Thefts USA

Website could be holy grail of private market prices will unite would-be collectors with art and dealers they may not know. And it’s all built on trust developers Sebastian Cwilich, left, and Carter Cleveland

NEW YORK., the online art database, which includes Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, venture capitalist Jim Breyer and Wendi Deng Mur­doch, as well as Russian heiress Dasha Zhukova and gallerist Larry Gagosian among its backers and advisors, is scheduled to preview its operation at Art Basel this month.

The enterprise hit the headlines last year when it unveiled its list of powerful supporters. “That escalated the project and helped catalyse the interest of other galleries,” said’s chief operating officer, Sebastian Cwilich, formerly Christie’s executive and Haunch of Venison director. He said that more than 130 international dealers have signed on, including big names such as Pace, David Zwirner and Acqua­vella, as well as younger galleries like New York’s James Fuentes and Untitled.

Devised by chief executive and Princeton computer science engineer, Carter Cleveland, hopes to take art to a wider potential audience. Modelling itself on successful music sites like Pandora, it uses “genome technology” to make connections between works of art based on shared characteristics to introduce users to works they might not otherwise know.

The pricing structure is unus­ual. Rather than pay a subscription fee, participating galleries are asked to pay a sales commission: 15% of the first $10,000 profit (the amount remaining once the dealer has paid the artist’s share and production costs), and 10% of anything above that. As sales are conducted off-site, is reliant on the honesty of the participating galleries. While the number of introductions can be tracked, the organisers have no way of knowing if a transaction has occurred. “Is it possible that someone may not report a sale?” asked Cwilich. “Of course—there are always bad actors. But, by and large, I believe people will do the right thing.” He added: “If we can create new collectors then galleries will be only too happy to pay commissions.”

Of course, if dealers comply then will hold the art world’s holy grail: a price database of the private market. The organisers stress that the information would be confidential but in an industry so reliant on discretion and exclusivity, will galleries divulge their dealings? L&M gallery’s Francois Renet said that’s ambitions of creating a global audience for art is at odds with the private sector’s tendency to keep multi-million dollar deals, well, private. “Gallerists are so secretive about who makes money and how much we make that I believe it would be very difficult for [] to find out what a work of art sold for,” said Renet. Nonetheless the gallery will “give it a go”, he said.

Others say it is no different than the commission fee art advisors receive for introductions. “If the site were to send clients our way then we would totally be on board,” said Lower East Side gallerist James Fuentes, adding: “It’s such a small field that it is important to be above the board.” He added: “Ultimately [] broadens the reach and context for the artists we work with, which is what makes it exciting.”

“There have been a lot of failed attempts to bring art online. We’ve taken our time to launch because we want to do it right. The art history needs to have the proper degree of rigour, and the technology has to match our ambitions,” said Cwilich.

Each work of art on the database has been classified according to several different criteria, and the team has tried to think laterally. While more traditional art historical results will appear at the top of the list, such as related artist movements, other groupings are more instinctive, based on colour, theme or feeling. “No art historian would define things through colour, but we found that it’s a useful way to look at things,” said Cwilich.

For example, a search for Warhol’s “Flowers” shows works from the same series, as well as other pop paintings by artists including Roy Lichtenstein. Works by those influenced by Warhol, such as Damien Hirst, also show up, as do images by other artists who painted flowers.

“There is a large group of people who have the financial means to collect, but don’t,” Cwilich said. “We want to create an educat­ional, engaging resource for people to explore and discover art. Some portion will go on to collect.” The site will introduce those bitten by the collecting bug to the relevant gallery, so that both parties can follow up independently.

More from The Art Newspaper


29 Feb 12
15:24 CET


This is the beginning of more transparency in the art world. Transforming the business of art to a more effective, transparent market place. The list of Who's Who involved see the opportunity to become the leaders in the art field and start the ultimate trend toward mega galleries. They see a void and are going to fill it. My blog discuss what I see are some of the general changes one can expect to see in the next 20 years. This is the beginning of that change, there will be much more to come.

16 Nov 11
22:21 CET


What do you think of vs. Collectrium? I realize they are somewhat different but eventually they both refer buyers to galleries.

11 Aug 11
15:15 CET


Why are comments being hijacked for self-promotion? The site might as well not have them if they are not moderated.

25 Jul 11
16:5 CET


I do find this interesting as it has been debated that their should be some sort of International Art Stock Exchange. Due to the massive changes in information technology it is possible to have the latest up dates on the selling prices of famous artists and artworks. I also could see groups of people buying share's in a Picasso (Or other great artists or artworks) painting knowing that it will grow in value in the future. Seeing big name Galleries involved is the only way to see such ideas like these develop to their full potential. Augustus Firestone

20 Jun 11
15:7 CET


Fantastic concept, internet is the future of distribution. This takes away the distance concept. The value is teh key here, check out, a hot bed incubation website in India for younger contemporary artists. Today in less than a year, sells over 150 works making it India's largest online art gallery with physical shows to back it up. The world is changing for people who want to bring art closer to the collector !

10 Jun 11
4:10 CET


I believe the serious collectors, like those who privately collect the art of Lawrence Tenney Stevens (1896-1972), will appreciate the opportunity to deal with the Lawrence Tenney Stevens Trust directly for their historical acquisitions. As director of the Trust, I applaud this effort.

9 Jun 11
21:41 CET


Tremendous concept filling a much needed gap between would-be collectors and dealers. For those who enjoy contemporary art and design but not the price tags of a NY dealer, do check out, an easy and inexpensive way to rent and stream video art straight to your television. Artists receive ongoing royalties for rentals and you can refresh your artwork as frequently as you desire! For private and public spaces:

9 Jun 11
20:30 CET


Such a grand idea. I love it. Would like to know if there will be a portal for individual artists to show work. Or only via galleries? I suppose there will always be nasty comments, such as the one above. Regarding his snarl,some people DO purchase art to complement their furnishings. That's just the way it is. You can't change people, so might as well capitalize on it. It's just being pragmatic, and they are being smart about it.

9 Jun 11
5:29 CET


“No art historian would define things through colour, but we found that it’s a useful way to look at things,” Dude, the painting should go with the drapes! Poor art, just when it looks like it's down for the count. Some pr--k kick's her in the head! Hey it's color not colour, dude. VISIT!

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