Tag Archive | "art"

Google To Help Turn Bits Into Beaux Arts With New DevArt Project

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Google is launching a broad new effort to support the arts, in a way particularly appropriate to its role and business, with a project called DevArt that highlights modern artists using technology in general, and code in particular, to create their work.

The project will kick-off as an exhibit in The Barbican performing arts center in London, complete with four separate art installations. To prepare for that, Google is calling for developers to fill one of those spots to exhibit alongside three featured artists who’ve already been chosen to show their stuff, and who are featured in the videos below.

Zach Lieberman

Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet

Karsten Schmidt

Google commissioned the artists to create brand new interactive installations for the inaugural show, using Google APIs, as well as its web products and services. Some of the technologies involve include Kinect, Unity, WebGl, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Google+, Maps, Twitter and YouTube to name just a few. Those chosen by Google to participate are going to be maintaining an ongoing log of their progress with the exhibits, via Project Pages run by each artist.

If you think you’ve got the coding skills to be the next Hacktisse (that’s terrible but it’s the best I can do) then you can enter to be the fourth exhibitor at this summer’s exhibition via Google’s DevArt website. Submissions are tracked via GitHub, and entries must be submitted by March 28 to be considered, with the winner revealed April 15, 2014.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Art Meetup Platform Gertrude Takes Aim At Cracking An Exclusive World

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AVincelli_GERTRUDE-STANDARD-7759

Last Friday, 40 people gathered at an apartment in lower Manhattan to take a look at a series of works by the artist Alexandra Posen. The pieces — colored wax on paper worked into abstract forms — sat informally against the window, and the group tossed out questions as Posen talked the group through her process.

This isn’t what you think of when someone says “tech startup.”

But a young company called Gertrude is hoping to change that, by turning art experiences into a commodity and becoming a worldwide meetup platform for art salons. It’s named for Gertrude Stein, whose salons drove art discussion in the 1920s.

Founded by ex-Googler Kenneth Schlenker, Gertrude has been hosting private meetups for the last year with curators ranging from the head curator of the Whitney Museum to well-known Chelsea gallerists, and today it opens its event listings to the public.

The site allows curators to post salon listings, which anyone can then peruse and join. The salons are meant to be an open atmosphere for discussion, and the curators might range from major gallerists to the art afficionado next door, although there is an application process to host.

There are a few rules: the salon lasts one hour, only 40 people may attend, and it is led by a curator who has hand-selected a range of ten pieces to discuss.

While other art-oriented startups like Art.sy, Artspace, and Paddle8 deal with the high-end commercial side of the industry, Gertrude is built on the idea that the experience of art is not only more scalable but also holds a wider appeal. Part social, part educational, Gertrude is a meetup platform for people to enjoy visual art at a low cost. And it’s monetizing on that experience.

Referencing the Rain Room that had visitors flocking to MoMA this summer and Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby” performance at the Pace Gallery in New York, Schlenker posits that art, like music, is increasingly becoming a live, interactive experience.

“A lot of people wanted to create startups in the art world but missed out on the fact that it’s an experience, not a product,” Schlenker said.

Curators have the option to invite select guests before the event opens to the public, but the site requires that at least five slots be left open to prevent it from becoming too exclusive. The host sets the ticket price, which might range from $0 to $175 or $10,000.

Gertrude then takes cut of the sales, which varies based on the ticket price but on average sits at about 25%. If a work of art is sold through the salon, Gertrude takes a cut there as well, although it’s less than the 50% that most galleries take.

Because Schlenker’s strong point is technology, not art, Astrid de Maismont heads up curation for Gertrude, bringing on board curators and art advisors.

In the coming months, Gertrude may add other event formats, including performances, private viewings, studio visits, and dinners with artists.

If the proposition comes off as simultaneously highbrow and plebian, that’s kind of the point. Down the line, the goal is to have the head curator of the Whitney showing well-established artists on the same day that someone in Bushwick shows works from their favorite local artists. While the art world has in many ways been built on opacity and exclusivity, major galleries and auction houses are beginning to realize that that model isn’t sustainable, Schlenker said. Whether big-name curators continue to gravitate to it in an effort to reach a broader audience remains to be seen — not that it’s inherently a good or bad thing.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Is Bitcoin The New Euro?

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Bitcoin Hero

Originally dubbed ‘the single currency,’ the euro has been around for a decade and was in the works for another decade before it entered circulation in 2002. At the time, it was something revolutionary, a bold initiative that could have failed multiple times along the way.

Yet, it hasn’t become the universal currency and the European Central Bank is now testing the boundaries of the euro. Bitcoin could be the surprising and beautifully designed world cryptocurrency that will take the euro’s dreams to the next level. We will discuss this at Disrupt Europe later this month.

Bitcoin Is The True Single Currency

There are a few reasons why the euro will always stay limited in scope. As one can read in 1992′s Maastricht Treaty (the Treaty on the European Union), the euro is “a single and stable currency,” nothing fancier than that. In other words, its creation mechanisms are similar to those of any other modern currency. There is a central bank, there are interest rates.

Moreover, stating that the euro is a “stable currency” is already very political. It refers to Germany’s old traumatism of hyperinflation — at all times, the euro has to avoid inflation. This is probably the most important way the European Central Bank differs from the U.S. Federal Reserve — price stability comes first in Europe. Even though politics and monetary policies are supposed to be separate, this rule proves that it’s not the case.

These days, as everyone can see with Greece’s economic troubles, the only adjustment variable is jobs. When a eurozone country is no longer as competitive as its neighbors, prices stay the same. Consumption falls and the unemployment rate rises. To fight unemployment, many have to accept pay cuts. European governments would rather create a giant help fund than endanger the euro’s stability.

For all these reasons, the euro is just another traditional currency used in a few countries. It shares all the same weak points.

By definition, Bitcoin is apolitical. It is its greatest strength and weakness.

Bitcoin is nothing like that. It was born on the idea that nobody could regulate it. Instead of having a central bank, Bitcoins are just a chain of characters defined by algorithmic rules. Anybody can try to find new Bitcoins and anybody can verify if it is indeed a real Bitcoin or not. All of this is handled by open-source Bitcoin applications and a few proprietary variants.

By definition, Bitcoin is apolitical. It is its greatest strength and weakness. As long as you have access to the right technological tools (a computer, internet access…), you can make transactions in Bitcoins. When the economy thrives or stagnates, Bitcoin will have its own separate trend. As the great crash of April 2013 shows us, it is as volatile as it can get. While it is still early to see significant mainstream Bitcoin use cases, the story of this new currency is a fascinating one.

And we’re excited to reveal that we will hold a panel at Disrupt Europe in late October in Berlin with Shakil Khan (CoinDesk) Pamir Gelenbe (st-ART/Bitcoin London) and Nejc Kodric (Bitstamp). Khan is an expert when it comes to Bitcoin news, while Gelenbe has successfully organized the Bitcoin London conference. Finally, Kodric is the co-founder and CEO of the largest European Bitcoin exchange, and the second one in the world behind Mt. Gox. They will all have interesting thoughts to share on the future of Bitcoin, its caveats and more.

Bitcoin’s Weaknesses

What happens when your Bitcoin wallet value in euros falls by 50 percent in a day? If your company pays you in Bitcoins, it sounds like bad news. The future of Bitcoin as a mainstream currency is unclear. Make no mistake, the euro will remain the dominant currency in eurozone for now.

To avoid disastrous news like that, many countries, including the U.S. and Germany, are trying to regulate Bitcoins. If you really want to use Bitcoins, you’ll have to prove that you’re ready to handle the financial risks.

Back in August, a federal judge in Texas has declared that Bitcoin was a currency and should be regulated just like euros or U.S. dollars. This decision threatened Bitcoin’s utopian concept.

“The only limitation of Bitcoin is that it is limited to those places that accept it as currency,” wrote Judge Amos Mazzant. “However, it can also be exchanged for conventional currencies, such as the U.S. dollar, Euro, Yen, and Yuan. Therefore, Bitcoin is a currency or form of money,” the judge continued.

Bitcoin won’t be able to remain an unregulated currency for long

Similarly, New York’s financial services stated that Bitcoin companies should respect the current financial regulatory guidelines. Making sure that these companies are all on the same page when they operate in the U.S. is necessary to protect customers. Moreover, New York’s top banking regulator wants to write a new set of rules to decrease illegal Bitcoin activities.

“We have also seen instances where the cloak of anonymity provided by virtual currencies has helped support dangerous criminal activity, such as drug smuggling, money laundering, gun running, and child pornography,” Financial Services superintendent Benjamin M. Lawsky said in a statement. ”Taking steps to root out illegal activity is both a legal and business imperative for virtual currency firms,” he added.

Finally, following a parliamentary inquiry, Germany stated that Bitcoin should be considered as “private money.” It has many implications, starting by paying sales tax (VAT). While the conclusions are simple, the execution is more complicated as Germany is a mere member of the eurozone. If Germany really wants to pursue this further, it will probably have to lobby European institutions to change the rules on a European level.

All these rulings prove one thing: Bitcoin won’t be able to remain an unregulated currency for long. It won’t work similarly in every country of the world. Soon, Bitcoin users and companies will have to find a way to avoid tax, and authorities have a say in what you are doing with your Bitcoins.

It is not necessarily a bad thing as using a totally unregulated currency is unsustainable for many industries and use cases. But Bitcoin’s true purpose is not what everyone originally expected.

Bitcoin Is The First Meta-Currency

The Bitcoin network is a peer-to-peer payment network, you don’t need any banking institution to make large transfers. Instead of replacing the euro, the cryptocurrency could become the first meta-currency, a new currency that sits on top of traditional currencies for very specific use cases.

With the euro, European Union member countries wanted to create a second world currency to compete with U.S. dollars. Having a dominant currency has many advantages. According to French historian Jacques Rueff, countries (such as the U.S.) who use a major currency can sustainably keep a negative balance of payments — he calls that the “deficit without tears.”

Bitcoin could become the first meta-currency that sits on top of traditional currencies

In many ways, the European Union was successful with the euro. While it hasn’t become the universal currency, no one can deny that the euro is a major world currency. But now that two different currencies matter on a global scale, economic agents need a tool that sits between U.S. dollars and euros. Currently, about 100 percent of foreign exchange transactions involve dollars (out of 200 percent because forex transactions involve two currencies) compared to 64 percent for euros.

Bitcoin can become the common language between USD and EUR. To use Bitcoins in Italy or Ecuador, you don’t have to pay any fees. Moreover, you can exchange some Bitcoins in dollars when you’re investing in Ecuador, or exchange some Bitcoins in euros when you’re investing in Italy. Bitcoin is a money transfer protocol as much as a currency. For now, this aspect is underused but could actually become Bitcoin’s most interesting future prospect.

Disrupt Europe will take over Arena Berlin October 26-29. Tickets are currently on sale here. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, opportunities can be found here. If you are interested in Startup Alley, information can be found here. Join the conversation by using #DisruptBerlin here.

(Image credit: Zach Copley)

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Original 3D-Printed Liberator Guns To Become Works Of Art At London Museum

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liberator_1

The Liberator gun made headlines when its creator fired up his 3D printer and created them, building firearms that actually fire out of little more than plastic components that combined cost little more than your average Blu-ray movie. Now, that pivotal moment in the history of DIY 3D printing is being ensconced in a London museum, Engadget reports.

Cody Wilson’s Liberator had its own misfires early on, which destroyed half the case, but later demos showed that it could fired multiple times. As John Biggs explained in a general overview, it technically can be printed at home by anyone who wants one, but not every self-printed version carries the history that these original Liberator models do.

Like Biggs pointed out, homemade guns aren’t new; it’s a long-established hobby, especially in the U.S., with a storied history. But whereas once it required a lathe and other ironworking tools and some kind of dedication and grit, now it pretty much can be managed by casual amateurs capable of spending quite a bit of money on a 3D printer and a proficiency in downloading files from the Internet.

The project being put together by the London Victoria & Albert museum is designed to showcase a range of “contemporary design projects,” of which the 3D-printed Liberator is a key example, and these will be displayed between September 14 – 22. So far, the Liberator hasn’t prompted a people’s revolution or a swell of murders, but getting eyes-on the originals still could be a story to tell the grandkids someday depending on how things shake out.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Curiator Is A Pinterest-Style Marketplace To Help You Discover, And One Day Buy, The Art You Like

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Curiator Moenen

Curiator, a new app launching today at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, is not the first website that aims for people to discover and buy art, but it hopes its beautiful design, interactivity, and intelligent algorithms will mean that it will be the first to actually work.

As co-founder Moenen Erbuer sees it, the art world was one of the earliest industries to take advantage of the growth of the Internet; but as we have seen time and again in technology, sometimes being an early mover is not always the best position. “The online art world is stuck in 1995,” he says simply. Indeed, before I turned my attention to the world of technology, I worked for an art magazine, and I remember all too well the clunky websites full of too-heavy image files, glitchy marketplace joint ventures full of false purchases and dodgy work, and “galleries” of digital-specific art that too often bore little relation to beautiful work that you could see, if you could make a trip to a gallery in the flesh. It wasn’t pretty.

Co-founded by former Google engineer Tobias Boonstoppel and Erbuer — who himself comes from a background in design working at digital agency AKQA — Curiator is made with all the polish and savviness that you would expect from people who know both how the Internet works, and what makes people click with digital content.

Taking a page from Pinterest with its Masonry layout and dynamic grid, Curiator borrows in other ways from some of the later innovations in how many visually led e-commerce sites pick up information about new users: It initially takes the user through a page where it asks you to make a selection that you like from a page of options. Curiator then uses this to produce a wider selection of work that you may like, which becomes the basis of your collection. As with other social media services, you can follow other people’s collections, and others can follow you, or you can browse art by categories, specific names or through the whole river.

One of the most eye-catching parts of the site is its sharing tool. When you see a picture you like, you click on it and drag. Up comes a menu on the picture that lets you drop the image directly into your own collection; or to share it to Facebook, Google+, Twitter or Pinterest; or to download the image; or send it by email. It’s a nice way of making it very easy to move picture data around.

The social aspects, both with sharing work and also following people and being followed, is part of what sets Curiator apart from what it views as its closest competitor, Artsy, which Moenen describes as “having gone all-in on a recommendation engine and too focused on sales.”

For now, Curiator is focused mainly on getting more people on its site, uploading pictures, sharing them and adding them to their collections. This will help make the site not only richer for everyone to use, but will help Curiator pick up more data on what users want to have. This, in turn, will help Curiator with the next step in its development: adding a marketplace so that users can not only share artwork that they like to have in their “virtual” collections but also then use those “wishlists” — which may include museum pieces and other work that is not for sale — to generate lists of art that is there for the buying to become a part of users’ actual, offline lives.

The impetus for Curiator comes from two different areas. The first was Moenen and Boonstoppel’s own experiences, and those of their friends, in trying to collect art.

“A lot of people who have made a little money start buying art, but it’s an intimidating institution, going to galleries, fairs and auction houses. You see something you like, but don’t know if the price is right, or if it’s any good. If you’re not serious about art already, it’s hard to be confident about your own taste,” Moenen explained. He says that some people resort to hiring consultants, but that’s not to everyone’s taste. Others look to their friends to see what they buy. “So we decided, could we create a product that does both of those things, but for everyone?”

The other is that the two have dabbled in other projects before where people could send links to each other, which, when opened, created a way to let you track what that friend browsed via that link. This gave them ideas about how they could apply those learnings in a single site, even though none of that earlier code is being used in Curiator.

So far, in its limited beta, Curiator has seen some decent traction for the site, with a 17 percent retention rate, with many more people contributing work than they had anticipated. Users can either upload through the site, or use a Curiator bookmarklet to collect works from around the web.

There are no plans “ever” to add features like advertising to monetize the site, Moenen says. “We want the interface to be like a museum. When you start to put in ads, quality control is a challenge.”

Check out the video below, and also some questions from the judges:

Questions from the judges:

What kinds of sales do you plan to host on the site, when you launch them? Referral sales, getting a commission from sales from galleries, will be an opportunity. The other will be Curiator acting as a dealer or agent for artists. The third will be offering a platform for art owners to sell their own collections.

How do you deal with provenance and other kinds of authenticity questions on sales? We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Is this aimed for total novices or experts? Ideally we want both using this.

Who do you see as your biggest competition, and how do you for example battle Pinterest? Amazon, Pinterest, Artsy are competitors. Pinterest is not specifically for art. And we have special ways of indexing users and artists.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

iPad Animation App Loop Captures The Fun Of Making Doodled Flipbooks

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Loop Universal Everything logo

Remember turning the corners of your class notes into flipbooks with a sequence of tiny drawings? iPad app Loop recreates the glee of watching your doodles come to life by making it easy to create frame-by-frame animations. Loop, which costs a dollar in the App Store, is the creation of Universal Everything, a studio known for its large-scale digital installations, and is based on the sketches used by head artist Matt Pyke and collaborators to plan visual concepts.

The beauty of Loop, however, is that it is about as unintimidating as an art app can get. Its user interface features a very limited set of tools, including an onion skin tool, a button that lets you duplicate your last frame and an eraser, but no undo feature. Loop’s fanciest feature is the ability to import a guide movie to trace over, but with only three ink colors (black, red and blue) and 45 frames available, it’s not like you’ll be recreating Studio Ghibli masterpieces on your iPad.

Loop’s limitations, however, are liberating. I love drawing apps like Paper by FiftyThree and Procreate, but as a non-artist, I always feel as if I’m wasting their feature sets. On the other hand, I felt free to indulge my penchant for hastily-drawn stick figures and crude five-petal flowers on Loop. Anticipating seeing them come to life added to my giddiness. One of the first gifs I made with Loop is below:

Once you are done with your animation, you can export it as a gif and email it, save it to your camera roll, submit it to Loop’s gallery or post it to Tumblr.

My main quibble with Loop is that the gifs it creates are tiny (about 183KB), which means if you decide to spend time on a more complex animation, most details will be hard to see in your final product. The “import guide movie” feature distorted the aspect ratios of the video clips I tried to use, a quirk I hope Universal Everything will fix in future updates. I’d also like the ability to upload a guide image instead.

These minor complaints aside, Loop is the most fun I’ve ever had with an art app on my iPad. In fact, it’s the most fun I’ve had with drawing since I was a kid doodling away in my class notebooks.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Chiizu Is The Photo-Decoration App For Art, Illustration And Design Lovers

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chiizu logo

If you’ve dismissed purikura apps as a way to besmirch photos with blingies and other cheesy graphics, then Chiizu will blow your mind. Created by a media artist, an illustrator and a designer, the photo-decoration app for iOS offers themed sets by an outstanding roster of artists, including Linda Gavin, the original creator of Twitter’s logo; Dyna Moe, the woman behind the “Mad Men Yourself” avatar maker; painter Juka Araikawa; and former Sub Pop Records art director Jesse LeDoux.

Co-founder Stella Lai says Chiizu’s goal is to encourage users to make visual art and design part of their daily lives. You can use Chiizu to turn photos of friends into Dada-like collages or start with a blank canvas and create a phantasmagoric landscapes populated with surreal creatures.

“We wanted to create an app where people like us (and our friends) could get content out to the world,” Lai said in an email. “Photography seemed like a natural fit, so we started publishing artist ‘singles’ or themes, each encapsulating an artist’s creative vision for people to download or buy.”

The app just launched its second version, which focuses on making Chiizu more social (it is integrated with social networks such as Sina Weibo and RenRen as a nod to Chiizu’s large userbase in Asia). Features include an in-app camera, filters and face recognition. Six themed sets are currently available for free, while the others cost 99 cents each. Chiizu follows a gallery model for paid themes, splitting earnings from each download with its creator.

Other artists in Chiizu’s current lineup include November Club, Brian Butler, Muxxi, Mr. Chiizu, Junko Mizuno, Tomi Monstre, Ayako Akazawa, Aya Kato, Michelle Romo, Martinez & Trees, Stella Lai, Jessica Lopez and PopGlory.

The app’s goal is to release three to four new themes each month. Sets by suero-studio, Christal Sih and Andres Guzman are coming soon. Chiizu is also working with artist Aaron Noble on a theme that will launch alongside an exhibition and mural he is creating for a youth center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“Our selection process is based on quality, uniqueness and if an artist’s work makes sense with the medium,” says co-founder Lai. “We don’t dictate style. Rather, we encourage artists to express themselves freely while at the same time considering how they want people to interact with their work.”

Most users are women aged 18 to 35, but Chiizu hopes to draw in male users by offering more gender-neutral content in the future, including text-oriented themes and sets by street artists. An upcoming version of the app will give users more information about the person who created each theme.

Why Do We Endlessly Retweet Tragedy?

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Fear On Twitter

With the upmost respect for victims and survivors, may I question why we feel so compelled to personally spread bad news? Why with each bombing or disaster we all race to tell everyone we know what happened? We’ve realized the power of social media for distributing real-time news. It lets us express empathy, but can also spread fear and misinformation. It’s time to ask if and when we’re helping.

Spreading accurate information to those that need it is important. But how many of the retweets of a smoking fuselage or broken city street actually accomplish that?

If you’re on the scene, say what you saw. Tell friends that you’re safe and assist fact-checking news organizations to piece the real story together.

If there is still danger, those who are in danger must be informed. If a factory fire is pumping noxious fumes into the surrounding community, if a hurricane suddenly changes directions, if an armed suspect is on the loose. For those who have lots of followers in harms way, tweeting could get them out of it.

And everyone is entitled to their opinion to what they think is news and important to share.

But we need mindfulness.

Our brains are not wired for the modern age and the incredibly powerful tools we’ve built to transmit information. A few thousand years ago, literal word of mouth was all we had. If you heard something bad was happening, it probably directly affected you. “There’s a sabretooth tiger coming! Run!” “Don’t drink the water, it’s poisoned.”

We likely developed instincts to trumpet this information as far, wide, and fast as we could because it benefited our tribe. But without tools, that message rarely projected farther than it needed to go.

Now things are very different. The threats we face haven’t scaled as quickly as our technology. Danger to a few dozen, hundred, or thousand people instantly reaches millions. The barrier to passing along news has dropped to a single click. We may be so inclined to retweet tragedy because it’s our nature to care, feel sympathy, and wish we could help. But amplifying sad news too far too fast itself poses a risk.

Most objectively, being too quick to retweet can spread inaccurate information. Just today with with the Asiana plane crash at San Francisco airport, an eyewitness said she thought the plane rolled, which would likely have made injuries much more severe. No one can confirm that it rolled, though, and the wings remain attached yet that info had already been retweeted hundreds or thousands of times. In Newtown, a digital lynch mob gathered around Ryan Lanza when he was mistakenly accused of being the school shooter when the culprit was his brother. And in Boston, false information ran rampant, from erroneous stories of people killed to a fake campaign tricking people into thinking a dollar would go to victims for each of their retweets.

Then there are the negative effects of fear. Commercial plane travel is actually incredibly safe. Deaths are rare, and it’s almost infinitely safer than cars, where there are 1.27 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the US. But each of today’s plane crash photo retweets sends a different message — that flying is dangerous. Not only could implied misinformation hurt the economy, but it could put more people on the road where they’re more likely to get hurt.

For terrorists, one of the main goals is to get attention, and social media provides that. Endlessly retweeting the destruction and heartbreak they cause may actually make their attacks more effective.

And on a more abstract level, we risk distracting each other from the present. From each other’s lives, contributions, and even ability to aid those impacted by the tragedies we talk about.

When we can use social media for good, we should. Campaign for donations to reputable relief funds and pass along information about volunteering. Make people aware of real danger when necessary. If using a one-to-many medium will spread that info too far, use private messaging. There’s no need to shove fear in everyone’s faces.

Right now, we are rubbernecking on a global level. Good news goes unheard as we fall into an eager chorus of shock and sorrow. Each of us has a choice of whether to simply parrot the problems our world inevitably faces, or use our voice to try to solve them. Let’s think before we tweet.

[Image Credit]

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

With Big-Name Backing And Some eBay Flavor, These Startups Are Looking Shake Up The Art Market

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Ebay is generally credited with being the first company to bring auctions — a system that, for nearly 2,500 years, had exclusively taken place live in noisy, public (and offline) forums — into the Digital Era. But, today, in spite of the fact that eCommerce has become a thriving global industry, with online marketplaces collectively topping $1 trillion in sales last year, one market in particular has managed to resist the disruptive influence of technology and online commerce: The grand old world of fine art.

Not to be deterred, a handful of startups have emerged in recent years behind a shared goal of leveraging eBay’s online auction model to bring some automation and democratization to the staunchly brick-and-mortar industry. The efforts of three young companies in particular, the New York-based Paddle8, Berlin’s Auctionata and India’s Saffronart have begun to find some support, both from insiders and investors.

To wit: Last week, a number of well-known names in the fashion and art worlds put their through their support behind Paddle8, an online auction house founded in the summer of 2011 that aims to connect buyers and sellers of art through both monthly themed auctions and benefit auctions, which allow non-profits and foundations to hold events online.

Damien Hirst, the controversial, English pop artist, Alexander von Furstenberg, the son of prominent fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg, along with members of the Mellon family were among those to contribute to the startup’s latest investment. The $6 million round follows on the heels of a $4 million Series A last year, both of which were led by Founder Collective and Mousse Partners.

Part of the interest in Paddle8 is its mission to become the online destination for beginners and wily veterans alike. It wants to walk the line between stuffy and accessible, allowing the public to access and buy legit, curated works and find insider opinions from the influential figures who participate as guest curators for its auctions.

There’s also the fact that, as Semil Shah wrote when he interviewed co-founder Aditya Julka earlier this year, it’s not easy to build a viable online marketplace in a complex and opaque industry like the one that has grown up around fine art over the decades. Artists, gallery owners and collectors are very particular about the process by which pieces of art move between each party involved in the transaction (understandably, given the amount of money that may be exchanging hands) and what kind of re-sale options are involved.

As Semil points out, a virtual auction house, if done right, can solve problems which have traditionally deterred some art holders from working with offline auction houses. For example, if an owner ends up selling art back to the gallery after buying it at an auction, they’re likely going to take a significant hit in doing so. Not to mention the fact that many auction houses (online and off) typically price out a big chunk of the market, limiting auctions to items over $100K.

Paddle8 aims to deal with these industry-specific issues by catering to the “lower, higher end” of the market, offering auctions on items up to $100K and setting durations at a fairly lengthy two weeks. In saying “lower, higher end,” we mean that it’s not quite the affordable, accessible-to-everyone end of the market startups like Zazzle and Art.com cater to; however, it still opens it up to a larger audience than those upstream, while maintaining an air of “legitimacy” for serious buyers and sellers.

For galleries and gallery owners, the startup offers a set of services which allow them to run their back-ends via its platform, including a dashboard for inventory and transactional management and the ability to ship, install and insure artworks without placing limits on time and geography, as we wrote last year.

The key to building a successful marketplace and business in a niche industry like this (and really any other, for that matter) is that you have to know, and respect, your audience. Even if they’re a little bit eccentric — or snobby. Paddle8 also gives galleries, art fairs and museums a POS transaction platform and, going forward, it wants to offer them private, virtual rooms to display artworks to potential buyers — rather than having to attach a .JPEG to an email, which is the way things usually work — along with the ability to auction works outside of their exhibition. The company also attempts to appeal to art sellers by taking a 6 percent commission from sellers, while charging buyers 12 percent.

The startup also keeps all records and prices involved in auctions private, meaning that it doesn’t disclose details of whether or not a piece of art sold, didn’t sell, or sold for less than the asking price. For artists or owners, this can be a fairly attractive policy in an industry that’s all about your reputation and show — taking a hit or failing to sell might have insiders turning up their nose at you the next time around.

Of course, Paddle8 isn’t the only one that sees opportunity in a digital marketplace for fine art. Founded last year, Auctionata shares a somewhat similar vision in that it wants to peel back some of the frumpy layers of the art world by making the international art market more accessible to the general public. In a slightly different approach than Paddle8, however, the Berlin-based startup is going directly after the big names in the old world of auctions, like Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

It’s doing this by attempting to re-define the familiar, live format by hosting auctions every Friday from its own TV studio. Basically, it’s going for the 100-percent-online, streaming media version of Sotheby’s. Auctionata also offers evaluation, appraisal, authentication and marketing services — along with some of the logistical tools in Paddle8′s arsenal. However, unlike Paddle8, where the average artwork sells for about $10K, Auctionata is going after the high-end. In April, it auctioned off a painting that a had a starting price of $1.5 million, for example.

Having grown to 110 employees over the last 12 months and looking to expand further to go full bore after this market, Auctionata recently raised some of its own outside capital. In April, the startup landed $20 million from Earlybird Venture Capital, Bright Capital and Kite Ventures, among others, bringing its total investment to $23 million.

With its new capital, Auctionata wants to continue hiring and build a bigger, 5,000-foot studio in New York, and expects to hit $20 million in revenue this year, according to Crain’s.

Meanwhile, with Paddle8 busy attacking the fine art market in the U.S. and Auctionata moving across Europe, a company called Saffronart has been busy applying the eBay-for-fine-art model to its home market in India. In fact, the company, which has been around in various incarnations for over a decade and has raised over $12 million from Sequoia and others, now claims to be the “largest fine-art auction house in India, online or otherwise, and one of the largest online fine art auction platforms in the world.”

For most of that time, Saffronart was almost exclusively focused on the Indian market (and Indian art) and while it’s sticking with what’s working, it, too, has been looking to expand its scope and started selling Western art for the first time last year.

Whether or not this world seems too niche to get overly excited about, these startups are finding an eager audience, especially toward the lower-end of the market. The musty air of the fine art market is in sore need of some fresh tools that can make its goods and services more accessible, and whether or not we find it all a little high-falutin’, for these three companies (among others), the approach seems to be (quietly) paying off.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Artkive Turns Your Kids’ Artwork (And More) Into Printed Books

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Artkive, an app designed to eliminate the overwhelming guilt you get tossing your children’s brilliant artwork into the garbage, now has another purpose, too: you can order printed out books of their creations. Instead of just hiding the child’s crumpled up drawings and precious finger-paint covered handprints that school sends home – what is now, like every day? – under cereal boxes and empty bags of chips, you can assure yourself that you’ve found a more efficient means of saving these items instead. You snapped a photo of them.

The sense of relief is overwhelming, I tell you.

OK, I kid…a little.

But as any parent will tell you, kids’ art output is overwhelming, forcing you to curate with a heavy hand. That’s why so many moms (and some dads, too) have begun snapping photos of the art before it hits the trash.

Explains CEO Jedd Gold, who has extensive experience working in kids’ entertainment, including with the relaunch of nostalgic 80′s brands like Strawberry Shortcake and Trolls, he was inspired to build Artkive after witnessing this very behavior at home.

“I was watching my wife take pictures of our kids’ artwork on her camera, that she would upload to her computer, and then she would upload from her computer to one of these photo sites. But by then she wouldn’t remember who created what piece, or when they were created, and they’d be out of order,” he says. “I thought, ‘there’s gotta be an app for that.’ But there really wasn’t.”

So he launched one.

The Kive Company raised $500,000 late last year for its mobile application that helps you to not just take the photos, but also annotate them with things like the child’s name, date of creation, and other comments.

Although the original goal was to make the art archiving process easier – as you can tell by the name – the app’s small but growing customer base of 105,000 (almost all moms) have already found other uses for it. They’re documenting everything that you would save for a kids’ scrapbook, including report cards, photos, other items from events and school activities, and more. One woman even used the app to document the last seven months of her pregnancy.

With this expanded focus, the printed book option begins to make more sense. Because as much as I love my own daughter’s art, I’m not sure how often I’d really revisit it in hardcover book format. But a scrapbook of her pre-kindergarten years? That I could get on board with.

Gold initially tested the concept with an alpha product launched in December. He added a “print” button to the app, without offering an explanation or any details as to what the final product would be. Despite this lack of information, a couple hundred Artkive users ordered books.

With the app’s recent update, the book purchasing feature has been overhauled. Users can now review and edit their books, changing things like the title, text on the page, the pictures it includes, and more. Books can either be 8

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