Exclusive Interview with Christine Kuan of Artsy

Christine Kuan is the Chief Curator & Director of Strategic Partnerships at Artsy.

Artsy and The Art Genome Project are revolutionizing the way audiences access art. What has been the reaction from museums and galleries? Are they embracing the idea of making their collections available online?

We’ve had an incredibly positive response from galleries and museums with now 400+ leading gallery partners and 100+ nonprofit partners, including: The J. Paul Getty Trust, The British Museum, SFMOMA, Calder Foundation, Dedalus Foundation, David Smith Estate, and others. Everyone is looking for ways to increase the visibility of their collections and Artsy is a powerful channel for doing that, particularly with people who aren’t familiar with art and younger generations.


Are there concerns that Artsy will compete with museums and galleries for audiences? Or is Artsy reaching new or different audiences? How can Artsy work with art organizations to expand their audiences and increase museum visitation and patronage?

Studies have shown that we become passionate about visiting works in person because we’ve already seen images of the works before, especially online. Artsy is helping people learn about art whether they are serious researchers or completely new to art. With The Art Genome Project, you can just as easily discover works through the terms like “Abstract Expressionism”, “Splattered/Dripped”, “Food”, or “The Fantastic.” Giving people, experts and non-experts alike, pathways to discovering amazing art will translate into greater museum visitation and patronage. One of the things we are doing quite regularly now is featuring special exhibitions at museums. This week, we’re promoting The J. Paul Getty Trust Pacific Standard Time exhibition on architecture in LA on our homepage banner and Getty’s social profile page. Other nonprofits, such as the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, Asia Society Museum, the Dedalus Foundation, and Art21 are promoting their exhibitions, events, and programs on our social layer.


Museums are very influential in identifying who is significant in art. Is Artsy democratizing the art world?

Artsy is collaborating with the museums and the galleries to show the works that are both historically important and works that are captivating people now. By making this knowledge available online for free, we are democratizing access to the art world. For example, Artsy recently served as the official online platform for The Armory Show 2013 enabling 120k unique visitors from 170 countries to browse the exhibitors at the fair whether they were in China or South Africa and whether they had VIP tickets or not. A cashier in a bookstore thanked me for making the Armory Show available online because she is an art student and was able to study the works online. I’ve also had students and curators tell me they use Artsy for everything from Japanese culture studies to exhibition planning.


How are museums using technology to optimize public engagement with their museum collections?

I think there are over 17,000 museums in the U.S. alone and around the world every museum has already invested, or will soon invest, in making their collections available online. Most museums count their Web traffic and their onsite visitor numbers in measuring their overall impact in the community, and nearly all major museums are using social media outlets to market their exhibitions and programs.


Have galleries reacted positively to Artsy? How does Artsy alter the art buying experience?

Yes, I think many galleries have been amazed by the analytics we are able to provide and the number of new collectors we have introduced to them. While Artsy has experienced collectors using the site, we have also attracted a number of first-time collectors. I think the ability to browse and learn about artworks on Artsy in a beautifully designed online environment helps new collectors feel comfortable about buying an original artwork. We’ve also created an ipad Folio app for all our partners, allowing them 24/7 access to high-resolution images of their collections and PDF documents, which they can transport easily. It also benefits the artists because many younger artists need more people to collect their works. Many artists have told me that they love the exposure Artsy is bringing their galleries and their work.


Artsy is free for non-profits to participate. What services does Artsy offer non-profits? What are the benefits to art organizations partnering with Artsy? 

We offer broad public exposure of their collections via the Artsy library of images and the Art Genome Project. Nonprofits can also create their own institutional profile page on our social layer. Artsy’s social tools give institutions an elegant platform for telling stories about their exhibitions, collections, and programs. Great profiles to check out are: artsy.net/cooperhewitt and artsy.net/dedalus_foundation and artsy.net/getty

We also have an ecommerce service so that nonprofits may sell limited edition artworks on Artsy to benefit their organizations. Many institutions, including the Serpentine Gallery, Warhol Museum, LAND, University of Chicago Renaissance Society, and Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, use Artsy as an extension of their museum shop.


What are some of the barriers that are facing art organizations when it comes to digitizing their collections? How can these barriers be overcome and how is Artsy helping?

Some barriers are quite simply the cost of photographing art and cataloging the works accurately, quite a lot of research may be involved. Other barriers might be due to a fear of change or loss of control of digital assets. Most institutions have digitized highlights from their collections, but not all institutions are comfortable with the idea of allowing the public to access those images and data and reuse those images on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Artsy is helping by giving institutions the tools to manage their digital assets in Artsy and making places see the possibilities for user engagement via The Art Genome Project and our social layer.


Can you tell us more the collaboration process? Do you work with the museum and gallery curators to establish connections between their collections and the Artsy catalogue?

The Artsy team works very closely with galleries and museums. I work mainly with museums and foundations. We reach out to museums that have important collections that will help people learn about art of all time periods and cultures. We really encourage institutions to curate what they share with us, although our team might have suggestions based on what we know about their collections and also what we know people are searching for in Artsy. What’s amazing with Artsy is you can just as easily discover portraits by Bronzino or Picasso or Cindy Sherman.


The Art Genome Project makes connections between vastly different collections from vastly different museums. Can you tell us a bit more about this? Are there difficulties in connecting such varied collections?

The amazing thing about Genome is that it is an iterative, evolving process. When we work with a new partner, such as the Asian Art Museum, we can add new “genes” to accommodate new objects—such as East Asian Calligraphy Influence. So the possibilities for expansion and revision are endless. It’s always a collaboration among our art historians, our engineers, and our partners.


What do you think is in the future for museums, galleries and digital technology?

We’re just beginning to understand what is possible. Artsy is breaking new ground by exploring the possibilities for discovering, learning about, and collecting art all in one platform. It’s how the Internet works, but in the art world, this feels like a new concept. The galleries and museums that collaborate with us have looked at the site and been moved by its beauty and its fluid search experience—you can just keep discovering and discovering. We’re doing challenging things in engineering, design, and with collection-building, but I think site speaks for itself.


I think of technology as a tool for connecting people with people and connecting people with information. As tools evolve, you have to ask yourself if you are optimizing the use of your tools to make the greatest possible impact. I believe Artsy is taking art information access to the next level with the technology we have at our disposal. Even if Artsy is a difficult dream to achieve, it’s really inspiring to work with people who believe it might be possible. As Carter Cleveland, our Founder and CEO, said to me when I joined, You have to have faith!


Interview by Alex Hollick

Image Courtesy of Artsy


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