Joanna Hogrefe has opened Tempestuous, an online art gallery, and the industry might never be the same. From her lawyer roots, to the business of art and pop up galleries–we spoke with Joanna about shaking up the art industry.
How have you seen the profession of art decline? Do you have some examples?
In my opinion, the profession of art has prospered in creativity and inspiration. This is evident in the popularity of political satirists who provide a very specific outlet that visual art performed 150 years ago. Unfortunately, however, the business of art has both declined, and just ceased to progress. I’ll provide a few examples of what I mean in both of these categories.
Examples of decline:
a. Galleries are closing their doors – Between 2010 and 2016, the number of art galleries declined from 6,500 to 1,500.
b. The internet has made it more difficult for artists to exercise ownership of their property rights, undermining their ability to share their products with potential buyers.
c. Due to reduced organizational art subsidies and support globally, it has become increasingly difficult for artists to support themselves by way of being an artist. Artists are thereby unable to continue their development and may never reach their full potential (think how long it would take for doctors to master their craft if they could only practice 10 to 15 hours a week, after their day job).
Examples of stagnation:
a. Approximately half of art sales, in terms of number of units sold, are from art galleries, and yet the gallery model hasn’t changed in the last 75 years. People buy very few things in the same way that they did 75 years ago.
b. Galleries remain very capital intensive. Most other businesses have taken advantage of the digital age to reduce their capital requirements. This has facilitated their ability to profit with lower per unit margins and sell more units (that is, prices have gone down in terms of real dollars in most industries, but not art).
c. The internet isn’t new, and yet the art industry has not really found an effective way to harness its potential.
Why did you choose to pursue law and how has that influenced Tempestuous?
I wanted to be a lawyer from a very young age. I’ve been told I possess very refined skills of rhetoric. I just say I like to argue. Tempestuous wouldn’t be possible without being able to adopt the law. Property rights, and the laws established to protect those rights, were developed to facilitate the sharing of ideas. That is, if I do things as prescribed by law, I effectively have a contract with the government whereby I will share something valuable, but nobody else can profit from that valuable item without adequately compensating me. This, in my opinion, is one of the missing links between where the art industry is now, and where it could be.
Tell me about how you came up with the name.
I chose the name Tempestuous for 3 reasons.
First, I believe everyone is capable of creating art. In fact, I hope all people engage in creative endeavors, regardless of whether or not they perceive themselves as being talented. That said, great art will invoke emotion and the specific emotion invoked may differ from person to person. In other words, great art may make you feel vulnerable, upset, angry, happy, or any other emotion, but it will not leave you feeling indifferent. It may even make you feel multiple, and conflicting emotions, conforming with the definition of tempestuous.
The second reason is that I proudly describe myself as tempestuous. I am a very passionate person, and love to discuss the things I am passionate about. Many of these things are controversial in the sense that there are multiple valid interpretations. I am also very studious. Thus, I may be passionate about a specific opinion, but upon receiving additional, or better, information, I may become equally passionate about an opposing view. This, again, fits the definition of tempestuous.
The third reason relates to the nature of the business. In addition to being focused on art, and the related legal issues, it applies economic concepts and research to identify trends and properly determine pricing. This will apply objective quantitative and qualitative analysis to the art industry. This is likely to provide unexpected results, which will be disruptive to the art industry. Thus, Tempestuous as a company as somewhat of a tempestuous relationship with art.
Tell me why you wanted to do an online art space.
Specifically, the art gallery industry remains very capital intensive, increasing fixed costs, and therefore prices. In fact, most art galleries operate in locations with high and low seasons. During the low seasons, they expect to make few, if any, sales per month. They have to compensate for this lack of revenue in the high season, which again causes prices to be higher.
The online primary location allows me to take the art to the demand. That is, if February is in the off-season for the Santa Fe, NM, art market, I will create a “pop-up” space in Aspen, CO, where the market is in high-season. Conversely, if February is just a bad month for art sales, I won’t sell, but I also don’t have cover high fixed costs.
Tell me about this combination of art, law and economics.
I am both ambitious and passionate. I passionately pursued law and economics because that seemed like the more practical route. I realized, however, that my passion is not always appreciated in business, especially large, highly political, organizations primarily run by men. Thus, I returned to my first passion, art.
What does a typical gallery offer artists?
Typically, galleries offer artists wall space, and promotion associated with having that wall space. They charge 50 to 60 percent of the art’s sale price for that wall space.
If the gallery has a good location, is well-known, and has a strong collector base, the artist will do well. However, these types of galleries are very difficult for artists to get into due to the fierce competition among artists. Thus, many artists are happy to get into collective galleries and/or galleries with very little customer traffic.
What does Tempestuous offer that they don’t?
In addition to a much lower commission rate to artists (we retain significantly less of the sales price than typical galleries), we offer:
a. Legal support for property rights
b. Economic analysis, including access to our exclusive databases and algorithms, and proprietary pricing approach
c. A targeted market approach, connecting specific types of art with markets identified as being interested in that type of art
d. Targeted promotion
What are your hopes for the future of Tempestuous?
I hope people get to know and trust the brand, translating into broader creative exposure for both artists and art enthusiasts.