Illustration by Charlene Man.

(Art)space Exploration

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

In 2010 when we first started Artspace, the online marketplace for contemporary art, we were surprised by how often friends and investors would ask whether people would actually buy art online. The question seemed crazy to me. I had been in the internet business for more than 18 years and had seen the industry grow from a time when it took ten minutes to download one page of a website to today, when the web has become an integral part of our lives. Collectors have been buying art sight unseen for years. For decades, auction houses have been publishing print catalogs, sending them to collectors and taking bids by phone. Galleries have been selling works with photographs sent via email for years. We buy groceries, cars and jewelry online. We book our holidays and even find our husbands and wives in the digital space. We will no doubt buy our art the same way.

Four years later, Artspace has grown from a spark of an idea to a global marketplace for contemporary art. We know that collectors are buying art online because we track sales and traffic via our website. They have come to realize the internet provides a much better method for buying art than a print catalog or an emailed image because it offers the tools for viewing, researching, reading and connecting within the world of art. 

Our goal is not to disrupt the gallery system. Galleries play a fundamental and critical role in the arts ecosystem by nurturing artists’ careers, offering them physical spaces to show their practice, ensuring that premier collectors and museums buy their work, and managing the market. At Artspace, our aim is to help the galleries and the artists they represent. By providing a digital platform for galleries to showcase their entire artist roster anytime, and an e-commerce solution to sell the work, we offer collectors around the world the ability to view and buy artworks that would not necessarily be accessible to them otherwise. A person may be in another city or time zone, speak another language or just be intimidated to walk into a gallery—a common feeling for new collectors. We want to break through the friction that currently exists in the art market and make it easy for both existing collectors and new ones to purchase and live with great art. 

We also help cultural institutions and nonprofits. These organizations need to find new sources of revenue, particularly at a time when, sadly, public funding has been on the decline. Artspace provides a platform for them to market their programs and sell artwork, thereby generating new forms of revenue and broadening their donor bases internationally. In addition, we publish limited-edition prints and multiples with top contemporary artists, the proceeds from which go to cultural institutions and nonprofits. We have collaborated with various artists to support individual organizations, such as Fred Tomaselli and Angel Otero for New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Marcel Dzama for the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Jose Dávila for the Los Angeles Nomadic Division, among hundreds of others.

For artists, digital platforms are hugely important. There are significantly more artists working today than can be absorbed into the existing gallery system. Whether through a branded open marketplace such as Etsy or via social media—including Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, to name a few—artists are discovering that they can garner audiences and patrons themselves. While today it may not be common for an artist outside of the traditional gallery system to end up showing at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, I am almost certain that one day soon it will indeed happen. 

Collectors’ new ability to discover, learn about and buy artwork from artists and galleries all over the world without having to leave their own homes has the power to affect the art ecosystem in a very positive way. There are outstanding exhibitions happening around the globe every day, but until virtual reality becomes widespread, we are unable to see and experience all of them. Artspace brings the exhibition to collectors and allows them to purchase the work immediately and directly. It broadens the market with additional buyers, in turn contributing to healthy growth. 

Art is also a social experience. It is nearly impossible to replicate an art fair’s palpable energy in the digital world, but we can create a different kind of fervor online. For an example, just look at the explosion of the mobile photo-sharing application Instagram. Artists, galleries, collectors and enthusiasts can now view what is happening in all corners of the art world on a minute-by-minute basis. It is akin to having a global army of freelance photographers working day and night around the world. 

Art is a fundamental part of the human experience. It helps us communicate across history, geography, religion, gender and political beliefs. It is a universal language. At Artspace, we believe that supporting artists and the institutions that promote them should not be limited to the few, but should be open to all. The platform we created at Artspace is in its infancy, but it is already having a constructive impact, providing artists with more visibility, helping galleries reach new audiences, and raising money for the cultural institutions we all rely on to curate and organize exhibitions that open our eyes to new ideas and enrich our lives.