Can Artspace Disrupt the Art World? It Thinks So
Art collector Catherine Levene wanted an easy way to discover and collect art from around the globe. That's what sparked the idea to start Artspace with co-founder Chris Vroom.
"Our mission is to make art more accessible to broader audiences, whether you're an experienced collector or a novice just getting started, and to support museums and cultural institutions and artists across the globe," Levene said.
Artspace is an e-commerce site where members can browse and purchase limited-edition prints and original works from world-renowned artists. The company's curators list artwork being sold by partner museums, galleries and cultural institutions, including the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The website also offers art news, information and education.
Artspace doesn't carry any inventory. It instead facilitates the transaction between the seller and the buyer for a commission, which Levene won't disclose.
"It's a very capital-efficient model," said Levene, "so the margins themselves are very similar to what you would see in the art market today."
(Read More: Q&A with Artspace CEO Catherine Levene)
The global art market is approximately $60 billion, according to the European Fine Art Foundation, so disrupting the art trade presents a huge opportunity. However, e-commerce art sites have been slow to catch on compared with other retail industries, accounting for less than 10 percent of the global art market.
Artspace's online competition includes Artsy and Paddle8. Levene isn't concerned, however.
"Neither of them are offering the ability for users to come to the site and buy art directly, which is exactly what you can do at Artspace," she said.
On Artspace, works of art range from $200 to $2.5 million. Purchases are typically not refundable.
"You'd be surprised at ... the amount of work that's being sold in galleries right now via jpegs being sent around to collectors," Levene said. "It's just typical practice right now, so it's not unusual for people to be spending that kind of money sight unseen."
Since its founding in March 2011, Artspace has attracted 140,000 members and sold art in 25 countries. The start-up has also raised $12.2 million from venture capital firms and angel investors, including Canaan Partners, Metamorphic Ventures and Robert Pittman, former chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner .
Prior to Artspace, Levene spent several years as the COO of DailyCandy, which she sold for more than $100 million.
—By CNBC's Erin Barry & Marqui Mapp