#95. Uprise Art revolutionizes art collecting and discovery for the digital age. We talk with founder Tze Chun about how she built an online-first gallery that connects emerging artists with collectors. The Loose Threads Podcast features in-depth discussions with leaders across the rapidly changing consumer economy.

Check out the full transcript below.

Richie: [00:00:07] Welcome to the 95th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast, a show about the rapidly changing consumer economy. This episode is brought to you by Loose Threads Membership, which gives you actionable analysis, insights and events that drive growth, and Loose Threads Espresso, your energizing and high-pressure filter for consumer news—in context. We also have a newsletter that features the latest analysis of the consumer economy from Loose Threads. Check it all out at LooseThreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:34] Joining me today is Tze Chun, the founder of Uprise Art, an online-first art gallery working with emerging artists and collectors. Tze started the company after meeting up-and-coming artists and would-be collectors and realizing that they needed each other. Since opening a physical space was not an option or of interest, she started building her online-first gallery, introducing then-unheard of options like transparent pricing and payment plans.

Tze: [00:00:56] The art world is the most opaque industry, I think. It has really been the hold out, the final frontier of ecommerce, the last industry to move online.

Richie: [00:01:08] Since then, Uprise Art has turned into a destination for anyone looking to set foot in a world that was previously off limits. Here is my talk with the Tze Chun.

Richie: [00:01:22] Why don’t we start. Talk a bit about your background and then we can work our way up to this company existing.

Tze: [00:01:27] So I moved to New York in 2002 to attend Columbia University. I had always been a visual and performing artist growing up, all through high school and even through college. So I graduated with a double major in art history and in dance. While I was at Columbia, I went through this entrepreneurship program which—again, this is 2002-2006. The idea of startups was pretty new still so they had the entrepreneurship program in the basement of the career center. They handed me a company which I ran for two years. So when I graduated college, I knew I wanted to continue to work in the arts and I wanted to be an entrepreneur. As you can imagine, being a performing artist is a little more pressing so I immediately started a dance company. I was the artistic director of that company and choreographed for a number of years. Around 2010, there was a lot of excitement around the art world online. VIP Art Fair was starting. Artsy, I think, was pre-launch, but was already forming as an idea and there were a number of other art startups and I thought that it was the right time to really test and see if I could start an art gallery without the overhead and the pressure that a traditional brick-and-mortar would need. Basically, I just didn’t want to work my way up the ladder.

Richie: [00:03:03] Yeah.

Tze: [00:03:03] And to really focus on curation and see, if you have a good eye and if you’re a good business person, can you make a gallery work online? So I put together the gallery and started in 2011.

Richie: [00:03:15] Why, up until this point—because I remember reading a lot on Artsy and so forth that few art galleries had been on the Internet and so forth—why do you think it took so long? What was the resistance, industry-wide, to this happening to begin with?

Tze: [00:03:27] The art world is the most opaque industry, I think. Transactions happen behind closed doors. There’s very few contracts. It’s a relationship business. In most cases, products are unique. Because of all those factors, it has really been the hold out, the final frontier of ecommerce, the last industry to move online. It’s a product that needs to be seen in person, is kind of what the excuse has been for a long time. And, because the art world is unfortunately skewed towards the dealers, the movers and shakers are the ones who are determining the career and the future of an artist.

Richie: [00:04:12] So we’re in 2010, 2011, I guess, as it’s coming together. How did the original idea form and what were the first steps you took to start to make it real?

Tze: [00:04:22] As an art history major, many of my friends went into the art world. They worked at galleries, institutions, auction houses. I also had quite a few visual artist friends who continued to work on their artistic practice, hit the pavement, went to galleries, tried to have their work seen and exhibited. So I saw those people who were close to me [who] were working in the arts really struggling. The idea of the starving artist is very real. On the other hand, it was Columbia and it was 2006, pre-financial crisis so I had this entire other group of friends who went on to be corporate lawyers, consultants, bankers. They had amazing apartments, zero time. Their apartments were cookie cutter, had no personality. They even had corporate memberships to all the museums. They really had access and they had no art on the walls and they would constantly complain about the fact that they were not integrated into the cultural fabric of the city. I was their cool, artsy friend whose life looked very different than theirs.

Tze: [00:05:32] Standing in the middle of this, [I] saw that there are these two groups of people who 20 or 30 years from now are really going to want to know each other. The artists are going to be selling at much higher prices. The—for all intents and purposes I’m just saying the bankers lawyers—they were all going to be collecting art and wishing that they had owned art by these artists 20 or 30 years earlier. So I thought, there has to be a mechanism to introduce these two people at an earlier point in both their careers because you really miss out on all this time when you could be learning about art, that you could be living with art and experiencing that and, like I said, being a part of that ecosystem, being a patron of the arts and having art enrich your life. And, for the artists, they miss out on having all the resources to continue exploring their ideas and furthering their careers.

Richie: [00:06:28] There’s always a dichotomy between—why does someone collect art? Are they doing it for a financial incentive? Are they doing it for the creative incentive? How did you position those two or prioritize one or the other when you started this? That, to me, is always the inherent conflict of, are you buying this because you want to just make money or launder money or are you buying this because you want to support the artist? You don’t actually really care if it ends up being worth five times as much in five years. How are those all balanced early on?

Tze: [00:06:52] Any gallerist that sells you a work of art and says it’s going to be a good investment you should not trust because if you’re buying work under a $100,000, you’re really not looking at what you call an investment-grade work. You should be focusing entirely on how much you believe that this artist is doing something that resonates with people and, even more than that, that they’re doing something that resonates with you. So I always say there’s too much good art out there in the world to buy something you don’t absolutely love. For better or for worse, as an art dealer, art is always going to be a luxury. It’s never going to be an essential. People will spend tons of money on clothing and expensive restaurants and things because they can kind of justify it. Like, “Oh, this is a basic human need.” I think that art is definitely a basic human need but that, in our culture, it’s not seen as such.

Tze: [00:07:48] From day one, I’ve always said that these are artists that I believe in, that my team believes in. We think that what they’re doing is unique. It’s memorable. At Uprise Art, there’s no pressure sell. I always say, “Go home and sleep on it.” If we meet someone at an art fair and they come back three or four times and they are just really taken with a work, I say go home and sleep on it because I think that art that is going to be meaningful to you and your life, you can’t stop thinking about. It’s like a good film, right? You think about it. It comes back to you. It almost haunts you. Everything we sell in the gallery is one-of-a-kind. Of course, there’s a chance it’s not going to be there the next day. But I really think that an art purchase should be something that is a special experience. But it’s also not to be taken lightly. You’re gonna live with this work hopefully forever. You’re going to gift it to your children. It’s something that’s going to stay with you and so it should be something that has a special meaning to you. Either you associate certain things with it, the artist’s story resonates with you, the concept behind the work resonates with you or it’s something that adds value when you look at the work every day.

Richie: [00:08:57] Getting back to the beginning of this, you have this concept. It’s 2010, 2011. What does version one of it look like and then how does it come together?

Tze: [00:09:05] This has been a bootstrapped endeavor from day one. I really wanted to test this idea. I also, as an outsider to the the visual art world, I had not worked in galleries. I had not worked my way up the internship ladder as most people do to pay their dues. So the way that I approached starting a gallery was very much, “how should things be done?”—not, “how are things done?” I spent far too much on a logo because I’m a visual person so I spent $500 to create a logo.

Richie: [00:09:43] That’s not that bad.

Tze: [00:09:44] I know, but I just felt like I was really important. And then I launched the first iteration. Version one of Uprise Art was actually hosted on a portfolio website. It’s what photographers would use if they had a portfolio of photographs they wanted people to see. I uploaded an image of our logo as the first thing you see on your landing page and then every subsequent page was an image and then an email address to contact me. So it was the lowest of low tech. It really couldn’t have been more low tech without being not a website. That’s how I tested the idea. I emailed everyone I knew, all of these bankers and lawyers, and I sat back and thought, “Okay. I have this great idea. I can’t wait for all these orders to come in.”

Richie: [00:10:33] And the artists were just also people you know [whose work you] would just put up, basically?

Tze: [00:10:37] So I launched the gallery with 11 artists and as a no-name art dealer who had never worked in a gallery, I had to build up quite a bit of trust with these initial artists. I think only one or two were really warm contacts. Other people were artists [whom I’d] been following, [whom] I wanted desperately to work with. It was a lot of coffees and studio visits and understanding what their goals were and figuring out how to create a business that would serve those needs. So I launched the gallery [with] 11 artists. The first order that came in was my boyfriend, now husband.

Richie: [00:11:18] As it should be.

Tze: [00:11:19] As it should be. But then the second order that came in was a contact of mine who was a specialist at Sotheby’s, who still works there now, and the third order that came in was a graphic designer. And what I realized was that I thought the early adopters were going to be people who had the resources to take a chance on a new business model but, in fact, what was really resonating were people who were in the art world already, who knew art, could spot a good thing when they saw it and were thinking, “Finally, I have access, because of this installment plan, to the artists that I’ve been following. I see that this is an interesting curatorial vision for this gallery and I want to be a part of it.”

Tze: [00:12:07] We now represent close to 200 artists which, seven years later, may seem like not that large of a growth curve, but we’ve always focused on being a gallery and not a marketplace. So we’re still building relationships with every artist that we represent. We keep in close contact with those artists and we’re also building a community of collectors who can email us. They visit us at art fairs. We really know them personally. Our team of in-house art advisors understands what they’re looking for and we’ve been able to match them with artists [who] are a great fit. They have real relationships, these collectors and these artists. We’ve facilitated studio visits. They are kept updated with what is happening in the artist’s studio. They have first dibs on seeing what the artist is creating before we release it on the website.

Tze: [00:13:01] We’ve really taken some technical tools and applied it to how you make a relationship business more efficient. But, in many ways, we’re really not a tech company. We have this digital gallery, but there isn’t a recommendation algorithm. We’ve seen a lot of other online art galleries or marketplaces raise a lot of money and fail because they approach it as ecommerce or they think, “Let’s take best practices in ecomm and apply them to the art world,” and not really look at the nuances of how art purchasing decisions are made, but also how artists create work and what their priorities are. An artist’s priority is often not to sell, sell, sell. They want to make relationships with collectors and institutions and corporate collections and build their resumes and show in exhibitions and art fairs and also gain real feedback. As a gallery first and foremost, we offer feedback that we think is meaningful and really helps artists progress in their careers.

Richie: [00:14:07] So how did that installment plan in the beginning work? It sounds very risky. You touched on it before, but in terms of why you wanted to do it in the first place—in terms of, I’m guessing, accessibility and then, technically, how you figured out a way to make it worthwhile for you to manage.

Tze: [00:14:25] In talking early on with our earliest collectors and also our earliest artists, I dug in on what their concerns were and what their needs were. And, with artists, the traditional path for an artist is that they create a body of work, they find a gallery that’s interested in showing them, they maybe wait six months to stage that exhibition and then, at that exhibition, there may be a number of sales and then, once the show is over, the gallery will send the artist a 50% commission for the art that was sold. Then they may wait maybe another year or two years before they have another show. And for an artist, they can’t really rely on a steady income stream. The way in which it comes in is pretty lumpy. So you have this big show, a number of sales and then you have to save that money to support your practice until your next show. The gallery may or may not sell a few additional pieces after the show has ended, but there’s no consistent recurring revenue for the artist.

Tze: [00:15:33] What we are offering artists at Uprise Art is consistent sales because we are showing the work online consistently. We may promote them in an exhibition or at an art fair or put together a program where we’re marketing their new series of work and giving them exposure to collectors. But the installment plan is great because the artists are paid monthly as the installments are paid monthly. And so they may have these outright sales—and, at this point, most of our sales are outright sales—but, in addition to outright sales, they have this amount of recurring revenue that is consistent and dependable. They can count on that for their studio rent. They can count on that for materials. Maybe 20% of their monthly income from us is through installments and they can count on that consistent monthly revenue.

Richie: [00:16:27] And then did you start to see that it would allow people from the buying side to take a risk or think about something they normally would not get in a single purchase?

Tze: [00:16:34] Yes. The installment plan was my way of expanding the art market. I very much wanted people to have access [who] weren’t already buying art. That connection with forging a relationship with a first-time art buyer is very important. It’s something that galleries do not do and not because they don’t want to but, if you have a $40,000-per-month rent and you have a brick-and-mortar gallery, you just don’t have the resources to treat every person that walks in your gallery like they’re the top 1%. They, unfortunately, just focus on the well-known, seasoned art collectors [whom] their staff is trained to spot from a mile away and they may not even look up from their desks when you walk into the gallery. I’ve experienced that hundreds of times. You walk into a gallery, you may be very interested in the artist, you may know, “I want to know the price of this piece,” and the person behind the desk doesn’t even look up, doesn’t even say hello. And, for me, I wanted to create a completely different kind of experience.

Tze: [00:17:41] Even though we are online, our brand voice is friendly. We’re not condescending, but we also, again, give the artwork the kind of credit it needs. And, at the price point that we specialize in through our website— that’s the $15,000-and-under price point—these collectors perhaps aren’t hiring an art consultant. Because why spend a few thousand dollars on an art consulting if you’re only buying art that’s a few thousand dollars? We wanted to bring the idea of service to an online art gallery. We have an in-house team of art advisors. At any point you can connect with an art advisor, free of charge, and they can help you identify artists within your budget, within your style preference. They learn a little bit about who you are and your lifestyle, interests, your profession and they can find you artists that an algorithm couldn’t.

Tze: [00:18:38] I think that some of the challenges that a lot of the other art startups have faced and one of the reasons why a lot of the companies, a number of the companies, that have launched since 2011 have since shut down despite millions of dollars of funding is that they’ve seen it as a numbers game. “Let’s onboard as much art as we can and let’s invest in our ecommerce platform. Let’s let people sort and filter down to what they need faster and quicker and show them more information.” But, in fact, that’s the complete opposite of the way that people have historically discovered and acquired work.

Tze: [00:19:22] When you go to Chelsea, you don’t know what you want. If you go to a gallery, you don’t say, “Hi, I’d like to find something in this size and this price with these colors and this general art historical category.” People experience art buying as an experience of exploration, of discovery. Most people are surprised with what they end up falling in love with. I used to give lots of talks at law firms and investment banks for their summer associates or their first-year analyst as a crash course into how to buy art. I would ask people, “What kind of art are you drawn to? Can you name an artist that you like?” I remember there was one young lawyer [who] said, “I love Edward Hopper.” Then that person ended up actually becoming one of our collectors and they acquired something that—if you typed Edward Hopper into a database, you would never come up with this very contemporary, edgy photograph that they ended up purchasing. But a lot of the ideas behind the work resonated with that person in the same way that an Edward Hopper painting did.

Richie: [00:20:38] At what point did you add the ability to actually just buy everything online and moved away from the more manual email system? How did that, if at all, change things?

Tze: [00:20:47] “Art under $800,” for us, is where most people click and buy. We see that, with the rest of the website, with works ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, usually there is some point of inquiry. They might just ask for more information about the artist and we’ll point them to some information. Most of that is on our website already, but I think people want the comfort of knowing that they’re buying from a place where there’s a real person behind the business. We have seen lots of growth in straight ecommerce where we can track where they found us and their path through our website and then they buy a $5,000 piece on their credit card. But we really like the fact that we are able to obtain more data from an interaction via email or a phone call. They are insights that are extremely valuable because, for instance, someone will buy a piece from “Art under $800” and it’s a $200 piece. But, in fact, they’re right now exploring their online options to buy maybe $50,000 worth of art for their new beach home. But they just aren’t comfortable with making those kinds of purchases and it’s not until you call someone and say, “Oh, congratulations on your new work. I am so excited for you to see the piece,” and you can ask them some questions about what drew them to that artist, what are they really looking for, how can we help, that suddenly all of these other really important things come to the surface.

Richie: [00:22:13] Has that led you to sometimes wish you had a physical space? Because it seems so much of this is not, again, this commoditized, super-scalable algorithmic whatever, but it’s really just some of the ways that this business and good relationships and so forth have always worked.

Tze: [00:22:29] What we try to do is take the best parts of the art world and just throw away the rest. On the artist’s side, we’ve heard time and time again, “Oh, I had this show at this gallery years ago and they never paid me,” or, “I never had a contract,” or, “I heard from someone that they actually charged three times as much as what we agreed to and I never saw any of that money.” And so putting together basic business principles of, “treat people as you’d like to be treated” and “understand the needs of your vendors,” that all seemed pretty straightforward to me, but it’s not the way that the art world has operated historically, unfortunately.

Tze: [00:23:03] On the buyer side and the collector side, I’ve looked at the best parts of the experience of buying art from a gallery, that relationship and that feeling of being philanthropic, of being an art collector, a patron of the arts. That’s all very real to our collectors even if they’ve never stepped foot into the Uprise Art’s space. So we’ve taken that personal connection with an artist and we’ve translated that through updates so they receive access; being the first one to know about what an artist is working on in their studio.

Tze: [00:23:35] We do have the Uprise Art loft. That’s where our office is and that’s based at the intersection of everything, downtown. So we’re at the corner of Broadway and Canal, so Chinatown, SoHo, TriBeCa—that intersection. You can come to the loft, its viewings. We have viewings on appointment and you can see work that you’re interested in in person.

Richie: [00:23:58] Do you store all the art? How does the fulfillment piece work?

Tze: [00:24:01] We have a small percentage of the work that’s visible in the online gallery in our space. It’s usually work that we’re about to exhibit in an art fair or recently exhibited or an artist has sold quite a few pieces recently and we ask them to send their entire portfolio to us. Most of the art is stored, still, in the artist’s studio and, if someone is interested in seeing a piece, that’s the reason why it’s by appointment only. It’s not to be exclusive. It’s just so that we can prepare and have the work shipped to us to view.

Richie: [00:24:28] I think part of what you touched on there, which is interesting, is physical galleries have basically a scarcity of wall space. There’s only so much you actually can put [up] and, of course, you can build more galleries, but there’s still effectively a finite amount. You mentioned before that a lot of the other companies in the space basically blew that out of the water and just said, “We can store infinite amounts of art,” and so forth. It sounds like you fell somewhere in the middle, which is having, when you’re talking about the recurring revenue of allowing artists to show work constantly and not do it in a show, is definitely the result of an abundance of space, but not necessarily to the point that there is unlimited space. How did you think through what that would be? Because you started with eleven artists and that spectrum is very interesting because the internet would allow for everything, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should put [up] everything.

Tze: [00:25:17] With Uprise Art, curation is the key to everything that we do. There are many startups now in all different areas, with the mattresses and with bedding and with housewares, where it’s about fewer, better options. I saw the opportunity of the internet as allowing me to take risks on artists [whom] perhaps a brick-and-mortar gallery wouldn’t be able to take risks for and wouldn’t be able to introduce people to but, at the same time, only showing a cohesive story about an artist. So, if you look at the artists on Uprise Art, we’re not showing everything they’ve ever made. It’s still the newest body of work or maybe the newest two bodies of work that tell a very clear story about what that artist is interested in and then relying on this hybrid of low-touch, high-touch. So if someone inquires about that artist or about a piece of art by that artist, suddenly then we know, this person is interested in this artist. We can then tell them about the other works they’ve created. We can keep them up to date about, “This artist won this award,” “This artist is Forbes 30 Under 30,” “This artist is about to release new work, would you like a preview?” There’s a lot that we can do to educate that collector on what that artist is doing, but we don’t need to put all of that online and overwhelm people with images and also email content.

Tze: [00:26:42] I, again, thought of things not necessarily from experience in ecommerce or experience in the art world. I just thought, “If I was an art collector, what would I want?” And I wouldn’t want a daily email because it’s not fast fashion. Art is a completely different animal. People do not buy art every day. They don’t even buy art every year. Our average repeat customers comes back after 15 months and what we’ll notice is they come back and they buy, usually, either more pieces or at a higher price point. Almost everyone who first bought their installments comes back and buys outright the second time. It’s about building trust in our brand, but also building confidence for the collector that they purchased art the first time, they understand what that’s like to have a piece arrive at your door ready to hang, to have it go up on the wall and to see the change that it brings and they’re much more confident the second time. So we’ve really curated what we show online.

Tze: [00:27:40] Again, we’re in very close contact with our artists. We’re constantly discussing how to make sure that what they show online, there are enough pieces available. There’s always this paradox of choice. You don’t want to have 60 pieces by an artist to select from. So we really work with artists to say, “How do you want to be represented online?”

Richie: [00:27:59] So where are you a year after launch in terms of where is the business and what are you focused on?

Tze: [00:28:06] This company was, as I mentioned, bootstrapped from day one and I think that it was a blessing in disguise. There was FOMO. You see other startups raising lots of capital. They’re growing fast and they’re making headlines. I decided that I wanted to wait on raising money until I really understood what an online art gallery could do, given these tech tools and given the state of the market at the time, and what that meant was that I personally answered every email. I personally delivered every piece for the first year. We were New York-only. We only sold work to New York. At the time, the model was it was a membership-based gallery. So you had to apply and then you had access to this art. People would email info@UpriseArt.com, they’d email submissions@[UpriseArt.com] and it would always be me. I would hand-deliver the art. I would actually install the art myself and what that allowed me to do was really see the inside of our collectors’ homes and to understand what that experience is like to have art installed in your home, even down to the kind of hardware that people need, the questions that they ask, the unveiling—I guess now it’s like unboxing—that moment. All the specific details that go into the experience of collecting art.

Richie: [00:29:35] So you raise a little money. You start hiring people. For the next two or so years, what are the priorities then to start growing the business?

Tze: [00:29:45] The average price point of a piece that we sell is $1,500 dollars to an individual and then, to a company—if it’s art for your office or if it’s a real estate developer looking for a new condo building—it’s about $2,000. So I knew that at this price point, it wasn’t about Facebook ads. It really is about an experience and a relationship. So I tried everything. I gave talks to young lawyers and bankers. I worked many, many art fairs. Art fairs are great because it’s kind of a self-selecting group of people who are raising their hands to learn about art or buy art. The first art fair I did was the Affordable Art Fair in New York. I set up the Art Fair, worked all of the hours and broke down the art fair single-handedly and then put everything into a cab. This was pre-Uber. Put everything into a cab and I went back to my apartment in Brooklyn. I tried all different kinds of on-the-ground marketing and what I noticed is that it was pretty much word-of-mouth. People loved being able to tell their friends about, “I know about this artist. I have work by this artist. They live and work in Bushwick.” Word-of-mouth was a really big driver to our growth early on.

Tze: [00:30:57] Around the three-year mark, we dedicated a section of the website to “Art under $800.” “Art under $800”—it’s all original still and it’s all framed, if necessary, and ready to hang, delivered to your door, free shipping, under $800. That was a way for us to make it clear to first time art buyers who were looking in a lower price point that this is a place for them. It’s not about exclusivity. In the art world, often, exclusivity and quality are confused to be one in the same. And I wanted to make it clear that, once you purchase art at “Art under $800,” you can see the quality of the work and most people come back and, again, they buy in the “Discover” section of our website.

Richie: [00:31:40] Was it weird to be an online art gallery doing stuff offline to try and build it? How did you work that paradox?

Tze: [00:31:47] Yeah. A lot of it’s validation. We show at really great art fairs in New York, in Texas, in Miami, in San Francisco and often people just need to know that we’re showing at those fairs. They don’t necessarily need to go and see us at those fairs to understand tens of thousands of people are seeing the work and this gallery is successful. The art must be of a high quality and it is. A large number of our collectors are corporate collections, corporate art advisors, institutions, educational collections. We have really notable art collectors who are buying from us because they see us as their access to emerging art. They have these established collections and they’re interested in diversifying and collecting from emerging artists. So I think that we really build our credibility in these offline moments and it allows for people who maybe live in the middle of the country, who don’t go to these art fairs and aren’t able to make a trip to New York and do a round of visits to galleries, that they see that we are playing in the same field.

Richie: [00:32:56] Okay. So now we’re in 2014?

Tze: [00:32:58] Mhm.

Richie: [00:33:00] How does the business start to progress in the next few years from there and what are you focused on?

Tze: [00:33:05] The fastest-growing areas for us are our trade business and our enterprise sales. Trade is comprised of architects and interior designers and art consultants and art advisors who are desperately in need of a resource like ours. With Interior designers specifically, they are really the expert and they’ve positioned themselves as the expert with their clients on all things related to the home except for art. They see that it takes the most time to source art for their clients. They get the most pushback because it’s not something that they understand necessarily. They’re just not educated in art buying themselves and so they are tasked with having to find art to complete a project for their clients and it’s not in their wheelhouse. Interior designers [whom] we partner with look to us to either to offer them a curated selection of options for their client or they’ll even just introduce their clients to us to kind of finish the project for them. And, of course, they’re repeat customers.

Tze: [00:34:10] The same goes for architects. We work with some of the largest architecture firms in the city because we’re able to source for a wide range of projects. Maybe it’s a $50,000 installation in a lobby of a new condo building in midtown or it can be single pieces for the hallways in a smaller low-rise building. Architects love that we take their vision and we’re able to not just find art that fits in their vision, but actually push their vision forward. Whatever they had in their renderings, whatever they thought that the artwork was supposed to accomplish we say, “Okay, we can check those boxes, but have you thought about this new, more unexpected approach to the art program in your property?”

Tze: [00:34:58] We’ve seen a lot of interest in art objects so there is a sculptural portion of the “Discover” section of our website, but [also] in “Art under $800,” we do have a wide variety of art objects. So if you run out of wall space or you live in a tiny studio, you can always have a shelf where you could place and display an art object. I think that there’s been just generally a lot of interest there in the growing home category.

Richie: [00:35:23] I guess the challenge with, it would seem, the more affordable art is just sometimes it feels like filler or it just feels like commodity stuff in a lot of properties and so forth. And so, having gone to some of those art fairs before, a lot of it just feels like the same stuff, not in a good way. But there seems to be some sort of amount of just crap at some of the affordable ones.

Tze: [00:35:44] Yes.

Richie: [00:35:44] Versus finding actual emerging artists or gems and that line seems challenging, to break accessibility and affordability out of the idea of—everyone sees those—if you think of the generic gallery that just has huge baseball prints and it’s just generic art versus very individualistic but affordable, accessible art.

Tze: [00:36:06] It’s really frustrating. On a personal level, it makes me pretty angry that galleries at the affordable art price point don’t give collectors enough credit. They think that people will only buy Warhol ripoffs, that contemporary art must be bold, colorful pop art. There has to be a gimmick. “This art is made out of gummy bears,” or, “This art is made out of bubble wrap.” I’ve seen it all. The reason that we have such a wide range of art collectors, from first-time art buyers all the way up to the largest collections, is that, we have always said, that we personally, as a team, believe in these artists. Not only do we believe that their art is interesting and that it commands attention and that these artists are great people, but it’s art that we would personally acquire for ourselves. I can’t believe that every gallerist does that. Again, there’s just too much good art out in the world to be buying art that you don’t love, but also to be selling art that you don’t believe in. There’s art in our gallery that we think is more accessible aesthetically, that is not as conceptual, but it’s very, very, very far from decor which is what I think, as you’re mentioning, the big-box stores, comes-with-the-frame art [is]. It’s a completely different product. I don’t even think of it as being art. It’s not.

Richie: [00:37:40] Moving up to the present, what are the priorities? What have they been the last year or so and, as you look to the future, what’s the focus?

Tze: [00:37:48] We’re really focused on improving the user experience through the online gallery. We’re also really building our team. We’ve seen so much value in having knowledgeable art experts being able to advise corporate collections, advise interior designers and advise someone who’s just looking for a $200 piece of art that’s their first art purchase. The decisions that you’re able to help someone make at that stage are so important because they set the standard for what they should expect, I believe, from every gallery experience and every art buying experience from there on. So we are quickly building the team and we’re also hoping to show more artists in more exhibitions offline. So we’ve had pop-up exhibitions since day one, but to unroll an even more extensive exhibition program. I always say that we do the same amount of programming that a brick-and-mortar gallery does and then we have this entire online component. But I want to continue to grow the online and the offline [at] the same time.

[00:38:49] How many pieces of art have you bought for yourself through the platform?

[00:38:53] My husband has purchased two. I think once we were married, it was kind of “our” purchase. I have purchased I think probably three or four pieces. And then—some of the perks of being a gallerist—some of the artists that I work with have gifted me pieces, which is really special. I consider the artists that we’ve worked with, especially the artists we’ve worked with for years now—I consider them family. So I’ve had the fortune of having lots of wonderful gifts of art from artists over the years.

Richie: [00:39:25] Nice. And then where’s the name from and how much was the domain?

Tze: [00:39:28] It wasn’t taken so it was whatever GoDaddy was charging at the time. I think it was $1,499 a year. The name started out because I said, “I will never refer to us as disrupting an industry,” but I set out to really revolutionize the way that people were buying art and the way that artists were finding a market for their pieces. So I was thinking about the next generation of art collectors and the next generation of contemporary artists that were going to be important and them rising up at the same time and knowing each other through that entire part of their careers. That idea of an uprising and revolution. Our logo, which I spent $500 on, incorporated many of the letters of “uprise” in a very subtle way.

Richie: [00:40:13] Awesome. Thanks so much for talking.

Tze: [00:40:14] Thanks so much for having me.

Richie: [00:40:19] Thanks for listening to the LooseThreads Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to also leave a review on iTunes—we always appreciate it. Thanks to George Drake, Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests including Zak Normandin of Dirty Lemon, Chaitenya Razdan of Care + Wear and Billy Price of BILLY Footwear. Thanks for listening and talk to you soon.