Connecting art in an app

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If there’s an app for everything, why not create one to buy art? That was exactly the thinking of the team at Artsy. And while it might not be a totally original idea, the company has the knowhow and resources to create an app with big ambitions to shake up the world of collecting.

Designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch iOS 7, the free app was created as a mobile extension to New York-based company Artsy, an online platform selling contemporary and historical art, including photography. Partnering with more than 600 international galleries, museums and art fairs, including the British Museum, Gagosian, the White Cube and Frieze, and boasting around 60,000 works of art (of which 36,000 are for sale), Artsy endeavours to make its vast database of art accessible to anyone with an internet connection, its creators say.

Computer science graduate Carter Cleveland founded Artsy five years ago in a bid to transform how people learn about, share and buy the art shown at galleries, museums and art fairs internationally. The app is a logical next step, prompted by changes in the way consumers engage with digital content. “Mobile is such an important way of engaging with users,” says a spokesperson. “When Apple announced its iOS 7 system, we saw a close alignment between our design philosophy and the direction of the new operating system. We pushed up our schedule so we could launch immediately when iOS 7 was released in mid-September.”


Users can explore the art world via the app, which is updated daily with high-resolution imagery. They can buy and read about works from a wide range of artists and photographers, such as Cindy Sherman and Helmut Newton, as well as from some of the great painters, including Monet. Works are presented in categories that can be browsed by subject, medium, technique or art movement.

“Artsy is not just a place to discover and learn about art, but also to collect,” says the firm. “It is possible to explore and collect a wide range of photographic genres, including fashion and photojournalism.” Prices typically range from a few hundred dollars to six figures, and while it will not disclose how much of a cut artists receive, Artsy takes between one and six percent of each sale.

The ultimate aim is to foster new generations of art lovers, museum-goers, collectors and patrons, says Artsy. “The app will appeal to anyone who is inspired by art and wants to engage with the art world at any level – from beginners to seasoned enthusiasts and collectors. We have the largest database in the world for modern and contemporary art. A vast number of Artsy users are students and teachers, as the site offers rich educational content and access to the world’s art in one place.”

The technology behind the app is the company’s Art Genome Project, an ongoing study to map characteristics it refers to as ‘genes’ that connect artist and artwork globally. More than 500 genes, including art movements, subject matter and formal qualities, have been identified, through which users can search the database. “We wanted the app to present works in a way that lives up to the meaning, creativity and quality of the artwork themselves,” wrote Artsy app developers Alexander Fabry and Robert Lenne in The Guardian last month. “Tapping a piece of art on your screen opens a detailed view, where you can zoom into a high-resolution image, see information regarding process, materials and dimensions, and explore similar works.”

Much of the company’s initial success can be put down to its design savvy, matched to the smart technology driving its database and how that can be searched intuitively by its customers. But Artsy isn’t the first to bank on opening up the notoriously undemocratic art world using easily accessible technology such as the web or a phone, and many of its predecessors have burned tens of millions of dollars in the process.

It remains to be seen whether Artsy can prove there’s a market, but the firm does seem to be building the right mix of investors, tech advisers and art industry powerhouses, raising $6m of seed funding in 2011, boasting Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Wendi Murdoch (wife of Rupert) as investors, while uber-gallerist Larry Gagosian and Joe Kennedy, CEO of Pandora and the Music Genome Project, are advisers.

The Artsy app ( ) can be downloaded free from the App Store (