Story By: Christian Burkholder
Images By: UGallery, Dustin Joyce, Maria Plotnikova, Michael Savoie
We at Ferrvor are big fans of the art world. Different variations whether it’s visual, photography, paintings, you name it. We came across San Francisco-based UGallery, who is changing up the art industry the way they work with artists and curate art. They have created an online gallery purely for artists and for those of us who enjoy buying their art.
UGallery is an artist lovers haven. Its online storefront features work from professional artists of all kinds from all over the globe, whose art work is available to purchase at market rate prices. With close to two million followers, and having sold to 45 countries, UGallery has been recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of the hot 100 Best Internet Retail Websites to spend your money. Now you won’t have to attend every gallery opening to find your favorite piece.
Ferrvor’s editor Christian Burkholder had a chance to sit down with UGallery’s Director and founder Alex Farkas to talk about the business of art dealing.
Alex, thanks for taking the time, firstly, when did you start UGallery?
Hey Christian, it’s my pleasure. We started UGallery back in 2006. It’s amazing to think that next year will be our 10th year in business.
That is impressive, what was your inspiration to launch it?
While studying art history and sculpture at the University of Arizona, I observed how difficult it was for student artists to make the leap to professional art careers. Many of the talented students I knew were unable to find an outlet to sell their work upon graduation, and as a result, took jobs in completely unrelated fields. When I met my business partners Stephen Tanenbaum and Greg Rosborough in the business school, we found a shared interest in supporting the arts. Over the course of our senior year, we developed the concept for UGallery in an entrepreneurship program. The program helped us write our plan, taught us how to pitch it, and sent us to two business plan competitions, an international one in Canada and a national one in Indiana. We were fortunate to win both competitions, which offered cash prizes, and we used our winnings to launch UGallery when we graduated.
Spoken like a true curator. Tell us a little bit about UGallery and its mission?
UGallery is shaking up the art industry. In the past, art was a black box – brick and mortar galleries tended to be intimidating and there was little price transparency. Generally, people who bought art were collectors with deep pockets. We created UGallery to flip the industry on its head and make art accessible to everyone. Our expansive online storefront features professional artists from around the world, offering clients a diverse range of art at accessible prices. Regardless of where a client is located, they can own an original piece by a professional artist.
Nice, I like that. What is your business model then for the artists?
We split commissions with artists 50-50. We take great pride in our partnerships with our artists. We begin every new relationship with a welcome phone call and work to foster strong, long-lasting relationships. As a testament to this, we still represent a number of artists from our first years in business in ‘06 and ‘07. I think they see how hard we work for them on everything from marketing to shipping logistics.
How do you determine pricing for an artist?
We work with both established artists and newcomers. We determine prices based on an artist’s previous sales history and the artwork itself. If an artist has limited sales history, we work together to set initial prices based on elements like the size, medium and complexity of the art. Over time, we raise prices as artists sell and develop a following.
You’re a big fan, do you create art yourself?
I grew up creating sculpture in my uncle’s woodworking studio, and I studied art in school. By nature, I think I am a creative person, but I’m not currently making art. At this point in my life, my focus is on building UGallery and promoting other artists’ work.
I’m sure you’ve seen criticisms on street and iPhone ‘photographers’ have received, what’s your take?
I think the criticisms of street photography and iPhone art are similar to the criticisms pointed at any other type of media. Namely, originality of concept and depth of exploration. Creative endeavors only become elevated to the status of art once an artist pushes beyond a place of comfort and familiarity.
On that note, where do you see smartphone photography going in the future? Is this a legit thing or is it just a fad?
Camera phones have done a wonderful thing for photography. More people are taking photos, and learning about things like composition, lighting, and editing. This is excellent for art appreciation. The more people take their own pictures, the more they can appreciate the craft, and ultimately this should lead to more talented photographers in the world.
In your opinion, what must a photographer capture in order to create the perfect street photography image?
Street photography is often about carefully capturing a subject in a way that looks effortless and unplanned. I am a people-watcher, so I’m drawn to photographs that explore the human condition. Great street photography captures unguarded moments; happiness, sadness, anger, the spectrum of emotion. Composition and subject choice play an important role, but more than anything, it’s knowing when to click the shutter.
What’s your take on Black & White and Colored photos, do you have a preference?
I don’t necessarily prefer one or the other. It depends on the actual piece of art. Shooting in color versus black and white is one of the many choices an artist makes in composing a great artwork.
Do you keep any art you sell at your current location?
All artwork on UGallery is stored in the artists’ studios. When a piece sells, we send the artist a custom-built art box to ship the work to the client. The box is a simple, three-layer foam construction so it is easy for the artist to box the work and easy for the client to unbox it.
How many partners is within Ugallery and who curates the art you sell?
Our team now has six full-time employees. Five of us work out of our San Francisco office, while my business partner, Stephen, is our presence on the ground in New York. My title is Gallery Director, and along with our Gallery Manager and Gallery Assistant, the three of us curate our collection and manage relationships with our artists and customers.
How do you typically discover artists that you sell on UGallery?
We recruit artists we see online and in physical shows that we think are unique and viable on our platform. We also receive many applications each week. Of those, we select about 10% to exhibit on the site. At any given time, the ratio of artists we recruit versus select through the submission process varies. Ultimately, we only show artists we feel strongly about.
How can an artist contact you to be represented, or at least the chance at selling art through you?
We accept applications through our website. It’s a simple process that takes about 15 minutes. We ask for contact information, artistic background, and five to ten images of artwork. We then get back to artists within a week.
Thanks for the conversation, as we wrap this up, can you give us some insights to the future of Ugallery?
In the past few years, we’ve seen huge growth in our business. We now represent more than 500 artists from around the world, and have clients in every state and 45 countries around the world. In the next few years, I see us focusing our energy on the same core elements that have made our business successful: expert curation, superb customer service, and an extremely user friendly interface. With that in mind, I expect we will be shipping exponentially more art around the globe.
I personally love art. It’s such a subjective thing, but one things for sure and that is something that Alex told me: “One piece can forever change you,” I would agree. So if you’re looking to discover some great art of your own, UGallery is absolutely worth a visit.