Digital Goes Analog

Saatchi Online touches terra firma, mounts its first real-world New York art show

The new show "And Who Are You?" at the Sara Tecchia Roma Gallery features work chosen from Saatchi Online, a website with an open, online gallery founded by British art collector Charles Saatchi. We sat down with Rebecca Wilson, the site's editor in chief, and the show's curator, Ana Finel Honigman, the Saatchi Online senior London correspondent, to discuss the site and the new exhibit. Surprisingly, Saatchi Online (saatchi-gallery.co.uk) ranks at number 616 on the Alexa Research Top 100,000 websites in the world. For comparative purposes, New York's Museum of Modern Art ranks at 34,613 and the Tate museums at 31,436.

First, what is Saatchi Online and how did it come about?
Rebecca Wilson: We started the website 18 months ago, and it really came about because the Saatchi Gallery wasn't open. We had acquired a new building but with the gallery not to open till May of this year. In the interim, Charles Saatchi wanted to launch an interactive website with a daily magazine as well as a kind of MySpace for the art world, where artists could post their own work, profiles, and give information about themselves. We now have about 70,000 artists on the website—a whole community has now been established between artists based all over the world. And it's a way for them to show their work—many of the artists on the site don't have galleries. We did a survey recently and, over the last year, we've sold more than $130 million worth of art from the site—and we don't take any commission. It's an entirely free website. There's no charge made to anyone who is using it, be they artists or dealers or whomever.

What was the original conception of the project?
Wilson: We wanted it to be an alternative platform for artists all over the world to show their work. So if you haven't been able to get a gallery, if you haven't been to the right art school and you don't have the right connections, this is an alternative way to show your work. The art world is actually rather small, with the same artists right at the top getting all the attention, museum shows, gallery shows, etc. But there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of other artists out there who aren't getting the same kind of attention. We've recently added a section called "Stuart," as in "Student Art," for students all over the world. We have about 10,000 students registered on the site. We have other sections for video artists, photographers, and we have sections for art fairs, commercial galleries, and museums.

Saatchi cyberites: curators Rebecca Wilson and Ana Finel Honigman
photo: Alana Cundy
Saatchi cyberites: curators Rebecca Wilson and Ana Finel Honigman

Galleries are using it too?
Wilson: Yes, absolutely. It's a way for them to discover artists in places they might not actually travel to. Another thing we've started doing is art fairs. Although people are much more comfortable now about buying online, I think it helps if you can have exhibitions in the real world. For instance, we did our first art fair in October, the Zoo Art Fair in London. I selected 20 artists to be in that fair and we sold work by about 12 of them, and a couple of them have been given solo shows as a result of being in that exhibition. We sold about 30,000 worth of art, and these are all really fledgling artists, so their work is selling for 500 to 3,000 and all that money goes directly to the artists. Today, about 30 percent of visitors to the site are coming from the U.S., and it's about the same for the artists as well. That's why I was so keen to do a show here in New York, so people could actually see that, OK, it's a U.K.-based site, but it's completely international.

Which brings us to Ana. How did you choose the artists for the show?
Ana Finel Honigman: I just tried to locate people on the site whose work seemed tempting. Then I did a ton of studio visits. I wanted to make sure the work looked right in person. It had this Internet-dating aspect, where it was like shorter or older or a little more psycho or boring in person than it seemed on the profile, but a lot of it was incredible.

Does the show have a theme?
Honigman: "Art Stardom." I wanted something that wasn't just artists off the Saatchi site singing show tunes. I wanted it to be about why people had posted their work, what their aspirations were.

How many people are in the show?
Honigman: Twelve. There's a lot of cynicism about art stardom. Eric Doeringer, for instance, sells his reproductions of significant contemporary works of art on the streetoutside art fairs, places like that. He's also done a series of fake Miami Basel VIP cards. The two guys I'm most excited about are Fame Theory. For this show, they've done an LED ticker that compares artists' party appearances with the market value of their work.

"And Who Are You?" runs through January 26 at Sara Tecchia Roma Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, 212-741-2900.

 
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