For someone who is tinkering with the idea of buying art for the first time, it can be hard to know where to start. Even if you've got a few thousand dollars to invest in a piece to display in your home, you're probably priced out of Sotheby's and Christie's auctions. (Not to mention, making conversation with millionaire art aficionados over pre-auction champagne is not everyone's idea of a good time.) You could visit a neighborhood art gallery, but then how do you assess how much a painting is worth, especially when the owner gives you the hard sell?
Today, an Austin-based company called Twyla is launching to offer a new alternative for mid-range art buyers. Twyla has hired a team of expert curators who have selected 300 pieces from 80 well-known artists from around the world—including Miya Ando, Travis Boyer, and Kristen Schiele—whose work can be found at the Whitney, the Guggenheim, and MoMa. Instead of originals, the site sells limited-edition prints that are individually numbered and signed by the artist and go for between $1,000 and $5,000—about one-tenth of the price you might pay for an original painting. "We're filling the gap between posters and Picassos," says Matt Randall, Twyla's cofounder and CEO.
The prints will be featured on the website, but Twyla is also collaborating with galleries, restaurants, and boutique hotels like South Congress Hotel in Austin and Soho House in West Hollywood to create physical showrooms where buyers can get a sense of the scale and quality of their potential investments. The curators will be working to grow Twyla's collection and cover a wide assortment of styles, from geometric to street to pop, to meet a variety of tastes.
Twyla is targeting the consumer who wants to start building a collection but doesn't know where to begin and doesn't have the budget to purchase an original. This, in fact, is a large swath of the market. Despite the fact that overall global art sales have slowed, the online art market is currently worth $3.27 billion, up by 24% from last year. And since art priced under $10,000 accounts for only one-third of all online sales, there appears to be plenty of room for growth in the mid-market. Many millennials, for instance, have been in the workplace for several years and are now eager to deck their walls.
Take Jonathan Golden, the 33-year-old finance director of the David Chang bakery chain Momofuku Milk Bar. He recently moved into a new New York City apartment that he wanted to decorate and came across the Twyla beta site through a friend of a friend. "I thought it was an interesting concept, so I started digging," he says.
He fell in love with a large black-and-white abstract painting called Corridors #5 by the Israeli artist Amir Guberstein that cost $1,800. "It sounds simple, but this Guberstein piece is the one I had the best reaction to and thought I'd enjoy having on my wall," Golden explains. "It felt like the kind of piece I could find something new in each week."
But beyond just finding high-quality art at an accessible price, buying it usually entails the hassle of schlepping large canvases and prints around town, then spending time and money at a frame shop to make them wall-ready. Twyla is trying to simplify this part of the process as well. Each item on the site arrives at the buyer's home framed and protected in a sturdy box designed for Twyla by an aerospace engineer. For $150, Twyla can send expert gallery-trained handlers to install the print on your wall, or the buyer can install it using a special "welcome kit" that Twyla created.
"There's a convenience play here, too," says David Krane, CEO of GV (formerly Google Ventures), which led Twyla's $19 million Series A round of funding. "We're helping the customer dramatically by making framing decisions for them, delivering it in such a format that it is ready to go on your wall." He points out that the typical buying experience involves agonizing over the decision to buy art, only to be confronted with four to six weeks of more decisions and production time before you can enjoy looking at it in your home.
From the artists' perspective, there's a lot to be gained from a platform like Twyla, since it creates an entirely new revenue stream for them. Artists can continue to sell their work to galleries, but Twyla has created a licensing model. "It's akin to the licensing model that exists in film or music," Randall says. "We're not only giving consumers a destination to access great art, we're raising the artists' living wage."
The artist Kristen Schiele has three prints on Twyla, each going for between $2,000 and $2,600. "I personally know the curator who reached out to me and I respect her," Schiele says. "The benefit of working with Twyla is the exposure for the artists for their galleries. It's a way to reach and inspire people."