Art Gallery 2.0: Connecting Tech and Art Worlds



I recently read an interview on Artspace with Stefan Simchowitz, The Art Dealer for the Apocalypse: Stefan Simchowitz on How to Sell Artworks in a Chaotic World. Say what you will about him, but I am always intrigued by anyone trying to propose new business models and shake up the art world. What piqued me most in this article was the discussion about his partnership with ICM (for those not familiar, it’s a leading literary and talent agency in Los Angeles):

The ICM thing was an opportunity to create what I call Museum 2.0. They have a space of 120,000 square feet, they spent 10 million dollars on the renovation, they were moving to the penthouse, and eight months ago an old friend there called me up and said he needed advice on art for the space. I made it really simple. I said, “You pay for the installation, which is expensive, you publish a book, which is expensive, you pay for the storage, and we’ll make a deal. We’ll do a partnership, and we will rotate it every year. We will get everyone in ICM who doesn’t look at art to look at art, and we will get all of their clients to see the art.”

I thought, “Why can’t we do something similar in the tech world?”

Now granted there are certainly differences:

  • ICM is a different audience than say people who work at Uber or Google (or are they?).
  • The attitude towards art is different between say, actors and producers than engineers or data scientists (maybe — depends on the engineer).
  • A literary/talent agency is a totally different business than most tech businesses (fair enough).

I have long been trying to find ways to connect the tech and art worlds because, in all selfishness, I am one of those rare people who has feet in both. When I lived in Seattle I spent time brainstorming with an art dealer friend of mine on how to connect those dots. This, in a city where Microsoft has its own art collection and regularly showcases the work of employees who are also artists. Nothing came of it due to logistics and the fact I moved back to the Bay Area last year. Here in San Francisco we have the Minnesota Street Project, which is a for-profit model started by tech VC money. Though it would be great to have more of these kinds of spaces, the reality is there is a limited amount of collectors/philanthropists and real estate.

So what about allocating space in Facebook or Airbnb for an art gallery?
What about bringing in various curators/art dealers to rotate the collection?

Of course one of the missing pieces here is art education. I don’t want to generalize, but my guess is most engineers and product managers didn’t take an art or art history course in college, or if they did they may have slept through all those slides in a dark room. That education piece is crucial. I have had plenty of colleagues in the tech world who have said they would like to collect art but they are afraid to buy. What if I buy the wrong thing? What if I don’t know what I am doing when I go into an art gallery? What if I don’t know what I like? What if I lose money on my art investment?

For the latter point I will say that if that’s your biggest concern, you shouldn’t be buying art in the first place. The rest of the questions are certainly valid but it simply comes down to buying what one likes — what speaks to you. My first boss out of college (when I was working for one of the most important art galleries in Los Angeles) gave me the best advice about collecting art: only buy what you love, because if you buy something purely for investment you might get stuck and have to live with something you hate.

There are a number of places to get one’s feet wet in the art world, but in this day and age of everything coming to us (groceries, dry cleaning, fill-in-the-blank) wouldn’t it make sense for art to come to our place of work? As Stefan Simchowitz elaborates:

At ICM they end up getting 15,000 people a year who are visitors of note, and to get them to look at art is an amazing thing. I go to museums, but no one goes! With gallery shows, people go to the opening for 10 minutes when it’s crowded and they never see the art.

Maybe I am thinking too optimistically, but with all the other craziness going on in the world it might be nice to have a dedicated art space (if only temporarily). And if a piece of art goes home with someone then everyone wins.

Written by mcshan2. Edited by Christian Poutge.


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