click­ing With col­lec­tors

E-com­merce en­tre­pre­neur Tale­nia Phua Ga­jardo is rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the way peo­ple col­lect Asian con­tem­po­rary art. Madeleine Ross meets the glam­orous young founder of The Artling

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

Meet the en­tre­pre­neur rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the way peo­ple col­lect art

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, for in­stance], 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. Alex, who has known and ad­mired Tale­nia for some time, re­mains an ad­viser to Artshare and will work closely with its CEO on the tran­si­tion. “As Asia’s art mar­ket be­comes more uni­fied and more global, it makes great sense to com­bine two strong play­ers into one to be­come a one-stop shop for art and lux­ury in Asia,” says Alex. The ac­qui­si­tion, he adds, will “broaden the reach of the au­di­ence of both plat­forms, and also make Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary art even more global.”

“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”

Works on The Artling are priced all the way from a hun­dred US dol­lars to half a mil­lion. “The whole idea is that it is ac­ces­si­ble,” says Tale­nia, a grad­u­ate of Lon­don’s Cen­tral Saint Martins art school. “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.” 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.”

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. “One thing we al­ways tell our clients is that we are not dec­o­ra­tors,” says the founder, who worked as an in­te­rior de­signer for hotels in Lon­don and Singapore af­ter her three years at Zaha Ha­did Ar­chi­tects. “All our artists have an ed­u­ca­tion, they put their hearts into their work and they are try­ing to build up their ca­reers. We ob­vi­ously work with in­te­rior de­sign­ers and ar­chi­tects to make sure ev­ery­thing is co­her­ent, but it’s more of a case of adding value to a client’s col­lec­tion.”

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.”

The Artling doesn’t just pro­vide a means for artists to make sales. It’s also a way for them to lure the at­ten­tion of gal­leries. “It’s im­por­tant for an artist’s ca­reer that they get listed by a gallery. It’s part of the whole ecosys­tem and helps le­git­imise their work. I can think of a few artists that have been picked up by gal­leries since we listed them,” says Tale­nia, who prefers not to sin­gle out spe­cific artists.

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. “Brick­sand-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.

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