Q&A with Artspace Founder

If the "Introduction to Art Collecting" story in our December/January 2011 issue whet your appetite for art acquisition—or if you simply have a blank wall crying out for some decoration—take a look at artspace.com, founded this past March. The site bills itself as "the premier online marketplace for contemporary art," and it's certainly impressive, taking web shopping to a whole new level. With a couple clicks (and several thousand dollars) you can own a limited-edition print by Takashi Murakami or Louise Bourgeois, a watercolor by Marcel Dzama, or any number of artworks among the hundreds of pieces featured on the site at any given time. Membership to the site is free, and artworks start at $200. Herewith, some questions for (and answers from) Catherine Levene, Artspace's co-founder and CEO.

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Artspace CatherineLevene headshot

What's Artspace's mission?
We curate every piece of art on Artspace with the goal of providing the broadest selection of contemporary art in the world by the world’s most renowned artists and rising stars—at accessible prices.
What inspired you to create Artspace?
I have spent the past fifteen years in in the internet business building lasting online brands and consumer experiences. Before launching Artspace, I was the COO of DailyCandy.com. Prior to that, I spent seven years at The New York Times where I helped to build the digital properties of the company, including NYTimes.com. I also spent time at early-stage internet start-ups including Firefly, TheFind.com, and Glam Media.

After leaving DailyCandy, I knew that my next venture would be something I was truly passionate about. I always had an interest in art stemming from time spent at museums with my grandmother while I was a child. I took art history in college and studied art abroad in both Paris and Madrid at different times in my life. I believe art to be one of the common threads binding together the human experience. No matter when you were born, the language you speak, your political beliefs, gender, religion or faith, there is always art. Artists help us see the world differently, understand each other, our times, and our similarities as well as appreciate and ideally accept our differences.

As I was beginning to think about how to merge my digital background with my passion for art, I was introduced to my business partner, Christopher Vroom. Chris had spent the past 12 years building a non-profit organization to help fun emerging artists called Artadia and he had just started working on a concept to help artists reach broader audiences online. Chris and I realized we had a shared belief and vision that everyone should be able to live with art, engage with artists, and experience the excitement of collecting and decorating your home or office with real art—even giving art as a gift. We decided to team up and create an online destination that would be a cross-section of three worlds: digital media and information, e-commerce and fine art. Our goal was to create a trusted source for experienced and aspiring collectors alike to discover, learn about and collect art while supporting artists, cultural institutions and non-profit organizations around the world. Countless conversations and hours of research later, the final concept for Artspace was born.

<i>Artspace Soundsuit #1</i>, by Nick Cave, one of Levene's favorite pieces currently available on the site.
Artspace Soundsuit #1, by Nick Cave, one of Levene's favorite pieces currently available on the site. Image courtesy of James Prinz Photography.

Tell me how "membership" and the private sales work on the site...
Membership to Artspace is free and there are a variety of valuable benefits provided to members. First, Artspace members gain exclusive access to Private Sales, which are weeklong events where we offer coveted works of art at reduced prices—typically at 30% discount—before they are revealed to the public.

In addition to Private Sale access, members also receive special invitations to artist talks and other events hosted by Artspace and our partners.
How do you set pricing?
We work closely with the artist and our institutional partners to set pricing on our editions at levels that enable a broad audience to collect the work while not disrupting the gallery channel. For unique works, we review the artists current market as well as auction records, if available, to ensure that our collectors are getting the right price.
I noticed some artworks are identified as being sold "in partnership" a gallery... Can you clarify how Artspace works with galleries (or doesn't)?
Artspace partners with the most prestigious galleries and museums in the world to curate a broad selection of works on one platform in order to make it easy for collectors and aspiring collectors to view it and buy it no matter where they live or whom they know.

We provide access into the coveted backrooms of our gallery partners – access that is typically reserved for only the most blue-chip of collectors. By bringing together these fantastic works, Artspace helps artists to gain broader audiences while helping museums and galleries market their programming.
Who decides what to sell on the site, and how do they determine which pieces to offer from an artist's ouevre?
Artspace has a great team of curators that collaborate directly with artists, galleries and museums around the globe in order to select works that we feel are great representations of each artist’s practice and will appeal to our audience.
Tell me about a few pieces on the site you're particularly excited about.
There are so many incredible works on Artspace right now that I’m excited about! To name them all and explain what I love about each would take pages upon pages, but in the interest of space, I will mention just a few:

Stars Don’t Stand Still in the Sky, by Lawrence Weiner, a special commission limited edition sculpture we launched a few weeks ago

Hurricane LIV, by Clifford Ross, a photograph that benefits charity: water, a wonderful non-profit organization dedicated to bringing

Wave, by Robert Longo, a print that benefits Lincoln Center for the arts

Soundsuit #1, by Nick Cave

2028.08 [Rings], by Sarah Morris

<i>Wave</i>, by Robert Longo
Wave, by Robert Longo
<i>Rings</i>, by Sarah Morris
Rings, by Sarah Morris

Do you envision Artspace as a replacement for the experience of walking, in person, into an art gallery?
Galleries play a critical role in promoting outstanding artistic practice and we’re helping them raise the profile of their program. We complement galleries by helping them reach new audiences and don’t envision the platform replacing the wonderful experience of seeing art in person.

However, galleries are geographic by nature, limited by their wall space, and hours of operation. At Artspace, we aren’t confined by traditional brick-and-mortar limitations and have the ability to offer an unlimited number of works from artists all over the world that are accessible at all hours of the day to collectors and aspiring collectors across all continents.

<i>Hurricane LIV</i>, by Clifford Ross
Hurricane LIV, by Clifford Ross Image courtesy of © Clifford Ross.

Obviously online retail has been around—and growing—for a long time. Where do you see online retail going, and how do online art sales relate to the general trends in online retail today?
In my opinion, online retail will continue growing in the future. These days, people expect to be able to buy just about anything online and in many instances, they prefer to do it online rather than off.

Art is one of the last luxury categories to be transformed by the internet. Consumers have been comfortable buying clothing, accessories, high end jewelry, cars, and furniture online for years. They have even become comfortable spending thousands of dollars on vacation experiences online. Now, with the improvement of screen resolutions and the expansion of broadband, consumers are becoming more and more comfortable viewing and purchasing art online as well. I believe ecommerce will significantly expand the market for fine art in the future because we are offering people access they never had before. By offering the information that we do on Artspace, the site acts as an art advisor, helping consumers navigate the art world in a way that seemed reserved for only the wealthy until now.
Who buys from Artspace? Who are you hoping to reach with the site?
Artspace attracts both blue chip and new collectors alike. Blue chip collectors love the site because of the incredible gems from top contemporary artists that we offer and new collectors come to Artspace looking to learn about art and begin their collections by purchasing important pieces at prices starting at $200.

We also find that many people browsing the site are looking to buy gifts for newly engaged couples, recent graduates and for birthdays. Art is truly a gift that lasts a lifetime.
You recently commissioned artist Lawrence Weiner to create a limited-edition piece for your site. What led to this commission, and is this a new direction for Artspace, and something you plan to do more frequently?
Everyone at Artspace was very excited about this piece. Lawrence Weiner is one of the most renowned conceptual artists of our time and we were thrilled and proud to be working with him. Since the launch of Artspace, we have done exclusive commissions for the site with other artists including Nick Cave, Dustin Yellin, Todd Eberle and Sally Gall and we are looking forward to doing more in the future with artists including David Salle and Isaac Julien among others.

<i>Stars Don't Stand Still in the Sky</i>, by Lawrence Weiner
Stars Don't Stand Still in the Sky, by Lawrence Weiner

What's next for Artspace?
We have a number of very exciting projects coming up soon. We are currently in the process of bringing on artists from China and India as well as announcing new gallery partners from around the world. We are also working to improve our user experience, which will include the addition of more editorial content and education for our members. Our goal is to create a community of collectors who share their passion for discovering, learning about and collecting art.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Art makes the world a better place, so more art for more people can only mean good for the world at large.

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