Democratizing art

By Felix Salmon
November 18, 2009
20x200 last week -- a woman who has just raised $825,000 in venture funding to help expand her project of bringing art to everybody. "I want anyone who's educated and even remotely affluent to feel self-conscious if they don't have an art collection that they can talk about," she says, and to that end she's selling limited-edition art starting at just $20 for an 8"x10" C-print in an edition of 200. (Hence the name.)

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I had a very interesting lunch with Jen Bekman of 20×200 last week — a woman who has just raised $825,000 in venture funding to help expand her project of bringing art to everybody. “I want anyone who’s educated and even remotely affluent to feel self-conscious if they don’t have an art collection that they can talk about,” she says, and to that end she’s selling limited-edition art starting at just $20 for an 8″x10″ C-print in an edition of 200. (Hence the name.)

The editions are limited not because that makes them more likely to rise in value, necessarily, but rather because it helps to infect her buyers with the collector bug: they are incentivized to buy now, before an edition sells out; they get an experience which only a small number of other people will share; and they feel as though they’re part of a select group of people who are supporting a particular artist. (The artists get 50% of all 20×200′s revenues, and retain copyright in their work.) What’s more, a lot of young artists today come to prominence with one high-profile image; limiting the editions that flow from that image helps to push artists to create more new work.

More generally, limiting editions helps to brand them as being non-generic: artisanal, rather than mass, culture. While 20×200 is certainly curated by Bekman, it also has a broad enough range of art that it allows her buyers to exercise their individualism and feel that they’re buying something uniquely suited to themselves and few others.

And yes, there is a chance of price appreciation too. 20×200 features a lot of artists, and it’s statistically probable that eventually one or two of them will become art-world stars; at that point, their early work will be worth much more than $20 or $50 or $200. And the biggest pieces — Bekman sells 30″x40″ prints for $2,000 and occasionally goes even bigger than that — could conceivably become seriously collectable.

But like any good gallery, 20×200 is all about getting enjoyment out of what you’re buying, rather than speculating on future price appreciation. Most art doesn’t go up in price, and certainly not small works on paper which, due to the limitations of digital printing, are unlikely to last out the century. The thing I really like about 20×200 is that it’s both elite and accessible: it’s not a free-for-all like art.com, without a curatorial sensibility, but at the same time it’s not a forbidding white cube either.

Jen has a real retail sensibility: she’s got big plans for the post-Thanksgiving rush, and she’s more than happy to recommend prints which go with the sofa. Most art is decorative; there’s no shame in that. She’s not even particularly high-end, as retail goes. She’s just trying to persuade the woman with the $2,000 handbag that $500 is not an excessive amount of money to pay for a print. It’s a struggle, sometimes, but she’s going about it in a great, accessible manner. I wish her — and her investors — all the best.

Comments
7 comments so far

I see that she finally put in an RSS feed, took her forever to do that… Now I might actually pay attention to what they are selling — not going to check a web site every day to see what new art they have!

Posted by A | Report as abusive

I think its a great idea that Bekman has put forward, anyone who is conscious about the art they have bought or the art industry in general should be able talk about their art passionately and with conviction. Furthermore, Bekman’s idea of bringing art to everyone is one that needs to be talked and discussed more, in so doing art will be able to cross over many borders and will no longer be a luxury limited to the affluent. Whether is $20 or $20,000, art matters no matter what the price tag is.For those of you wanting to be in the know about art and up and coming auctions and exhibitions, etc check out the following website which I have found very useful, its a great resource:www.artsandcollections.com

Thanks for all the kind words, Felix. I’d rather convince the woman w. a $2000 to buy a $2000 piece of art, or even a $10,000 one, but you have to start somewhere!Regarding A’s post — we’ve had RSS feeds since launch, but we don’t prominently feature all of our feeds. New artwork is always announced on the mailing list ahead of being introduced on the site; that’s where most people keep up with us.

She definitely has the ability to attract and gain new collectors. Great idea!

One minor point: very few of 20×200 pieces are properly called “C-Prints,” as the term is generally used. In my experience, they’re digital inkjet prints. The ones I have gotten have all been of a uniformly high quality.Revealing my art industry nerd-dom, there has been at least one 20×200 piece up for auction over the past year. It was from Ms. Bekman’s special series with Blind Spot (Aperture), two pieces by the Starn Brothers. It was in PdP’s “Sunday@Phillips” event in April, and realized $600, over a high estimate of $400. Of course, within the photography world, the Starn Brothers are already more or less stars. (http://www.phillipsdepury.com/auctions/ lot-detail.aspx?sn=NY000109&search=&p=&o rder=&lotnum=268)

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

In addition to being digital rather than C-prints (mostly) AND high quality for all the ones I have received, it is probably incorrect that they will not “last out the century”. Since encapsulation technology was widely implemented a few years ago, quality digital pigment prints should have a very long life. Of course, we will have to wait to prove that, but one should not be concerned about longevity if you dont display your prints in direct sunlight.

Posted by David | Report as abusive

There is something seriously creepy about the quote in the first paragraph. If she makes her living by getting people to feel stupid for missing out on what all the cool kids are doing, she needs to go find an honest line of work.

Posted by anonymous | Report as abusive
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