Last fall, the artist Jeremy Kost released a book of photographs titled Fractured, which featured his signature multi-exposed Polaroids of impeccably chiseled male models wearing only briefs or even less. The regular version is priced at $60; a special artist’s edition (limited to 100 copies) cost $400 and is accompanied by an original Polaroid selected by the buyer. Until that point, Kost hadn’t given serious thought to his Instagram account, an unfocused assortment of images of works in progress and “a bunch of other stuff,” as he described over the phone this past Monday. At the time, his follower count was 20,000; since the release of Fractured, the number has ballooned to 70,000. Kost, who worked at an internet company in a prior life, was bothered by this institutional discrepancy between virtual demand and real-world supply. He created his new Instagram shop, TANGIBLE by Jeremy Kost, as a compromise.
“Earlier this year, I realized that most of these fans couldn’t afford my work,” he said. “I thought the $400 special edition of the book was a deal, but for a lot of those fans, that was still not accessible. I thought, ‘How can I make something semi-precious that just about anyone can afford, but that doesn’t devalue the other parts of my work?’”
A rapid ascent to fame—aided and abetted by social media—can create a dangerous value bubble around an artist’s oeuvre. Once it pops, the market value of the artist’s work can plummet to irrecoverable depths. As Kost is older and already established in certain LGBT and nightlife circles, he largely avoids this risk.
“I’ve been able to have consistent growth in my practice without ever having a crazy market moment,” he said. “Sales this year have been pretty ok. Not knockout, but ok. But the interesting thing is, almost every sale of non-Instagram art that I’ve had this year has been from a collector who found my work through Instagram, which is incredible.”
As evidenced by Richard Prince’s latest appropriation scandal, and subsequent retaliatory counter-offers, Instagram photos—including screenshots of Instagram photos—are the Schrödinger’s cats of the art market, simultaneously worth $90,000 and $90, give or take a cryptic comment from @richardprince1234.
(On a tangential note, Kost said, “What Richard is doing really makes sense in the context of his practice—instead of the Marlboro man twenty or thirty years ago, it’s an Instagram image. But, look, if I had $90,000 to spend on a work, it wouldn’t be on one of those, let’s put it that way. No offense to Richard. He actually commented on one of my pictures, and I screengrabbed it because I knew what he was doing. I saw the comment [Prince added] and went, ‘What the fuck?’ I sent him a message that said, ‘I don’t care if you use it. Just make me a printout. Thank you.’”)
Kost instead cites Larry Clark, who sold his massive collection of behind-the-scenes snapshots Kids, Supreme advertisement shoots, stray skateboarders, and a bunch of other stuff, as Kost might say, earlier this year for £100 (about $170) each. Clark’s incentive was similar, if divergently sentimental: “[This sale is for] all the kids that come to my shows in thousands and could never afford $10,000-$15,000 for a print…this is a pay back to all the skate rats and collectors who would like a souvenir so I can die happy,” he’s said.
Kost has two Instagram accounts, one under his name and one under his studio’s. “Jeremy Kost Studio is more for photos of things that I’m interested in and physical things that I’m making,” he explained. “But the Jeremy Kost account has become almost 99 percent behind-the-scenes snapshots taken while I’m working. They’re these pretty digital images in contrast to [the multi-exposed] Polaroids I’ve been making.”
A regular Kost (ghostly, sun-bleached) typically starts at $3,000, and a couple of his larger diptychs and silkscreen paintings have sold for over $35,000. These diet editions (vibrantly hued, white-balanced), all snapped on an iPhone 6, cost $100. The subjects haven’t changed, but their relationship to the camera has. These candid, behind-the-scenes shots capture heaps of personality—a hot commodity nowadays, especially among models, who are often scouted on the basis of the size of their Instagram following.
“Every image that I post, or have posted in the past, is available as a unique print, 8 inches by 8 inches, pigment on paper, the exact same way I make the larger works at the Lower East Side Print Shop. The exact same paper, everything,” Kost said. “One copy will go to the subject of the photograph [often an unknown model scouted by Kost off the street], and one going to archives that I’m going to keep for myself. Hopefully, the archive will be acquired by an institution at some point in the future. I never really thought about the images I was posting on Instagram as artworks, but I realized that they were composed, resolved images. Just because they aren’t Polaroids doesn’t mean they’re not good photos.”
“Democratization, not monetization” is the project’s soundbite. “It may not be easy—you may not go out to dinner for a couple of nights, maybe—but even if you’re making minimum wage, you can afford $100 if [the art] is important enough to you,” Kost said.
Kost has never had gallery representation in New York and is in many ways an art-world loner. The soft launch for the project—45 printed photos, to be exact—happened last Tuesday at a Playgirl-style party for friends and family in the penthouse of the Edition Hotel in New York. A few days later, an email blast was sent to collectors, and the public will hear the news via Instagram on this week.
Kost partnered with Spreesy, a tech company that enables users to turn their Instagram accounts into shopping sites. “Spreesy came up with an algorithm so that when you type certain characters into your Instagram post, Spreesy captures that post and sends it to their store.”
“You can buy it either through Instagram by commenting with your email address and then they send you as secure invoice,” Kost said, “or you can go to their website, this web store, and buy it there. The messaging on that is a little difficult with Instagram, but I took the domain tangiblebyjeremykost.com, which autoforwards to the Spreesy site, just to maintain consistent branding. I think the first photo I posted today was actually the first one that went from Instagram to that store.”
Out of roughly 600 images initially available, Kost said, approximately 10 percent have already sold, meaning his sales total $6,000 for the week.
“That seems pretty awesome,” he said. “I think what Instagram is doing culturally and even from a commerce perspective is so important now. From models to artists to brands to galleries, it’s really incredible. Frankly, I’m sort of addicted to it. The first thing I do in the morning is scroll through to see what happened while I was sleeping. It’s kind of sick.”