March 5, 2024

LONDON – The art world equivalent of a dating app: That is the idea behind a subscription-based service that will be presented here for the first time on July 31st and will connect artists with collectors – without charging a commission.

Stacie McCormick, a US-born artist and gallery director, has come up with an alternative to an art market where the odds are against newcomers.

Today, most artist-to-buyer transactions are handled by a small number of large galleries that represent established names and charge substantial commissions.

Ms. McCormick heads Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop, an exhibition and artist living space in a former hardware wholesaler depot in West London. The glass-enclosed space also contains some of her own artwork: large, swirling abstract works inspired by Asian calligraphy.

“You have a top-down industry. There are these amazing elite galleries that bring phenomenal artists into the world, ”McCormick said in an interview in the room. “But there are very few entry points between this environment and the ground.”

She found that there are unrepresented artists worth discovering and many consumers who would love to discover them, but few places where the two could overlap.

Her app, Fair Art Fair, described her as “a tinder for artists and collectors. It’s a way to make this meeting easier, ”she said. Because “in almost every industry there is no middleman”.

To join, artists pay £ 15 (about $ 21) for a monthly subscription that includes an account where they can store and view images of works and also initiate business transactions like creating an invoice or a certificate of authenticity.

Collectors also have a dedicated virtual room where they can store images of their collections and complete transactions. Curators can use the app to put together an exhibition virtually or live, as well as create press releases and price lists.

Despite the app’s promise, some in the art world said it would be a long time before the app disrupted the market.

“There is both a growing need and a growing desire by many different people to offer alternatives to the art trade,” said Allan Schwartzman, a New York-based art consultant.

Is the app “something that becomes a parallel reality or a meaningful alternative?” He asked. “I think it could go either way,” he said, depending on who is using it.

Mr. Schwartzman made an analogy to smaller art fairs that take place at the same time and at the same time as the big ones. These aren’t necessarily “places you’ll ever want to buy,” he noted. You can achieve “measured successes, but these two worlds do not intrude”.

The app was born from Ms. McCormick’s gallery and workshop, which she created in 2015 to recreate the kind of caring and communal atmosphere she enjoyed while studying for her Masters at a London art school.

At Unit 1, Artists in Residence put a work for sale, which enters the gallery collection and is included in exhibitions curated by Ms. McCormick. The gallery then produces a limited print run based on the work that generates revenue.

Ms. McCormick said the room lost money in the first five years and the pandemic would have closed it completely if it weren’t for £ 35,000.

That small initial lifeline was followed by an additional £ 150,000 infusion which also allowed McCormick to develop and launch the app. She said she needed between 1,000 and 1,500 monthly subscribers to cover her expenses.

Radhika Khimji, a London-based Omani artist whose work is represented by galleries in Vienna and Kolkata, India, said she tried to connect with collectors through various commission-based apps a few years ago but had no success. “Online is a pretty saturated space,” she said.

However, with the pandemic, people are shopping a lot more online and their own Instagram feed is getting more exposure than before, she said. The app’s ability to automatically generate paperwork could be “very beneficial,” she noted.

But to take off, the app needs to keep its promises and have the support of prominent figures and publications in the art world, she added. “It’s about credibility.”

Mr Schwartzman said the new collectors he encountered were typically “much richer” and “busier” than previous generations of new collectors and “convenient expenses at a very high price that would take decades for collectors in the past, if “ever.”

Despite Fair Art Fair’s endeavors to establish a measure of justice, “at the end of the day art is not fair,” he said. “Genius doesn’t multiply by the amount of money that wants to buy it.”

The app has a good chance of success if it is “very well curated and focused”, if the information is “well organized” and a process is in place to attract high quality work.