiress and contemporary art world butterfly Dasha Zhukova, and Wendi Murdoch (wife of Rupert) are teaming up with young CEO Carter Cleveland to launch a “personalized online fine-art emporium,” Artinfo reports.
Art.sy has been on the scene for a while now in tech start-up terms, having won the TechCrunch Rookie Disruptor Award this year without releasing a usable product to the public. The company’s stated future goal, however, is to present “the place to discover and share original fine art online.” Using a Pandora-like classification system for art, the site will sort and recommend art to users based on their search terms, preferences, and even social network backgrounds. I would tell you how well Art.sy works, but the site is invitation only. I requested one, so stay tuned.
Art.sy is coming onto the scene at an auspicious time for start-ups in New York City, and for art-focused start-ups in particular. 20×200, the closest we’ve come to an online art emporium sortable by taste, has attracted venture capital funding to better fund a growing business that serves up art prints to the general public. VIP Art Fair is a nascent private online art fair that has the backing of such heavy hitters as Gagosian and founder James Cohan Gallery. The fair propounds to transfer the lux art buying process online, to speed sales and further international reach. Yet how much of the focus of these companies is actually about the art and how much is about business?
Art.sy is essentially about better aggregating art, putting “clients” (buyers) closer to the art that they might like to purchase. But how does this account for the quality of art, rather than how good it looks as a jpeg? Will Art.sy serve us up conceptual work? With the opening of a store rather than a gallery, Gagosian has been moving into the production of multiples and mass market products like Dan Colen t-shirts, more easily sold to the general public. 20×200 works closely with artists to produce interesting print runs, but at times is hard-pressed to stick to a curatorial vision for contemporary art that may not include, say, infographics. VIP Art Fair is a digitized way to get the high-end goods to high-end customers that may prove an interesting visual experience, but as with Art.sy, we won’t know until more information becomes public.
The problem with turning contemporary art into a full-fledged business outside of the gallery game is that you run the risk of alienating art’s flighty cool factor. Art is something to be discovered, in a corner, by chance, based on serendipity. By putting “good art” down to a single taste or an aggregation algorithm, the magic and the fun might be lost. I like stumbling across a cool artist’s image on Tumblr or in some group show in a way that I don’t like Saatchi’s artist social network. I like having a friend recommend a band, but I don’t really like Pandora pitching one to me. The relevance of these art start-ups depend on their ability to not mimic but create the special atmosphere of encountering a stirring work of art, just online. Forgive me if I’m skeptical of their ability to create a contemporary art revolution.
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About 10 years ago, I would have said the same thing about the thrill of finding art in unexpected places. But if contemporary art follows the same arc as music, the discovery process will be more rewarding, not less.
Music had the same problem. In the 1970’s, it was impossible to find British punk rock in America unless you knew the ‘record’ stores that supplied expensive imports. That was our small space of Saturday serendipity for music we would kill for (in your photo you appear young, so I’ll assume you don’t know that the 1970’s were dark days for good music). Today we have recommendation engines from iTunes that source like-minded souls on planet Earth. I find so many small bands and individuals now that I would have never found even in those difficult to find music stores. And the best bit: I never listen to radio anymore.
The music industry may have become more of a business, but those of us out on the end of the long tail don’t care what large organisations are selling. We’re too busy with our few, but important, colleagues. We can only cross several fingers at once that art will follow music in this way. I think it probably will.
I agree with you to a certain degree but the one thing — and it’s a MAJOR thing — that really differentiates art from music is the mass audience. You can’t be big in music (unless you’re a classical musician, I guess) without selling a million records, in art you can spend your whole life selling only to a dozen people and still have a viable and successful career (add a few critics, curators and a dealer to the equation and you’re all set). In order for this to work I think that you need to create a mass market for art, and this may be what they want to do but it’s not obvious if or a given that they will succeed.
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