Let’s give a peek at Art.sy’s much-anticipated Beta. The art world may be coming around to the idea of Art.sy as an e-gallery, but the Art Genome Project still needs work.
We signed up for Art.sy on January 24, 2011. ”Right now we’re in closed beta, but we look forward to launching in Spring 2011. And because of your early interest, you’ll be the first to know when invites become available,” we were told. But it must have been a struggle to get the app running and populated with artwork, because we didn’t receive an invite until March 2012. (Wired got a sneak peek in November.)
At any rate, as of two weeks ago, we’re in. Art.sy is an art shopping catalog, comprised of works from 2,400 artists from more than 200 galleries, museums and private collections, something like 13,549 works. Not all are for sale. The site includes high resolution images of the artwork and blurbs about the movements and artists; “American artist Alexander Calder changed the course of modern art by developing an innovative method of sculpting, bending and twisting wire.”
For each painting, sculpture, installation or film, you’re shown some basic information and given the option to see more information, save the work, or follow the artist. If the work is for sale, you’re given the option to “view in room” or “request more info,” which means Art.sy will connect you to the gallery. If the work is not for sale, you’re able to page through to the owner’s website.
The core of Art.sy is the Art Genome Project—a deeply-researched, hand-built recommendation engine often called “Pandora for art.” Art.sy came up with a list of 800 characteristics, or “genes,” of art—”Cinematic;” “Group Portrait;” “Technique: Documentary Photography;” “Content: Private or Personal Spaces”—and assigns each piece between 30 and 40 genes, with a rating of how strongly the particular gene applies to the particular piece. Art.sy uses these genes to power the “For You” section, which shows a small collage of works in categories.
Casual collectors who buy in the lower ranges of zeros—the work on Art.sy ranges from $150 to $1.5 million—find the site useful for discovering artists they like. Art.sy’s well-connected investors have helped it secure partnerships with Gagosian and other prominent galleries, but much of the art world is still wary of the cutely-named startup. Also users don’t all agree on the category system for the artworks. There are also still a few bugs, which is however normal for a Beta version.
Where Art.sy runs into real trouble is with the underlying model. Now that they’ve seen the product, galleries are complaining that they would rather put their current offerings online in one batch at Art.sy and have customers browse through them there, one source familiar with the art world told Betabeat, and that Art.sy doesn’t seem to understand the business of art. “I feel like this web site combines the worst parts of a Google image search (a complete lack of organization coupled with a wholly superficial and associative way of making connections—’color similarity’ (?)) with a dangerous glossing over of the subject matter therein (“arguably Minimalism’s roots lie in Russian Collectivism”) that results in nothing but a meaningless bombardment of images,” the source said in an email. “Beyond that, the work that is for sale is mostly minor. In short: it was a dumb idea with a lot of funding and I still don’t get the point.”