The Guggenheim, the Founder of MTV, and a Horde of Dealers and Artists Sign on for Artspace, the Latest Online Art Commerce Experiment

The Guggenheim, the Founder of MTV, and a Horde of Dealers and Artists Sign on for Artspace, the Latest Online Art Commerce Experiment

Joining a fast-growing landscape of online art sellers, Artspace.com, a virtual marketplace specializing in limited-edition prints by contemporary artists, launches today. The site will collaborate with a selection of big-name museums and galleries — including the Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, David Zwirner Gallery, and Salon94 — to provide a mix of prints and original artworks ranging from $200 to $10,000.

The project is the brainchild of Christopher Vroom, founder of arts nonprofit Artadia, and Catherine Levene, former manager of the Web site DailyCandy. Backed by MTV founder and former AOL Time Warner COO Robert Pittman, financier Alexander Lloyd, and venture capitalists Pamela and Richard Kramlich, Artspace has secured $1.2 million since its directors began fundraising in November. "We want to provide education, information, and access to a wide range of works by the best contemporary artists all in one place," Vroom told ARTINFO.

Artspace comes on the heels of several different attempts to incorporate new media into the art world, none of which has been overwhelmingly successful. December's VIP Art Fair, the world's first online-only fair, boasted over 100 high-profile galleries but suffered from technical difficulties and mediocre sales. (New York dealer James Cohan, a co-founder of VIP, will also work with Artspace.) In February, Google unveiled the buggy but largely well-received Google Art Project, which offers virtual museum tours. A Pandora-style art recommendation engine, Art.sy, will officially launch later this spring. Other Web sites, including those of Pace Prints and Jen Bekman's 20 x 200, have been selling limited edition prints online for several years.

Vroom and Levene hope that Artspace's high-end partnerships and mid-range prices will set it apart from the pack. "What we're trying to do is create a curated platform with the very best contemporary artists and offer works at accessible prices," Vroom said. Artspace will collaborate with museums and galleries to market previously produced editions as well as new prints designed to compliment exhibition programming. After visiting an exhibition at a participating museum or gallery, explained Vroom, a collector can go home, sign on to Artspace, and purchase a limited edition print or original work by the featured artist. Price and edition size will vary depending on the artists and institutions involved, organizers said.

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"All of us have inventory that is in files or storage, and we forget that we have it," said Chicago gallery director Rhona Hoffman, who has arranged to work with Artspace on consignment. "This business would create sales for this kind of inventory, and they deal with it so I don't have to."

Artspace staff will also collaborate directly with artists to produce works exclusive to the site. Vroom said Artspace will release a set of these editions every week, and soon expand to twice a week. Over the next three months, the site will offer original prints by artists including David Salle, Clifford Ross, Eric Fischl, Paul McCarthy, and Ross Bleckner, all ranging from $200 to $600. With a free Artspace membership, customers can access members-only preview sales and purchase these works at reduced prices. (The Salle print, for example, will be released in an edition of 250 and available early to members at $300, with non-members later being offered the piece at an $100 upcharge.)

The directors declined to specify exactly how profits would be divided between Artspace and its partners, or whether nonprofits would receive a larger share of revenues than for-profit institutions. "I will say that our partners receive the lion's share of the revenues," said Levene. "We've structured our business as efficiently as possible… we think that we can do well by doing good." Currently, Artspace partners with 12 galleries, 120 artists, and 37 cultural institutions, including the Kitchen and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Over the next several years, the site plans to expand to 50 galleries, 100 institutions, and 500 artists based all over the world. Vroom noted that Artspace curators are currently scouting artists and galleries in Brazil and Europe. The site is also in negotiations with several institutions in China, he added.

Despite the substantial number of online art sellers working today, Vroom believes "there's a very large group of people who are interested in art but don't have access right now." Artspace aims to appeal to aspiring collectors with above average incomes ($100,000 to $110,000) who will use the site both to purchase and learn about art. Although Vroom believes that "there is no other place where you can access these types of works," certain interactive and educational elements seem to have been inspired by Artspace's predecessors: for instance, users can create and share their own personal "collections" culled from artwork on the site, a feature similar to the VIP art fair's user-generated virtual tours. Levene said Artspace will also eventually adopt recommendation technology similar to that used by Art.sy.

Although the mass of entrepreneurs and institutions that have united behind Artspace is unquestionably impressive, it is unclear whether it will be able to make a larger impact on the art world than preexisting sites. "I think everyone feels like something is coming that's going to be a game-changer, but it hasn't happened yet," said David Grosz, editor-in-chief of Artifex Press, a publisher of digital catalogues raisonnés. "You need to get to a point where people are comfortable purchasing art online." Grosz noted that Artspace's strategy of working with top artists to offer reasonably priced works "seems like a good way to get people comfortable, and it also enables them to reach a larger potential pool of buyers." Still, he added, "they're another organization joining an already crowded playing field."

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