When Talenia Phua Gajardo created The Artling in 2013, Asian contemporary art had been a hot topic for more than a decade. The concept of buying it online, however, was entirely new.
“There were tons of websites based in the US and London which catered to European and American art [such as Amazon Art], but there wasn’t anything that specifically catered to Asian contemporary art,” says the Singapore native. “There was a big opportunity to create something that didn’t exist within our market.”
Talenia, a former architect with Zaha Hadid’s eponymous firm in London, secured S$200,000 (HK$1.1 million) in seed funding from an art collector and began work on her e-commerce platform.
It started as a forum for her to promote the work of emerging Singaporean photographers but quickly ballooned to include all sorts of artists and mediums. Today, the click-and-buy platform showcases a curated selection of art from galleries and artists in Asia.
The site, which currently lists the work of more than 900 artists, also recently acquired its direct competitor, Artshare. Hong Kong-based art consultant Alex Errera founded Artshare the same year The Artling was launched. Errera, who has known and admired Talenia for some time, remains an adviser to Artshare and will work closely with its CEO on the transition.
Her customers are as diverse as the works on her site: a mixture of corporate clients (these include Twitter, the Four Seasons and Google), private collectors and younger demographics “who are starting to explore.”
“The whole idea is that it is accessible. We want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to support artists and collect. You can start at any price point depending on how much of your income you want to allocate to art”
It’s not just an e-commerce platform, however: for corporate clients, Talenia’s team will source, curate and catalogue entire art collections, commission work, host VIP events, arrange and manage art storage, and advise on insurance.
How does she find and choose the artists she lists on the site? “We source all sorts of ways: online, word of mouth, art fairs, biennials, Instagram, everywhere. We are constantly on the lookout for talent but increasingly the artists come to us,” she says.
“We have a submission process where artists can upload their works and submit them for approval. If we think their work is appropriate for the site, then we list it. There has to be quality control.”
Does she see The Artling—in which Edipresse Media, publisher of Hong Kong Tatler, has invested—as a direct competitor of commercial galleries? They are, after all, both in the business of selling art. “Bricks-and-mortar galleries have very different agendas from us. They do exhibitions, shows, and they have very different overheads."
"We have a very different model. We do pop-ups here and there but we don’t have a physical gallery space, which allows us a lot more freedom to scale up. A bricks-and-mortar gallery would never be able to represent 1,000 artists at one time.”
The recent acquisition of Artshare is a harbinger of further expansion. “It’s a very exciting time,” says Talenia.
“Online buying is growing. People are getting more sophisticated and if they trust a brand, they trust the products on that site. There will always be sceptics about online shopping, especially when it comes to art, but we are seeing a very big shift in consumer habits.”
It seems no one is better poised than Talenia to capitalise on this changing market.
See also: Is The Digital Age Killing Art?