Interview: Andrew Goldstein of Artspace.com

by Joshua Goldfond

Andrew Goldstein is the Editor-In-Chief of Artspace, an e-commerce site offering information and easy purchasing access for an impressive variety of contemporary art. The 32-year-old Goldstein joined the company in 2012, after spending a decade as a journalist covering crime, politics, music, and pop culture for a number of highly recognizable national publications, such as The New York Times, Spin, and Rolling Stone. He has also written on the arts for Portfolio, Modern Painters, and the New York Observer, among others.

Artspace launched in March of 2011, the vision of co-founders Catherine Levene- now CEO- and Christopher Vroom- currently the Chairman and EVP Artists and Institutions. The site’s primary focus is high-quality, lower-cost items, although it does feature a handful of multimillion dollar works by icons of the global art scene. Navigating the nascent intersection of online commerce and art sales has proven tricky for many, but Artspace has thus far hit the ground running. In addition to securing critical financial endowments, it has also established partnerships with dozens of prominent institutions, galleries and publishers. Among them, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Guggenheim Museum of NYC, the Almine Rech Gallery of Paris/Brussles, the Rena Bransten Gallery of San Francisco, and Princeton Architectural Press.

In a manner similar to other online sellers, Artspace utilizes the unique possibilities of the web to tailor one’s experience to his or her interests and tastes. Visitors can develop their own gallery, explore similar works, and link their findings to social media. The site’s editorial section, hosted on the “collections” page and overseen by Goldstein himself, provides a wealth of information on the history, personalities, and current trends of contemporary art. (Among the most useful for all would-be sophisticates such as myself is a handy pronunciation guide to the names of many prominent contemporary artists)

Goldstein spoke with me in early October of 2012.

When did you first join Artspace, and what appealed to you about the company?

I came on board back in February [2012], and while there were a few things that drew me to the job I was mainly attracted to the possibility of creating a platform for first-rate editorial content on an e-commerce site. Having worked all over the journalism landscape—freelancing for legacy print publications like New York magazine and the New York Times, and editing both in print at ARTnews and online at Artinfo—I’ve witnessed firsthand the increasing challenges faced by traditional publications, which are suffering dropping print circulations and dismal online ad sales.Clearly a new model is needed, and the prospect of building a hybrid editorial/sales operation from scratch and trying out a few fresh ideas was immensely appealing.

Also, I was very impressed by the team that had started Artspace, and the tremendous quality of the museum, gallery, and nonprofit institutions that have partnered with the site. Then, at the end of the day, I was won over by the no-brainer simplicity of the site’s core concept—offering affordable contemporary artworks by great artists with a straight-forward click-to-buy purchasing process and excellent shipping—at a time when the major competitors in the art ecommerce space all lack the same kind of conceptual clarity, simplicity of use, and no-bull messaging. So all of this seemed to combine into an irresistible package, with the cherry on top being that I can walk to work in the morning from my apartment in the East Village.

Is there an overall style, aesthetic, or movement that the site tends to favor over others?

The great thing about contemporary art is that it’s so incredibly multifarious that it’s impossible to truly  engage with its entirety while playing favorites, and, editorially speaking, I’m drawn to tackling the whole waterfront. That said, our affordable price point means that—while we do offer unique sculptures, paintings, videos, and other forms—the majority of the work on the site comes on flat pieces of paper, often as a drawing or print. So there are a lot of drawings, archival prints, photographs, text pieces, and other 2D works. Aesthetically and movement-wise, however, we’re pretty omnivorous.

To what extent do you think that social media is changing the nature of the commercial art world? What are some ways that Artspace tried to navigate this new and unexplored landscape?

Well, social media is swiftly changing everything from politics to basic communication, but the commercial art world has actually been fairly slow in fully plugging into the social world in a truly effective way. Journalism, on the other hand, has not, and social media is in the process of replacing old-fashion means of distribution—oftentimes it is the single highest driver of online traffic, and we’ve seen that when it comes to Artspace’s editorial too. Being a site that combines both art commerce and editorial, we’re gradually feeling out our approach, and it’s becoming clear that we are uncommonly well positioned to take advantage of social media considering the way that it privileges visuals and ideas, both of which which art has in spades. But it’s a work in progress.

If the rise of the internet can allow artists to sell their work independently, what is the value of a site like Artspace to artists? Is it an abrogator that adds legitimacy?

The fact is that anyone can sell anything independently, but it’s the difference between offering your apples on the side of the road to the few people who happen by or in a high-toned grocery store with knowledgeable salespeople to explain to a whole lot of customers why your apples are so tasty. In other words, it’s all about context, and in the art world that holds especially true considering that so much art is tricky for the uninitiated to fully appreciate, requiring experts to tell the good from the mediocre. Since everything that we offer on the site is screened by our curators and world-class partners—which, as galleries and museums, are the chief connoisseurs of contemporary art anywhere—people can know that what they find on the site is vetted and high-quality, and that makes people more comfortable paying for it.

Can you explain the nature of your gallery and museum partnerships? Is it sales related? Promotional? Have older institutions proven more resistant to adapt to the digital age?

I’ll explain the way it usually works. When a gallery puts on a show of new work by an artist, it will display the biggest, most expensive, show-stopping pieces in its main space to appeal to its top collectors and wow critics, but it will often also have lower-priced works that it sells to those in the know out of the back room. After the show closes, however, the gallery is no longer as incentivized to promote the lower-priced works—it’s just not what the dealers want to spend their time pushing—so these works tend to pile up, no matter how great they are. Then, with museums, many of these institutions ask major artists they work with to create special editions that they can sell at their fundraisers and galas to help support the museum’s operations.

When these events are over, the museums—which fundamentally aren’t commercial enterprises—aren’t equipped to sell the remaining editions, so they just pile up and collect dust. What we offer our gallery and museum partners is a way to offer this inventory to a worldwide audience without them having to lift a finger, and we frame the artworks with first-rate editorial features that make the pieces understandable and appealing. It works, and it’s win-win all around. As for whether older institutions are resistant, I think you’ll see that any of that resistance is quickly melting away. In fact, we have a few partnerships in the works that may come as a surprise to a lot of people.

Who are some of your own favorite artists that currently have pieces on sale with Artspace?

We have work by so many artists I love, from Robert Rauschenberg to Bruce Nauman, that it’s tough to claim favorites. But so far the one piece of art I’ve bought off the site was a “Feuerchen” sculpture by Ragnar Kjartansson, if that’s any indication.