ArtRow, a unique digital marketplace, is changing the way we buy and sell art. In this interview, CEO and Founder Lara Tomaszewska shares insights into this innovative platform. ArtRow stands out as the first of its kind, bringing the expertise of private art advisory into the digital world. Lara explains how ArtRow makes art investment accessible to users of all levels of experience, offering a guided and professionally vetted approach.
What is your business called, and what does it do?
ArtRow is a digital marketplace for the independent buying and selling of professionally vetted artwork guided by industry experts. As the first platform of its kind, ArtRow brings the experience of private art advisory to the digital world, giving users of all experience levels the knowledge and expertise they need to invest in art.
What made you want to do this work?
Fine art is and has always been a great passion of mine, and I’ve been lucky enough to have built a career in art over the last twenty years. I’ve worked as an advisor, researcher, and appraiser, and in 2012, I launched Openwork Art Advisory, a boutique firm specializing in building and shaping private and corporate collections.
While my professional experience in art academia and art sales provided me with a thorough understanding and appreciation for art through the ages, it also became clear to me that many of the structures of the existing art market weren’t meeting the needs of collectors and everyday buyers. That disconnect became even more apparent as in-person sales ground to a halt in 2020, forcing art institutions to reconsider how they approached sales, and the concept of ArtRow was born.
I created ArtRow in response to the industry’s need for greater accessibility and equitability, building a transparent online platform for buyers and sellers of all experience levels to participate in the art market.
What problem did you want to solve with the business?
Until now, the vast majority of art sales have been limited to traditional sales channels, like galleries, auction houses, and private sales, which can be complicated to navigate and intimidating for newer collectors. However, at ArtRow, our team of art experts hand-select and vet each piece based on artistic merit and market value to give buyers all the tools they need to make informed purchasing decisions.
Sellers also face limitations with traditional sales channels, including high fees and restrictive contractual agreements. For example, most galleries and auction houses require the seller to agree to exclusivity obligations and surrender possession of the work while it’s being marketed and sold. ArtRow provides the same exposure and curatorial care without exclusivity or possession requirements while offering reduced fees and striving to honour the seller’s suggested list prices wherever possible.
We created ArtRow based on a vision to democratize the art market and dismantle the barriers of traditional art transactions, allowing users to engage in the art market with confidence, regardless of their prior industry experience.
Who are your clientele/demographics?
With ArtRow, our goal is to democratize the art buying process, making it easy and accessible for Canadians of all experience levels to participate in the art market. As such, our clientele includes anyone with an interest in fine art. On the buying side, our clientele ranges from first-time buyers to experienced collectors and those seeking to add unique pieces to their home decor. We also work with interior designers and other corporate clients who are looking to purchase artwork for their spaces. ArtRow sellers include art dealers, professional artists, and private collectors, as well as everyday art owners and individuals looking to sell their artwork.
How does your business make money? How does it work?
ArtRow works on a commission basis. In exchange for professional art services, including pre-sale research, writing, and marketing, ArtRow charges a 25% seller’s fee on each sale, a rate competitive with gallery consignment and auction house fees.
Where in the city can we find your profession?
The ArtRow team is based in Victoria, but ArtRow is an online marketplace, so you can find us wherever you are by visiting our website.
What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.
How do I know ArtRow’s prices are fair?
At ArtRow, we do not represent the interests of any one seller, nor do we have an agenda to promote certain artists or artworks over others. Since we operate as an open marketplace for everyone, our experts work for every buyer and seller to establish current market values that reflect the value of the work rather than hidden commercial interests. Each piece is valued using accepted standards of appraisal practice in conformity with the Uniform Standards of Appraisal Practice (USPAP), and there are no hidden fees or additional costs built into our prices. Sellers pay a 25% fee upon sale of their work, and buyers pay for shipping fees, which are clearly marked at the time of purchase.
What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?
The best part of my job is being able to connect people to the art they love and facilitate a process that I know can feel daunting or confusing. My biggest motivator is knowing that the platform I created is making it easier for the “art curious” to engage with and learn about the art they love.
The hardest part of what we do at ArtRow is confronting public distrust in the art market. Many newer buyers and sellers are weary of entering the art space, sometimes for good reason. The art market has historically been perceived as an elite space for backroom deals and, with this, there have been incidents involving insider trading and dishonesty amongst art world professionals. However, art transactions don’t need to operate this way. With ArtRow, we want to restore public trust and invite new participants into the art market by giving them access to the information and knowledge they need to make informed investments.
What is your favourite joke about your own profession?
We definitely need some more jokes in the art world! Art world professionals have traditionally taken themselves very seriously in order to assert their connoisseurship, so we usually aren’t known for our sense of humour.
Where can we follow you?
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PAY IT FORWARD: What is another local business that you love?
I love Flytographer. It’s an ingenious marketplace that matches travellers with photographers local to the destination to capture holiday photoshoots. Founder and CEO Nicole Smith has built an impressive global network of photographers so that no matter where you go in the world, you can memorialize special events and occasions. The platform is a brilliant example of how a tech marketplace connects people and celebrates the human experience.