Business Insider recently named Legacy Russell as one of their coolest women in UK tech. Hailing from New York’s East Village, Russell now lives in London, and works at the online platform Artsy. Impact Arts’ Aaron Tej recently spoke with Russell, also the founding theorist behind Glitch Feminism, about the way we interact with art in 2016.
Artsy’s aim is to make all the world’s art accessible at the click of the button. How do you think this affects the way we consume art?
I’d prefer to think of Artsy providing an opportunity for people to deepen their knowledge about, and experience with art, not solely to “consume” it. The idea of “consumption” seems slightly pejorative to me, suggesting implicitly a sort of speedy and violently ravenous intake of media and material without deeper thought, reflection, or meaning. That just isn’t what Artsy is about. Artwork being viewed online does not make the experience of viewing it any less meaningful. Any person with real curiosity and passion for creative practice will spend time learning about artists and artworks whether they are across the room from it or across the world.
“Artsy creates a much-needed bridge during a period of time where the distance between the average collector and a work of art only continues to grow”
What Artsy does is allow those points of connection – that contact between a viewer and a work of art – to take place more efficiently, and with greater ease. Artsy creates a much-needed bridge during a period of time where the distance between the average collector and a work of art only continues to grow. As the world becomes increasingly globalised and people are more and more mobile, Artsy steps in to provide people [with] the opportunity to continue to celebrate and engage with the artworks and artists they love, even from afar. We have around 1.6 million unique visitors to the site per month, a concentrated audience of active art enthusiasts, museum and gallery-goers, collectors, patrons, students, and educators.
The site not only allows you to view and collect art but offers a range of educational resources. Could you tell me more specifically about the initiatives Artsy runs?
Artsy is the leading resource for learning about and collecting art from over 4,200 leading galleries, 600 museums and institutions, 60 international art fairs and select auctions. Artsy provides free access via its website (Artsy.net) and iPhone and iPad apps to 400,000 images of art and architecture by 50,000 artists, which includes the world’s largest online database of contemporary art. Artsy’s encyclopaedic database spans historical works, such as the Rosetta Stone and the Colosseum, to modern and contemporary works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, Richard Serra, Sarah Lucas, and Cindy Sherman. Powered by The Art Genome Project, a classification system that maps the connections between artists and artworks, Artsy fosters new generations of art lovers, museum-goers, patrons, and collectors.
“Artsy is also being used by established and emerging collectors to research and buy art”
The majority of people visiting Artsy use it as source of reference, learning, inspiration, and enjoyment. They are active art enthusiasts, museum and gallery-goers, students, and educators. Artsy is also being used by established and emerging collectors to research and buy art from leading galleries, auctions and art fairs around the world, such as through our popular art fair previews. Artsy’s mission is to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
In a 2014 Vogue article, the magazine labelled the most talked about art dealer as Instagram. What are your thoughts on the freedom and empowerment Instagram gives to artists? Do you see any problems with artists acting as both dealer and curator?
Instagram has done a lot for artists in providing a direct pipeline between their studio and the broader market of enthused collectors. I think it is fantastic to see artists gain greater exposure via Instagram’s platform and to be empowered by the agency it provides them beyond traditional art dealing and gallery representation. However, it is definitely not one-sided: galleries are also majorly benefitting from Instagram as well, and institutions who are savvy with their digital strategy are testing the waters to see how Instagram performs as a commercial sales platform. It is all fair game. If artists are able to advance their brands and market themselves effectively via Instagram, I think that’s fantastic, as without artists none of us would be able to do what we do.
“By democratising access to art, Artsy allows for a more in-depth experience”
The thing that is cool about Instagram is that via this free app artists and galleries alike are able to access new audiences, ones that might not typically walk into their gallery, or if they would, might be too far away to do so. The percentage of people in the world with the income to purchase artwork is certainly much higher than the percentage of people currently buying artwork as self-defined collectors. With this in mind, it is good to remember that there is so much left to still capitalise on in terms of building out channels to engage those new audiences.
While Instagram does some of this work, it is not very comprehensive as an educational platform and is not set up to teach, in addition to advertise and promote. It is important when sharing an artwork—be this online, or in person—to be sure to provide the viewer the necessary tools to develop their tastes, a language with which they can approach art history, and best practices for building momentum as individuals who are passionate about supporting art (and the artists who make it). One third of all people who have registered as an Artsy member say that they are already collecting or are interested in starting collecting. By democratising access to art, Artsy allows for a more in-depth experience, providing those who might have the means to make a purchase, but historically otherwise might not have the access, the opportunity to develop a visual vernacular and work toward becoming collectors.
Image courtesy of Legacy Russell.
For more information on Legacy Russell’s writings and research, including her pioneering manifesto on Glitch Feminism, visit www.legacyrussell.com.
For more on click curating culture, and further comments from Legacy Russell, see Issue 241 of Impact out now!