The 50-Inch Gallery: New Startup Depict Wants to be the ‘iTunes for Art’

The view of Depict. Left: Universal Everything, "Portrait." Right: Chris Doyle, In The Labyrinth.

The view of Depict: Universal Everything’s Portrait, left, and Chris Doyle’s In The Labyrinth.

The start-up world is all about contextual one-liners. A common pitch construction is for a new company to brand itself as “[successful internet company] for [field unrelated to said company]” and art-related entries into the start-up battlefield are no different. Vango claims to be “Spotify for original, accessible art” while Monegraph describes itself as “a Bitcoin for digital art.” wants to be some sort of “Flickr for Contemporary and Street Art” and Artsy, in those heady days when it was still styled, was branding itself as “Pandora for Fine Art.” The list goes on.

Depict–a new platform for viewing and collecting digital art, centered around a 50-inch digital screen that serves as a means of displaying work made exclusively for the device, purchased and organized on an adjoining cloud and smart phone application–is “doing for visual content what iTunes and Spotify have done for music,” according to the company’s web site. The frame itself costs $1,800. It starts shipping in July.

The timing of Depict’s inception was concurrent with fairly recent shifts in how digital images have been created and processed online—with the rise of tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and “this proliferation of images on the Internet,” said CEO and founder Kim Gordon (no, not that one), “and some of them could be considered fine art.”

(It should be noted that there is another start-up working in this general field called Electric Objects. Their signature 23-inch screen operates on a more modest scale and budget, and sold out to customers who preordered last June during the company’s Kickstarter campaign; the next shipments will be available for $499 in September 2015. There’s also Sedition, which creates exclusive digital art that can be displayed on any screen–mobile included.)

Gordon, who before starting Depict was working for a clean tech startup, pointed to the fact that there was a lot of new digital art that seemed “trapped inside the format of a laptop or a computer or a mobile device,” far away from the kind of experience she felt necessary for the viewer to have a “real emotional relationship with the art.” (That some of this digital art was made to be “trapped inside a computer” is a different conversation altogether.)

The Depict screen is housed in a maple frame that would look equally at home in a suburban doctor’s office or a graphic design studio. The system as a whole could have the ability to function as a base for art that is often harder to sell than more traditional offerings like painting or sculpture. Ideally, Depict could give creators the freedom to make purely digital work on a modest budget and actually sell the stuff. But, at an average of $25 per work in runs of around 200, the potential for profit on any given edition is relatively minor.

Depict, though, is still brand new, and as such the creators are taking an exploratory approach to the monetization of artworks within the system. “We will be experimenting with different pricing models as well as different edition sizes,” said Amanda Schneider, Depict’s Curatorial Director. “We’re working one on one with the artist’s to price the artwork accordingly, keeping in mind that this is a new market that we are trying to build online,” Schneider said.

“When I look at these platforms, I look at exposure, I don’t look at value,” said Steven Sacks, the owner and director of bitforms gallery in New York. Sacks—who has been selling digital and new media art for fifteen years “obviously at a very different price point than this”—compared the larger editions and smaller price points on services like Depict to the way prints function in the art world. “I think it’s good for artists who are exploring this medium to reach a larger audience,” he continued.

Gordon said Depict is in talks with bigger artists (names that were mentioned included Eric Cahan, Nicole Cohen, and Universal Everything, the latter also featured on Sedition), and the future of the platform’s success could possibly rest on curation, which for now is managed through a combination of an in-house team, independent curators, and open submissions.

“There’s definitely inbound interest from artists who are sending us their portfolios for review,” said Schneider. “We review all of them, and get back to everybody, although sometimes it takes a little bit longer than usual.”

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