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A Matchmaker app to connect artists and collectors

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LONDON – The art world equivalent of a dating app – that’s the idea behind a subscription service debuting here on July 31 that aims to connect artists with collectors, without charging a commission.

Stacie McCormick, an American-born artist and gallery director, has devised what she hopes is an alternative to an art market where the odds are stacked against newcomers.

Today, most artist-buyer transactions are handled by a small number of large galleries representing established names and charging significant commissions.

Mrs. McCormick runs Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop, an artist residence and exhibition space in a former hardware wholesale warehouse in West London. The glass-fronted space also contains some of its own art: large, swirling abstract works inspired by Asian calligraphy.

“You have a top-down industry. There are these incredible elite galleries that bring phenomenal artists to the world, ”McCormick said in an interview on the space. “But between that environment and the terrain, there are very few entry points.”

He noted that there were unrepresented artists worth discovering and many consumers who would be eager to discover them, but few places where the two could intersect.

She described her application Fair Art Fair, as “a Tinder for artists and collectors. It’s a way to facilitate that meeting, ”he said. After all, “in almost every industry, the middle man has been cut out.”

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

Collectors also have a dedicated virtual space in which to store images of their collections and complete transactions. Curators can organize an exhibition via the app, virtually or live, and create press releases and price lists.

Despite the app’s promise, some in the art world said it would take a lot for the app to revolutionize the market.

“There is a growing need and desire on the part of many different people to offer alternatives to the art trade,” said Allan Schwartzman, a New York resident. art advisor.

Is the application “something that becomes a parallel reality or becomes a meaningful alternative”? I ask. “I think it could work either way,” depending on who uses it, he said.

Mr. Schwartzman made an analogy with the smaller art fairs that take place at the same time and in the same location as the larger fairs. These are not necessarily “places where you would ever want to buy something,” he noted. While they may achieve “measured success, these two worlds do not penetrate each other.”

The app grew out of Ms. McCormick’s gallery and workshop space, which she created in 2015 to try to recreate the kind of welcoming and community atmosphere she enjoyed while pursuing a master’s degree at a London art school.

In Unit 1, resident artists donate a work for sale, which is included in the gallery’s collection and included in exhibits curated by Ms. McCormick. The gallery then produces a limited edition print series based on the income-generating work.

Ms McCormick said the space lost money during its first five years and the pandemic would have shut it down entirely, if not for £ 35,000 (roughly $ 48,000) in emergency funding from Arts Council England, the body that distributes grants. government to cultural institutions. .

That small initial lifeline was followed by an additional £ 150,000 injection, which also allowed McCormick to develop and launch the app. He said he needed between 1,000 and 1,500 monthly subscribers to cover his costs.

Radhika Khimji, a London-based Omani artist whose work is represented by galleries in Vienna and Kolkata, India, said she had tried connecting with collectors through various commission-based apps several years ago, but was unsuccessful. “Online is a pretty crowded space,” he said.

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

But to get off the ground, the app must deliver on its promises and be endorsed by prominent personalities and publications in the art world, he added. “It’s about credibility.”

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

Despite Fair Art Fair’s push to introduce an equity measure, “at the end of the day, art is not fair,” he said. “Genius is not multiplied by the amount of money you want to buy.”

The app had a good chance of success if it was “very well curated and focused,” he said, if the information was “well organized,” and if there was a process in place to attract high-quality work.

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