"TEN YEARS AGO, people didn't think women would buy clothes online," says Catherine Levene, "and now clothes and accessories are the largest online category." Levene, who helped build the online market for fashion at Daily Candy and Glam Media, wants to do the same for contemporary art.
Levene's four-month-old Artspace grows out of a passion for collecting that began, she says, back when "the only art I could afford was these benefit editions that artists donate to organizations they're involved with." Her first purchase, a Ross Bleckner photograph for the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America, cost $100 and still hangs in her living room. Now Artspace carries its own "benefit editions" of photographs and prints by the likes of Bleckner, Andres Serrano, and Ralph Gibson and shares the revenue with arts institutions and charities.
That's just one of the ways Levene is building on the work of other digital art-preneurs, from "decorator art" sites that let you buy, say, a still life of flowers in colors that match your sofa to Jen Bekman's much-hyped (and much-copied) 20x200 business, which offers limited editions of prints by respected artists in various sizes at accessible prices. Other ideas Levene is introducing to the world of art e-commerce include weeklong private sales; interviews with "curators," professional and otherwise, along with samples of their collections; and eventually, Levene hopes, an online community of art lovers who will share their collections on the site. "Art," she says, "is the next luxury category on the web."
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.