The skill of collecting art has always been in the hands of the older generations. Those who can selectively choose what they like and pay the high prices. Well, times have changed and so has this trend. Thanks to Tze Chun and her company, Uprise Art, anyone can now be an art collector.
Tze graduated from Columbia University in 2006 with a double major in Dance and American studies focused on contemporary art. While Columbia was still known as a feeder for finance firms and most of her friends from an Art History major went on to work at art galleries or as visual artists, Tze decided to start her own dance company, Tze Chun Dance Company. (Because, why not?)
The Aha Moment
After spending a couple of years touring internationally and holding residency at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, Tze had an epiphany in 2010. From witnessing it first hand with her artistic friends to simply doing basic research, she realized that there was a lot of interest in selling art online but there was a lack of strong curation. Very quickly, she understood that curation could be king and she could start an online art gallery without actually holding the artwork. So, in June of 2011, she started Uprise Art with $800 in her pocket and said a sweet goodbye to Columbia Business School, where she had been accepted for an MBA.
“Uprise Art makes art accessible in the financial sense.”
Around 2011, there were a couple of platforms out there already (think Etsy) but they weren’t specifically curated. The idea for Uprise Art came from breaking three main pillars or barriers to entry that made it easy for anyone to become an art collector. The first was access. “Being able to make something you find in a Chelsea art gallery available online gave users the ability to browse through multiple pieces of art.” The second pillar was education. “The problem I saw was that people didn’t know enough about an artwork to purchase it. An online platform would make it enjoyable for users to spend time educating themselves on emerging artists and their techniques.”
Lastly, the third pillar was pricing. “Most people don’t feel comfortable spending so much money if they’ve never bought art before. So, I thought to myself, if people can buy homes on mortgages, why can’t we give them the same option for buying art?” To answer this, Tze build a payment structure for her users where art under $1,000 can be bought outright with flat $50 payments till it’s fully paid off. For art worth $1,000 or more, Uprise Art will ask for installments over 10 or 20 months. In both ways, the user can purchase art right away and have it shipped to their house. There is also an Art-Under-$800 section that allows users to browse works under $800. All artwork on the website is under $15,000 price point. Let’s just say, this was revolutionary in the art world!
One Artist at a Time
What bothered Tze as she dug through the art industry and tried to fix it was the fact that artists had so much to offer, yet they couldn’t pay their bills. “The most important time is when an artist is deciding if art can become a financially viable career option. Their contemporaries would want to know who these artists are and in 20 years, they’ll want to know each other.” Empathizing with this fact and breaking down the traditional art gallery model, Tze built Uprise Art the harder way. While a lot of platforms were focusing on click and buy ecommerce, Tze’s core focus was the conversation between the artist and the end buyer. “We wanted to do justice to the artist we represent.”
To that end, Uprise Art goes beyond a shopping website. Once they scout an artist to showcase, a well-structured contract is written that gives Uprise Art the right to promote their work. In the past, Uprise Art has also been a sounding board for the artist by fighting for what they deserve, for example, the payment from a gallery that never came through. “We are offering the same thing traditional art galleries do with the artist’s best interests at heart.” How does it make money you may ask? It’s the standard 50/50 split on the purchase.
“It’s a silly thing to not create relationships with people who would want to buy artwork from you in 10 years. Basic customer service is lacking in the art world.”
We’ve all been to a brick and mortar art gallery before; there are hundreds in New York and Paris, where RADICHE resides. But, there is a black hole in the experience when as a potential buyer, you go to the “gallerina,” as Tze refers to the women at the front desk, and ask about an art piece you like. There is a good chance they’re not interested in giving you more details because they know that you will not buy the piece based on its price. Uprise Art is challenging this by keeping the users in the loop through Salon nights, email newsletters and art fairs.
“It’s interesting to have an online art gallery because art never looks as good online as in person. Hence, we invest in art fairs. We use Square for payments and one day, we got a review from this woman who we had met at an art fair. She said, 'I was wearing running clothes and went to the fair. No one spoke to me except for Uprise Art.' She ended up spending upwards of $3,000 with us that day!” Tze’s efforts in altering these perspectives have been important to Uprise Art's early success. “Everyone is important in our book of business. When we release new artwork, every customer who has purchased that artist’s work is invited for special access. That connection and reinforcement is important to us.”