I Like Ur Art: Saatchi Creates an Online Hangout for Artists
Julie Ann Travis , 23, a graduate student at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, is curious to see what her peers are up to and to share some of her latest work. So recently she posted a self-portrait in which her head is buried in a pile of dirt at Stuart (saatchi-gallery.co.uk/stuart), the latest addition to a recently redesigned Web site for the Saatchi Gallery in London.
The brainchild of the London-based advertising magnate and collector Charles Saatchi, this social networking outlet — a kind of MySpace knockoff for artists — is causing something of a sensation, boosting traffic at the gallery’s Web site overall to more than three million hits a day.
In May Mr. Saatchi, famed for spotting young unknowns and turning them into art-world superstars, created a section on his Web site for artists of all ages to post their work at no charge. It is called Your Gallery, and now boasts contributions by about 20,700 artists, including 2,000 pieces of video art.
Everything there is for sale, with neither the buyer nor the seller paying a cent to any dealer or other middleman. About 800 new artists have been signing up each week.
And since Stuart (shorthand for “student art”) went online last month, some 1,300 students (including 450 in the United States) have created Web pages there. No one vets the quality or style of the art.
With dealers and collectors scouring student shows for undiscovered talent and students hunting for dealers to represent them, Mr. Saatchi has tapped a vein that can’t stop gushing. If Stuart gains anything like the cachet of MySpace, it has the potential to morph from a nonprofit venture into a gold mine for Mr. Saatchi.
For now, he said, he is simply enjoying the role of spectator. “When I launched the site, I took the view that the best thing was to leave it alone for the first year and purposely not buy anything, because I didn’t want to compromise what the site was supposed to do: appeal to a wide group of students,” he said.
His office, meanwhile, is fielding e-mail messages and calls from dealers, museum curators and directors, and collectors around the world who have discovered new work at the site and want to meet some of the artists in their studios. (Of the 20,700 or so artists at Your Gallery, roughly 6,000 are from Britain and 6,000 from the United States, with the rest scattered across the world.)
But for students visiting Stuart, the main attraction for now is linking up with their peers.
In addition to lists of her favorite artists, books, films and television shows, Ms. Travis has posted the name of a new friend on her page at Stuart: Erhan Ozturk, a photography student at T. C. Maltepe University in Istanbul whose work she viewed at the site.
“I don’t know him,” Ms. Travis said, although they have conversed electronically. And while she doesn’t love his art, she said, “I think it’s pretty interesting.” (New friends tend to reciprocate: Mr. Ozturk lists Ms. Travis on his Web page, and with a simple click, visitors viewing his work can connect to hers.)
Some students hear of Stuart by word of mouth from friends, and some through their schools, many of which were alerted to the site by Mr. Saatchi’s office. In addition to a free Web page, each student has the opportunity to share ideas, inspiration and advice on a discussion board, an arena that can forge new friendships and foster exposure on expanding lists of friends.
The site’s Web masters have ensured that creating a personal page is as easy as singing up for an e-mail account. After supplying a name, gender, school, college, country and e-mail address, each student must post at least one image.
“Electronically is the way we tend to communicate these days,” said Denise Parsons, 39, a student at the San Francisco Art Institute who has a page on Stuart. “Being an artist is a solo endeavor, and this is a safe way to see what others are doing.”
Mr. Saatchi said he was startled by the rapid response, which had driven home how “students very much need to talk to other students about their work.”
Erhan Ozturk, a Turkish art student, posts on the Saatchi site.
As one of the first people to exhibit the work of unknown British artists (and now stars) like Damien Hirst, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Rachel Whiteread and Chris Ofili, Mr. Saatchi is a natural magnet for students who hope that someday they too will be discovered by a kingmaker.
With Mr. Saatchi’s willingness to take on emerging artists (although some fault his propensity for selling off their work as soon as they get hot), many students dream of one day being shown in his new gallery, a 50,000-square-foot space on Kings Road in the Chelsea section of London that is scheduled to open next summer. Until then Mr. Saatchi is without a gallery, having closed his former site on the South Bank of the Thames in 2005.
The Saatchi name gives the Web site “a certain cachet and legitimacy,” said David W. Halsell, a 39-year-old installation, video and performance artist who is a student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Saatchi said he seized on the idea for remaking his overall Web site, www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk, “because I haven’t got my gallery to play with.” With the site’s revamp in May, it began with an online daily magazine and blog offering art news and reviews, an interactive forum in which visitors debate art issues, a chat room for art enthusiasts and a page where children can create and display art.
Stuart grew naturally out of and Mr. Saatchi’s voracious appetite for the new. “I’m glued,” he said. “I spend hours a day looking at students’ work on the site.”
He said he was thinking seriously about allotting rotating space in his new gallery to artists discovered at Your Gallery and Stuart. “There’s something thrilling about seeing the work of young artists for the first time even before their school shows,” he said.
The diverse offerings have caught the eye of contemporary-art experts like Olivier Varenne, director of the Museum of Old and New Art being established in Tasmania, the island state of Australia. He recently contacted the Saatchi Gallery by e-mail. “I am always looking for new talent,” he wrote, and since then he has arranged studio visits with four artists whose work he finds interesting.
In addition to linking artists with new friends and dealers, the site has in some cases enabled artists to reconnect with their old schools. Tori Murphy, a 26-year-old student at Kingston University in Surrey, England, who has heard from a gallery in Dublin and one in London, said she had been contacted by Repton, her old boarding school, which ended up buying a painting for nearly $1,400.
“I’ve done a couple of commissions, but this is my first sale,” Ms. Murphy said. Yet what she likes best about Stuart is not so much the commercial rewards as the ability to gain access to other students and their work.
“Before we were very limited to our school,” she said. “This is the first time I have had the chance to see what’s happening all over the world.”