This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
CJ Follini is a film producer, real estate investor and digital media entrepreneur . He is also a Co-Founder and CEO of COMPANY -- www.welcometocompany.com -- an art website “for collectors by collectors”. COMPANY is described as a curated secondary art market and community with a focus on art collectors and their collections of emerging art. Art collectors can list art in their collection for sale, network with other collectors on the site and take part in various events that COMPANY plans to offer. As the website states, COMPANY provides a “venue for collectors of Emerging Art to discover the next great artist and the tools to acquire and sell your art.”
Upon my request CJ Follini offered his time to discuss COMPANY in detail. Follini provided background information about the inspiration behind the website, his outlook for COMPANY and some general information about what people can expect as COMPANY grows. Welcome to COMPANY -- and welcome to learning more about the man behind the direction of the website.
Brian Sherwin: My understanding is that the goal of COMPANY is to introduce collectors to artwork by emerging artists. As you know, websites that focus on selling art online normally place a solid focus on artists first -- and collectors second. Why did you feel that it was important to establish a site that focuses specifically on the needs of art collectors?
CJ Follini: Because we are avid collectors and no one was serving our needs. I wanted to meet and socialize with like minded, passionate collectors. I also was looking for a secondary market specializing in emerging artists because their own galleries don't want to maintain a secondary market in their work and the auction houses were ignoring this category.
Sherwin: I understand that you and your wife, Renee Ryan -- who is also a Co-Founder of COMPANY, have been avid art collectors since 1993. What can you tell us about your personal art collection?
Follini: I estimate 70 percent of our collection is painting or drawing by emerging artists with a strong leaning toward representation over abstraction or minimalism except for our fave - Amy Sillman. Strong technique and fundamental use of color is paramount to us.
Sherwin: With that in mind, when you use COMPANY for your own art needs -- what are you looking for?
Follini: My only personal use for COMPANY is to create a social network for collectors like us. We intend to produce content that creates talking points for all of us to interact around our passion for contemporary art. There is nothing more fun (or telling) than hearing about another's collection.
Sherwin: In your opinion, how do emerging artists benefit from what is basically an art focused social network and ecommerce platform for art collectors?
Follini: The emerging artists represented on the site benefit from the exchange of information from one art collector to the next. COMPANY allows art collectors to share their collections with other art collectors. It is an exchange of information that is a win-win situation for the artists involved. The collectors are sharing images of their art collections with other collectors... which means they are introducing other collectors to emerging artists they may not have known otherwise. One could say it is a stamp of approval when an art collector cares enough for an artist in his or her collection to share that information with other collectors. That is just one of the ways that emerging artists involved in these collections benefit from COMPANY.
Sherwin: Currently COMPANY only allows collectors to list art in their collections for sell. The site clearly states, "Artist submitted listings of their own work will not be approved". Do you have plans to change that policy at some point? Will artists be able to list their art in the future -- or will the site remain steadfast in its 'for collectors by collectors' direction?
Follini: That is not entirely accurate. Our curatorial board invites artists they discover and love to list their own work regularly. But we are, as stated above, clearly focused on the collector's needs which is our major point of difference from the rapidly proliferating landscape of online art websites.
Sherwin: How does COMPANY confirm that a collector is indeed a collector -- and a 'real' person for that matter? For example, a deceptive artist could simply create a collector persona in order to upload his or her art for sell. What steps does COMPANY take to insure that collectors on the site are legitimate? Furthermore, what steps does COMPANY take to make sure that transactions are legitimate -- that buyers receive what they paid for and so on?
Follini: We ask them. Simple as that. After all, we are promoting a community of passionate collectors who wish to socialize with each other, online or offline, but if someone wishes to break that trust then so be it. We are not schoolmarms. The community will likely 'police' itself in that collectors who break that trust will be exposed by their peers.
Sherwin: Having worked with websites of this nature I know of some of the criticism that COMPANY will face from traditionalists of the art market. For example, some gallery owners are wary of art websites that allow collectors to mingle. In fact, I've known gallerists who view sites like COMPANY as a direct threat to their market. After all, gallery owners are well known for keeping their collector list tightly guarded -- the Internet has made it easier for collectors to network. Would you say that gallery owners have a reason to be concerned? Or would you say that they simply need to adapt to the times?
Follini: The only gallery owners who are concerned are, and should be, those who do not provide full transparency to their collectors nor have their collector clients' interests uppermost in their hearts. Fear of your clientele sharing information smacks of the early days of any fractionalized market that needs modernizing and some light let in.
Sherwin: With that in mind, what do you think the future holds for the mainstream art world as the professionals working within that 'world' continue to slowly accept the Internet as an additional tool for exposure and marketing? Do you think at some point art galleries, in general, will place more focus on offering e-commerce options -- or perhaps representing some artists digitally instead of physically? Due to the economy would you suggest that art dealers must adapt to the Internet in order to thrive in the future?
Follini: I really can't speak to what art galleries should or will do. I'm not a gallery owner. I can only say that in every business today, e-commerce and e-marketing is integral to future success.
Sherwin: In closing, you wear many hats -- you are a film producer, a digital media entrepreneur of note, and a very influential real estate investor. You are founder of BLACKSWAN... a successful webzine focused exclusively on Alternative Real Estate. Your wife, Renee Ryan, is the mastermind behind the highly successful Vera Wang fragrance and Sexy Beast. Needless to say, you both have influence -- and I assume a strong contact list of wealthy friends and business associates... the movers and shakers of several industries. What role will those connections play in the success of COMPANY? In other words, do you think your connection to COMPANY will influence those who know you personally to be more comfortable with dealing in art online -- to take a chance on emerging artists?
Follini: I can only hope. From your mouth to God's ears, right? Truthfully, we are hedging our online bet in our belief that the only truly successful online strategy must include significant offline efforts a la The Collector Series events and our upcoming cable show debuting on Channel 25 NYC in the fall. Shameless plugs I know but my marketing director will shoot me if didn't mention them.
Take care, Stay true,