Artfinder's CEO, Jonas Almgren, sits down with us and shares his journey from growing up in Stockholm with art-loving parents to the development of Artfinder. His pursuit of creating a platform to bring art to the masses is inspired by his lifelong passion for art and his background in engineering. Read more of his story below and don't forget to check out Artfinder.
I was incredibly fortunate to grow up in Stockholm with art-loving parents (my father is a graduate of Konstfack, the major college of arts, crafts and design in Sweden). I grew up near Moderna Museet, one of the best modern art museums in the world, and it had a tremendous impact on my art interest. It was where I fell in love with both my wife and Turner’s late paintings of Venice. It was also there that I began my relationship with Rauschenberg, one of my all-time favourite artists.
When I graduated from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, I left Sweden and moved straight to Silicon Valley. My dad is an interior designer and I have always loved art, but at that time Silicon Valley was really a cultural desert. I stayed there 15 years, I worked hard and I had a great time, but I really did miss that engagement with culture.
So when I got the opportunity to move to New York, myself and my wife found ourselves surrounded by culture and by galleries in a way we had never been before. After so long in Silicon Valley, it felt like being brought back to life, and it was there that we actually started buying art.
In New York, I founded a startup called VIP Art Fair and therefore got the opportunity to work with a lot of galleries in New York. Working in that world, one thing became absolutely clear: New York has a lot of talented artists, but for every artists you see in a gallery exhibitions, there are many more that work for the gallery as art handlers and installers, or as assistants to artists being exhibited, and even more artists that are not part of the gallery system at all, besides maybe going to openings in Chelsea and the Lower East Side from time to time. And that is just in New York City. In fact, there are about 8 million “starving artists” that cannot make a living from selling their art. And perhaps surprisingly, most artists with gallery representation also falls into this category.
At the same time, over and over again I met people in New York, true art lovers, that just didn’t buy much art at all. Then I read somewhere that over 200 million households buy something to hang on the wall every year. Obviously, whatever they were hanging on their walls, it was not art from the 8 million starving artists. So I asked myself: why is that?
It turns out the prevailing gallery aesthetic is unhinged from the reality of the potential buyer. The art exhibited is too large, too expensive, and the gallery environment is often unwelcoming to the uninitiated, pretentious, and so sterile that it kills the joy and energy that should come with the art. It presents art as commerce, as an investment, something you buy based on financial ROI calculations rather than something inspiring that you want to own because it adds personality to your home.
But if you can overcome all of this, you’re still faced with the fact that galleries are small and exhibit perhaps 10-15 artists, with one exhibition every month or so. That doesn’t give you a lot of choices and requires patience before you find something you truly love. This works great for the dedicated collector, but not for the general public, that have many other priorities in their lives, and no more time for buying art than for other purchases that compete for the money in their wallet. If art is harder to buy, it will lose that competition.
So the art world sucks. No wonder people won’t buy art!
As an artist, or as an art buyer, this might be bad news, but as someone with a background in Silicon Valley, this was great news. A beautiful opportunity for disruption. An opportunity to help artists all over their world fulfill their promise, and in the process create a successful company. Hence Artfinder.
Artfinder is all about bridging this chasm between the artists and the art lover, to enable everyone everywhere to buy original art and to enable all artists to live from the art they make. At first, this might sound rather straightforward, like building eBay or Airbnb for art, a marketplace where all artists can present their art, and buyers can find it and buy it.
But startups are fun because they break new ground, and as you break new ground you face new challenges, which makes it all very exciting (if you have stomach for it). It’s often said that every business plan breaks as soon as the rubber hits the ground, and that is certainly true for Artfinder. Once we had built the marketplace, we came to realise that the biggest challenge isn’t to give everyone access to art they can buy, it’s to give them access to art they love, it’s about the matchmaking. We had solved one problem, access, but unless we solved the second problem, matchmaking, we would soon end up in the large graveyard of failed art startups.
This is what makes startups exciting. Nothing focuses the mind more than staring death in the eye. But despite everything else you hear about startups, being smart is no more than 50% of success, the rest is luck and good timing. And fortunately for Artfinder, just at the time we started to worry about how to solve the matchmaking challenge, artificial intelligence and image processing had become fast enough and smart enough to apply to our problem.
And so we move onto the next phase of our startup life, as we transform ourselves from a marketplace to a matchmaking place for art, who knows what new challenges we’ll face tomorrow? I don’t, but I’m looking forward to finding out. Onwards!