UgalleryBy Kate Childs • Aug 31st, 2009 • Category: Art
You shop online for clothes, books, electronics, and even groceries, so why not art? That’s the case that three young entrepreneurs are making for an innovative site that puts a new twist on the traditional gallery scene.
Ugallery.com is the brainchild of Stephen Tanenbaum, Greg Rosborough, and Alex Farkas who met in business school and started the online site three years ago. Stephen runs the business side, Greg tackles the marketing, and Alex is the artist in residence for the operation. “Alex had the original concept because he saw a lot of his friends within the art school had this big barrier to get into the art world because they were so young,” recalled Stephen. “Basically we had a lot of friends who were emerging artists and couldn’t get into the galleries and we wanted to give them an outlet to exhibit their work.”
One thing that sets Ugallery apart is that it’s not just a portfolio site for artists, but rather a curated site. All artists have to apply to be featured on Ugallery, which includes submitting an application and providing background information and sample images to a revolving curatorial board led by Alex in San Francisco. “Alex is great at really recognizing talent and at the same time recognizing the drive that artists have and the seriousness they put into their work,” explained Stephen. About 25 percent of artists applying end up exhibiting on the site. Once selected, the artists don’t pay a penny to exhibit on the site and the costs are picked up entirely by Ugallery and its investors. The revenue that comes in from sales is put directly back into the business, and the gallery is able to almost break even.
Currently, there are around 300 artists featured on Ugallery, ranging in age from 19 to mid-fifties. “One thing they all have in common is that they are very serious about their art career, and want to make it as professional artists,” commented Stephen. One of the most popular artists on Ugallery is Sarah Beth Goncarova, whose beautiful oil paintings of dramatic landscapes have earned her a fan following on the site. She credits Ugallery with helping expand her audience and allow her to move forward on new projects. “The curatorial team at Ugallery is genuinely interested in knowing as much as they can about each work,” said Sarah Beth. “That personal connection between artist and curator is really rare and special, and that is one thing that makes Ugallery stand out from other online sites, and I suspect that is part of what makes it successful.”
While all of the artists are based in the United States, the site has attracted buyers worldwide from the Czech Republic to New Zealand, London to Rome. “It never gets old for us to hear the excitement in the artists’ voices when we tell them that we’ve sold their art,” said Stephen.
Online shopping is not a novel idea, but the concept of shopping online for art certainly is. Physical galleries where you can interact with the art, ask questions, and even meet the artist are still the de facto model, though, and Ugallery has tried to replicate that online. Interested buyers can browse by genre, color, size, or medium, and then read the artists’ statements, view portfolios, see how the artwork would look on a wall, and ask questions of the artists through the ULog feature. Since buyers don’t have the ability to see the art up close before purchase, there is also a full return policy if a piece isn’t completely satisfactory. It’s clear that there is an obvious appeal for young and first-time art buyers who have grown up using the Internet and prefer researching and contemplating an art purchase online instead of visiting galleries in Chelsea or San Francisco. “It’s getting to be more accepted, with a lot of galleries closing and some taking their business online,” said Stephen. “I think we’re definitely on the forefront here.”
Despite the economy, people are still buying artwork and Ugallery’s reputation as an affordable outlet for art has helped them during these tough financial times. “People are a little more hesitant to spend on the discretionary items like artwork, but I think we are attracting people who have bought original artwork before or want to start, and I think we’re one of the first places they come to,” said Stephen. The average painting on Ugallery sells for $400 with photography going for around $100—much less than the standard price tags at prominent galleries.
Ugallery’s commitment to its artists goes beyond simply posting their work online. The founders work tirelessly to expose the artists in new forums, which include exhibiting alongside physical galleries at events like the Affordable Art Fair, held every spring in New York City. “The whole point of that fair is promoting emerging artists artwork while offering artwork at an affordable price,” said Stephen. “It’s been incredibly great for the gallery, for the artists, and for the patrons.” In the future, Ugallery is planning on participating in more art fairs and hosting standalone exhibitions.
The success of Ugallery is proof that one good entrepreneurial idea and a lot of hard work can create a sustainable business. “You can have the greatest idea, but unless you put in the time, it’s not going to go anywhere,” said Stephen, who along with the other founders, has relied on family and friends to help expand the company. Despite the challenges of the running a business, Stephen can’t imagine doing anything else. “There are long hours when you work for yourself,” he explained. “There are no office hours. The train only runs if you’re there. We all enjoy doing it, though; we wouldn’t still be doing it three years later if we weren’t successful and liked doing it everyday.”
Look for new features on Ugallery in the weeks to come as they expand their blog and add more interactive features for customers to comment on the artwork. “I think we’re in a great place, and sales have been even better than last summer,” said Stephen. “Hopefully we’re able to grow the gallery to really drive all of these artists’ careers.”
Kate Childs is Freelance Writer for The Supermelon. If you tweet, follow me at http://www.twitter.com/kate_childs
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