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Business and Finance

Taking the intimidation out of buying art

Rachel Salmon
Artspace is a global online art gallery boasting artwork from some of the world's top galleries. We interview co-founder Catherine Levine.

Artspace was set up in 2011 to bring fine art into people’s lives. The site boasts artwork from renowned galleries including the Guggenheim, MoMA and the Barbican with a community of over 200,000 collectors worldwide. We caught up with the site’s cofounder, Catherine Levene.

The traditional art market and the world of online retail seem worlds apart. Who buys art on Artspace?

I think it’s a combination of existing collectors, who buy from us because they are finding such a treasure trove of work they didn’t know existed, [and new collectors]. Even if you are an existing collector you can’t be in 12 places at once.

We also believe that we’re expanding the market of people who are buying contemporary fine art. We know there is a very large market of art enthusiasts who have the means, the interest and the capacity to collect art, but who don’t for whatever reason because it could be intimidating.

People are used to buying everything online these days. Art is the last of the luxury goods categories to be transformed by the internet. People often say to me – and I feel it too – that art today is where fashion was six or seven years ago, when people said women are just not going to buy high-end couture online. Fast forward to today and it’s the largest category.

Tell us about the art: how do you choose which artists to feature?

I’m sure we miss some, but we try to do our best to have what we believe to be really important artists and future rising stars on the platform.

How did you get so many top-name galleries and artists on board?

I think we’ve created a contextual environment that makes sense for them. We’re really respectful of their brands. We have an editorial team that writes about their programming, the artists and the galleries. Myself and my business partner had a lot of relationships in the art world. Over time, it’s become a place that major galleries and institutions want to be a part of because they are in good company.

Artspace has raised $1.5 million for charitable organisations. How did you do this?

Every work sold on Artspace goes back to either an artist, a museum, a cultural institution or a gallery. We are success-based, so we take a commission on what we sell, but the lion’s share goes to our partners.

We came [to London] and said, ‘we want to help’. We know that a lot of institutions here and also in the US are always looking for new sources of funding because government support for the arts has declined over the years, so we signed up the ICA, the Barbican, the Hayward, the Serpentine, who are now selling art on our platform and benefiting because we’re raising money for them.

Tell us about your personal collection.

I started collecting in my twenties and the only thing I could afford to buy at the time were limited edition prints that I would buy from non profit outfits. I bought a Ross Bleckner photograph for $100 from a non profit organisation he supports called ACRIA, which works with people living with HIV and AIDS. Over time, as I got into my career and had the capacity to buy more, I just decided to continue.

But I even found myself – with the interest and capacity – having a hard time in my day-to-day life finding the time to do research and educate myself. The site we’ve created is equally for someone like myself in my twenties and myself today.

What advice would you give to start-ups?

I think to have a lot of passion for what you do. It’s an all-consuming enterprise. It’s really important to surround yourself with a group of advisers who you can trust, and who are diverse.

I am so encouraged to see a young group of women entrepreneurs who are starting their own businesses. Particularly online, women are over 50 per cent of the buying power, so it’s obvious that these businesses should be run by women.

Artspace.com. Image credit: CC Joana Coccarelli

Art is the last of the luxury goods categories to be transformed by the internet

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