Art may be deemed democratic in theory, but that doesn’t always hold as true in practice. Collectors ran up a $5.7 billion bill at Christie’s in 2011, a notable 14% higher than its 2010 sales. It appears that the affluent have turned to Picasso and Warhol now that Morgan and Goldman are no longer dutifully holding up their end of the bargain with returns from stocks or other investments.
Collecting art has always been earmarked for a select few, typically reserved for those who tend to their Arabian horses or oceanside estates on the weekends. But Indiewalls, a new startup venture, is looking to change the way people think about art. The company is founded on bringing together local artists and accessible venues, generating exposure for the former and resulting in free and frequent makeovers for the latter. As for patrons, they reap the benefits of shows on everyday outings such as lunch or coffee with a friend. “We want to bring an appreciation of art to people who aren’t regular gallery-goers,” said Indiewalls cofounder Ari Grazi.
The concept was that of Mr. Grazi’s business partner and Indiewalls cofounder Gavi Wolf. Though the site was launched less than four months ago, it has already garnered some good attention in the startup world. This past December, Mr. Grazi won the monthly Ultra Light Startups pitch contest. Art curator and founder of James Company Contemporary Art Projects Katherine Gass recently signed on as an Indiewalls art adviser, and other big names in the art and tech worlds are also attached to Indiewalls, though they have not been made public yet. Not bad for a company that was only a mere thought a little over a year ago.
At the heart of Indiewalls is the idea of unveiling local talent to the public, the public that live in the walk-up down the street or whose train stop for work is on the corner. And the art is for sale, all of it. If a particular work catches our eye as we sip our coffee at Café Minerva, for example, all it takes is the quick use of our smartphone to capture its unique QR code and, voila, the piece is ours. The QR code mobile payment system is a welcome touch, making the transaction nearly seamless. But, for those whose trigger finger has led to poor or regrettable purchases in the past, learning more about the piece and paying online is always an option. Mr. Grazi himself doesn’t claim to be particularly tech-savvy. “I wasn’t an arts major,” he told The Observer during our interview with him at the Bowery Hotel. “I’m not an engineer and I have no technical background.”
While he may not have been enrolled in an arts-crammed curriculum, the 24-year-old NYU graduate did always have an ear to the art world. Living in one of Manhattan’s many artist havens, the East Village, and having an artist for a brother proved to be helpful – as did moonlighting as a real estate agent throughout his time at NYU. “Indiewalls fuses the art world with the tech and real estate worlds,” said Mr. Grazi. “Every wall that a painting can be hung on is a valuable square foot of Manhattan real estate.”
It is this inclination that seems to distinguish Indiewalls from others that have experimented with the cozy shop come gallery model. There are a few venues that both sell coffee and display art, but Indiewalls has been able to streamline the acquisition process by acting as a mediary, often custom aligning artists and spaces employing the expertise of curator Sabrina Wirth. “I’ll go door-to-door and don’t mind having the door closed in my face,” Mr. Grazi told The Observer, smiling. “Not everyone says yes, but we do have many places displaying Indiewalls artists’ work.”
But exactly how much do artists have to pay in commission fees? “25%. We wanted the price of art to stay low, so we decided on a lower commission. We can afford to do that because we don’t pay rent like galleries do.”
Most prominent New York galleries, many of which are based in Chelsea, tend to charge their artists about 50% commission. And while there are online galleries that charge lower rates or offer a monthly package or both, as Artspan.com does, Mr. Grazi believes that seeing a piece in person as opposed to on a computer screen is vital to the overall experience of art. “Indiewalls showcases local artists and can feature things that are priced as low as $50. If there are no eyes, there are no wallets,” Mr. Grazi said.