Lifestyle

Want to feel aristocratic? UGallery lets anyone commission personal works of art (exclusive)

UGallery cofounders Alex Farkas and Stephen Tanenbaum (L-R)

Above: UGallery cofounders Alex Farkas and Stephen Tanenbaum (L-R)

Image Credit: Christina Farr / VentureBeat

There are thousands of people out there filled with creative fire and marginally skilled with a paintbrush, but that doesn’t mean they can make a living as an artist.

UGallery can help.

The online art gallery launched a commissioned artwork service today that lets art buyers connect directly with artists to create personalized artwork.

“Even as art-buying continues to migrate online, the industry has been slow to embrace technology that facilitates direct relationships with artists and collectors,” cofounder Stephen Tanenbaum told VentureBeat. “This is because the brick-and-mortar gallery is still revered by traditionalists. By helping artists and collectors build one-on-one relationships with one another, the art options become much greater — you’re not limited to what’s physically available in a gallery.”

Artists have survived on commissions for thousands of years, including many of the world’s greatest masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. The Sistine Chapel was a commission for God’s sake (get it?).

Commissions generally happen between wealthy individuals and organizations, and artists that they know through word-of-mouth or that have been recommended to them by interior designers, gallery owners, and the like.

It’s an offline, relationship-centric process where people on both ends of the transaction don’t have much control and are limited in their reach.

“No industry should afford so much control to what is largely just a middleman,” Tanenbaum said.

This is what UGallery Commissions does. It cuts out the middleman to make the process of commissioning artwork more efficient, while also providing greater choice and access to parties on both sides.

Internet marketplaces are causing this kind of disruption in other sectors as well.

Look at what AngelList is doing for startups and investors, Airbnb for home owners/renters and travelers, Etsy for craftspeople, and 99designs for graphic design. Lending Club is even an example — why go through a bank when you can connect with individual lenders directly?

UGallery patrons can search for specific parameters and browse through the work of over 500 artists. When they find someone who strikes their fancy, they submit a request form and can interact directly with the artist about the project.

The artist could be across the country and could be someone the patron has never heard of, but if its a good match, its a good match.

Art may seem far removed from technology, or at least the kind of technology VentureBeat generally covers, but this is a powerful example of how an offline traditional industry is being forced to change, adapt, evolve, and become more democratic and transparent, thanks to the Internet.

In fact, the online art market is booming, with giants like Google and Amazon making efforts to get into the sector. You can now buy a Norman Rockwell painting along with your granola and toilet paper.

A report issued in March by Deloitte and ArtTactic found that “the art world is moving online.” Over 300 online art ventures have launched in the past few years, and at least 71 percent of art collectors have purchased artwork online. This number is expected to rise.

In fact, art is such a big market — generating $64 billion in sales last year —  that some critics even say its in a bubble.

However most of this value is driven by millionaire/billionaire collectors and well-endowed institutions buying works by legendary artists.

For artists, who don’t have connections to the elite and fearsomely competitive institutional art world, the process of getting your work discovered and showcased is like trying to become a movie star. Some people get lucky, but it’s not easy to survive without connections to the industry’s influencers.

UGallery, and competitors like Artsy and Artspace, focus on emerging and mid-market artists, providing them a new channel to find customers and make money. Even crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter have helped, letting artists rally support from their fans so they can realize their creative visions.

However, Tanenbaum emphasizes that, unlike UGallery’s rivals, which are “really just liaisons for art galleries,” UGallery’s turns the traditional art business model on its head by creating a community.

It makes commissioning art a possibility for the rest of us, who aren’t millionaires and large institutions, but would love to hang something personal on our home or office walls.