Sep 17, 2019

Digital Innovation in Art nominee, Artwork Archive: "Ten years of helping artists make a living doing what they love is something we're very proud of"

Interview with the Justin Anthony, the co-founder of one of the first cloud-based art inventory systems

Artwork Archive is a cloud service for artists and collectors allowing to store all the important information about artworks and collections, track their location, provenance, pricing history etc. .ART talked to its co-founder Justin Anthony about the best way to manage artworks and the future of digital technologies in art.

Our client could be a couple who wants to manage their family collection, or a huge international organization with hundreds of offices.

Tell us a little about your business. 
We’ve been doing this since 2010 and were one of the first cloud-based art inventory systems for artists and collection management. We are currently working closely with thousands of artists, collectors and organizations from 50 different countries trying to build the best possible art management system for their needs. Our program is accessible enough for early-stage artists or collectors and powerful enough for some of the largest organizations.

For artists we have a platform which helps them organize, catalog and showcase their artwork to the world. When it comes to collection management, we have individual collectors, organizations and financial institutions using our product to manage access to the collections and keep any important information which is tied to these collections – that you can store and share with any institutions. You can do location management, you can see where any of your works are, track provenance, exhibition history, use our financial model to help you track sales and all of your expenses. We also help artists to professionally present their artwork. Things like reports presentations, web pages, custom presentations.  We’re really focused on business tools that help them make a living doing what they love.

How did it all start? 
Nine years ago, we started with my business partner John Feustel. The artist side of the idea came because my business partner’s mother is an oil painter from Colorado. She had all of the information about her works on her computer and once her hard drive died. Everyone can imagine the scale of the disaster. Then we decided to create a system that would allow artists to never lose the important data. We created the first cloud accessible anywhere, from any device excluding any risk of losing the data.

Is it easy to persuade artists that your product is exactly what they need?
The reality is that it’s a constant challenge.  We really tried to focus on pain points that they face on a day to day basis and provide solutions for that. The sad thing is that the majority of artists out there over focus on two things: «I need a website and I need a way to sell my art online».  Out of 100 inquiries we get in a day, 90 will be about how to get exposure or how to sell their work online. It’s a smaller percentage of the artists out there that get that, without organization and the right business tools, it’s very challenging.  We constantly gather feedback from our clients. Every member of the Artwork Archive team is required to do customer support each day, and we meet weekly to discuss customer feedback, this is critically important for defining the further strategy and establishing our priorities.

What challenges do you see in your business?
The challenge is that we are dealing with an industry that has traditionally been one of the slowest to adopt technologies. Look at our space (collection management) and you’ll see products that haven’t changed in decades.  And, while collectors are slow to adopt new things, artists can be even slower as they are constantly hit with new tools, new sites, new opportunities that can be very overwhelming. I think you might be facing the same challenges with your Digital Twin service. It is an interesting technology. I like the fact that it uses a domain-based method rather than something much less transparent/manipulatable (I’m assuming someone can’t use the service with a byproxy option thus hiding their true identity).  As far as all the options coming out for verifying/establishing authenticity, it seems like one of the more viable options. But still it is a challenge to persuade artists that they should deal with all those cutting-edge technologies.

What are your plans for the future?
We will continue to let our users drive our product evolution.  It’s one of the keys to our success. Rather than trying to invent things that may or may not need or predict the next big thing, we talk to our users on a daily basis so we can get a real sense of what they really need to be more successful. That’s how almost all of our product evolution happens.  You’ll see some better sharing tools and some more advanced options having to do with sales/invoicing, but our main focus in the next few months will be on making the product even easier to use than it already is.  We have so many great features that it’s easy to get lost in the options right now and we plan on making all the values a bit clearer.

Will digital art take over «physical art»? Do you imagine the art scene completely changed by technology in the next 50 years? If so, how?
We do have digital artists among our clients, but, to my view, there is still about 80% of artist are creating physical, fine art. And we’ve got over $2 billion of fine art beeing managed on the platform. I don’t think that all art will be eventually digital. While new avenues for expression of creativity are opening every day, I think there is still something to be said for scarcity, there is something to be said for limitations, for having a unique physical work that is out of there. I think digital technologies are gaining more and more ground in our world but even in the future people will still value uniqueness, rarity and so I do think that there will always be certain sections of fine art – live and collectable. But the ways in which they are showcased might change. All those digital frames, interactiveness. I think there will be more and more of such formats emerging. Virtual reality is very realistic, so you can virtually walk through a gallery, to experience art from all kinds of angles with the help of technology. But I think that the art itself is not going to be that much different. Sculptures, installation art, things that have physical presence will still be in place.

Who is an artist? Someone recognised by the authoritative organisations and individuals or just someone who considers himself as a such?
I don’t find it useful to put people in small boxes. The first part of our product is created for artists and that could be anyone from a student who decided to start a career to the people who already do it for their professional career for many years and who are already famous. The same approach we have to collectors in the second part of our business. That could be a couple who want to manage their family collection and huge international organisation with offices across hundreds of locations.

Between inspiration and hard work, which is more important?
While it may sound like a copout, I think the two temper each other and work in harmony.  Inspiration and hard work can only get you so far independently.

Whats your most exciting achievement to date?
We’re actually approaching that mark as this coming year marks our 10-year anniversary.  A decade of helping artists make a living doing what they love is something we’re all very proud of.  We also just hit a major milestone of having over $2.5 billion in art being managed on our platform.

The Blitz:

Person with the greater influence in your life (family, celebrity, dead or alive).
My wife – she keeps me grounded and never lets me lose sight of what’s really important.

Favourite book
The Giving Tree

Favourite colour
Jade Green

Whats your idea of happiness?
Burying my feet in the sand with my family as waves wash over them.

You can learn more about Artwork Archive


Also published on Medium.

Maria Efimova
Maria Efimova
is an orientalist who speaks Arabic and Hebrew. She spent a decade working with global media, shook hands with Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders. She is now taking a break from it all researching arts and philosophy.