Santa Monica mixed-media artist Laurie Raskin was reluctant to try selling her colorful prints and collages in an online marketplace, preferring the familiar route of galleries and print catalogs. But Gregg Chadwick, another Santa Monica artist, jumped right in.
Now, both sell their work on Saatchi Online in Culver City, an online marketplace that recently hired a new chief executive, Sean Moriarty, whose mission is to build brand awareness.
“In order for us to be really successful, people across the globe need to know who we are and what we do,” said Moriarty. “I would say that is the harder part of the mission because it just takes an awful lot of time.”
Moriarty, formerly chief executive and president of Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. in West Hollywood, said the key to achieving more recognition is fostering an artistic community on the site while building a strong staff. One of the ways he hopes to do that is by hosting events at Saatchi’s office featuring artists from the site.
Raskin, who got over her initial reservations and joined Saatchi Online more than a year ago, said the site’s sense of community and exposure to a global audience has been rewarding.
“You have friends as you would in Facebook,” said Raskin. “So, I have friends around the world and we comment on each other’s work, and you can message people. I was in London this summer and one gal who was in London invited me to come meet her.”
Saatchi Online was founded in 2006 as a social networking site for artists by the Saatchi Gallery, a contemporary art house in London founded by advertising executive and art collector Charles Saatchi in 1985.
The company switched gears in 2011 to become an e-commerce business after receiving $5 million in funding from venture investment firm Balderton Capital in London.
While Saatchi Online operates as an independent company, it still partners with the Saatchi Gallery on art shows and Moriarty plans to work with the gallery this year.
The company has 21 workers and moved from Santa Monica to a one-story office building in Culver City last month.
More than 25,000 artists sell their work on the site and art buyers come from 80 countries.
Artists can set their own price and split revenue with Saatchi Online, which takes 30 percent, in contrast with the 50-50 split at traditional galleries.
Buyers can view art based on search results such as style, subject and price. They can also view curated collections of emerging artists or themes such as nature. The site also features Web videos that allow visitors to get a look at the work spaces of established artists.
“What we’re really doing is facilitating connections between these two parties,” said Moriarty.
However, it hasn’t been easy to make a connection with buyers, said another Santa Monica artist, Elena Erenberg. She has been a member of Saatchi Online for more than a year, but only recently made her first sale after being featured in a collection called “Animal Kingdom” curated by Rebecca Wilson, chief curator and Saatchi Online and director of the Saatchi Gallery.
“A lot of artists are on there, so it’s very hard to be found,” said Erenberg. “But Rebecca Wilson took a liking to my work so that was nice.”
She added that being featured in one of Wilson’s collections seems to be the best way to gain exposure to potential buyers.
Lars Perner, assistant professor of clinical marketing at USC’s Marshall School of Business, said because the site started as an extension of the London gallery, it will be easier to grow the business.
“There’s a strong brand-name element that probably ought to add some credibility,” said Perner. “One major problem that you have with a lot of online brokerages is the so called chicken-and-egg problem.”
That means that the site needs to attract both artists and collectors: artists won’t stay with the site unless they make sales and collectors won’t come if there aren’t enough artists on display.
Amazon.com Inc. in Seattle launched its own online marketplace for artists, Amazon Art, in August. Other competing sites include Art Brokerage in Henderson, Nev.; Artspace and Artsy, both in New York; and DeviantArt in Hollywood.
Moriarty said there’s enough business for all of them.
“With respect to Amazon, the fact that they’re in this category is validation of what we believe, which is art is really important,” he said. “And the Internet creates the opportunity to provide more access to audience for artists. … But it’s all we do and it’s but one of many things that they do.”
Chadwick, the artist, has been a member of the site since 2007. He said showcasing work online is not just about increasing sales but exposure in an age where technology has seeped into every industry.
“I think for an artist’s work to be seen in the 21st century, one must take advantage of all forms of exhibition possibilities including traditional, physical one-person shows; online exhibits and representation such as Saatchi Online provides; and also through books and social media,” he said.
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