Midway through her MA in Arts and Cultural Management at King’s College London, the visionary Natasha Arselan, 29, came up with the idea of AucArt—an online auction company that showcases the works of early career artists. Built on transparency, her innovative venture connects art school graduates directly with collectors, allowing both parties to benefit from the collaboration.
By investing in artists early on in their career, clients—be they young industry professionals or established patrons—can purchase art before it begins to appreciate in value. An AucArt collector is an individual who “thrives on the thrill of discovery”.
I caught up with Natasha this past week to discuss the business of auctions, her personal sense of style and the life of a startup founder…
Great to have you here! I’m thrilled I found you out. I have been fascinated by the world of auctions ever since I heard about Christie’s and Sotheby’s for the first time as a kid. But my interest grew exponentially at the end of 2017, when I learnt about Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi being sold for a whopping $450 million for display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
In a way, I really like it that hefty sums are regularly given away for paintings and sculptures—it means that creativity and culture are important and valuable. But what disturbs me immensely is that such transactions are mostly for the secondary market and deal with artists who are already dead or already old and rich. So many times, the creators of the works never even get anything. Oligarchs do, who will have funds transferred from Saudi to Russia, Japan to America, whatever.
So it’s amazing to see a shift in the business, an auction site for fresh graduates, early career artists who are alive and kicking and totally need and deserve the money! Now tell me when and how did you get the idea from? Also, how will the buyer/collector benefit from participating in the project?
Thank you! Collecting art works from artists straight out of art school is not new but it has always been based on personal connections. Peggy Guggenheim, The Vogels and The Broads all did so, and look at their collections—innovative, historic and still relevant today! AucArt is about discovering artists at the earliest part of their careers FIRST!
There were three moments that triggered the beginning of AucArt. An artist I had worked with in the past called me and asked me to come to the studio because he didn’t have enough funds to make his final MA artwork. So I did. As I walked through the studios, I was amazed. I bought a beautiful work. He’s gone on to do very well. I believe in him and feel like I’ve been on his journey with him.
It’s a priceless feeling and my mission was to offer that feeling and opportunity to invest early to others, because it has been a major win-win situation. It was a great investment—I wanted to collect art but didn’t have major funds. AucArt allows others to benefit from collecting early. In addition to this there’s only so far an artist grant can go. AucArt is a global ecosystem that allows early career artists to support themselves at their own pace, in their own corner of the world.
There are quite a few online auction platforms in operation—Paddle8, Artspace. As you were researching the current state of the industry, what did you like and what did you want to see done differently?
I wanted a live platform that was always bursting with new artworks. I wanted to be the first to discover an artist and I wanted to be able to start an art collection with longevity. I wanted to see more artists survive without the need of gallery representation. I wanted to include all those people like myself on the outskirts of the art world in. Because art changed my life, I want to share that joy and priceless feeling of investing in an artist from the beginning with others around the world. I wanted our collectors to decide how to purchase (bid/buy/make an offer) and I wanted to be transparent and show the price online and give all our collectors equal opportunity to purchase our works.
AucArt has created a pre-emerging channel in the art world, many of our collectors are established and influential in the industry. We have thousands of clients across the world returning to the platform to discover the next generation of artists from the world’s most renown art schools. We are backed by an amazing advisory board and we invite a guest curator each month to pick their favourite work—what other market place puts their artists in front of the Tate’s Head of Collection Development? We ALSO look after all of our artists funds, shipping, paperwork, find them press opportunities, exhibition opportunities when relevant, we have placed works in some very interesting collections around the world. All our artists and artworks are highly curated, thus the level of quality is very high.
Run me through the process. How does the AucArt website work?
As soon as you land on the platform, you click ‘Sign Up’ (if you have already, then you simply ‘log in’). If you are a collector or interested in buying, you go to ‘I am a collector’ where you will create an account (free and very simple). You are then able to bid, buy and calculate shipping costs. If you are an artist, you opt for ‘I am an artist’. Once their account has been approved, they are able to upload potential works they wish to consign. We go review and will either approve or decline. In addition, we visit the top thirty schools in the UK throughout the year. Last year, we visited ten of the top schools in the US searching for artists.
You have a fantastic advisory board. Members include Svetlana Marich, Deputy Chairman of Phillips and Dylan Jones, Editor at GQ. How did you decide on the group and go about inviting them to join you?
They all have a passion for discovering and supporting the next generation. Dylan Jones attended Chelsea College of Arts. He knows how it feels to be an early career artist. Svetlana Marich, co-chair of Philips is involved with a number of philanthropic initiatives and is one of the most open-minded people I’ve met. She supported the project as soon as I explained the idea at the very beginning. I’m also grateful to other members, including Maryam Eisler, a very influential patron/collector and photographer, for her support and it’s great to be backed by other members of our strong and diverse board. In addition, we invite a guest curator each month to pick their favourite works.
You are constantly in and out of colleges. What are some of your major partnerships till now? You have the UK and the US. Where next?
Major partnerships have been with University of Arts London, The Armory Fair, Soho House, and now we have ‘The AucArt Lab’, our first London residency, where six artists are invited (via submission) to live and work in a beautiful Georgian townhouse next to Regent’s Park. We invite clients for studio visits (to book an appointment email email@example.com) and host an exhibition at the end of their six weeks. To tell you where next and upcoming partnerships are coming from would be giving it away! Sign up to our mailing list to be the first to find out 😉
As AucArt expands into the world, what additional features would you like to include in the initiative?
I want to give our users a seamless experience from when you log in to the platform to the artwork arriving at your front door. We have also just added ‘Make an Offer’ option to buy should the buyer want to offer below the start price. All additional features will be based on what our users require to enjoy their experience with us. We are currently focussing on expanding and the introduction of new content—sculpture and photography.
Who are some of the players/figures in art tech that you look up to?
Art tech is still very new—I’m still converting many in the art world from Offline to Online. But it’s happening, it just needs time. I think what Artsy has become is inspiring. I also admire Matthew Slotover, who founded Frieze (alongside Amanda Sharp), for taking the art fair model to another level and disrupting an entire industry. He’s incredibly smart and very modest.
I like your personal style. It’s very distinctive. Those big black-rimmed glasses you often wear are rad. And I totally love women in tux. Do you have any fashion icons?
Thank you! Iris Apfel, that woman is in a league of her own. She also proves that you do not need black label/haute couture to look like a goddess. She has invented herself and she wears what she loves, whether it’s from a flea market in Morocco or a one-off by YSL. Audrey Hepburn is another timeless style icon of mine. So effortless. I love original people.
Being a startup founder means that one must work every waking hour. To manage your energy and to remain sane, do you adhere to any particular practices—mental and physical—for peak performance?
Ha. This is a good question. Yes, it’s true, the physical and the mental are totally linked. So exercise is key. I try to go to the gym when I can. If I’m staying next to a park I will run first thing in the morning (6:30). It’s important to remember you are a person and not a machine. I try to have an hour to myself before I open my emails/check my phone, be organised—my diary is my memory.
I try to keep a balanced diet. Not too much caffeine. I suffer with anxiety quite often so I have to keep my alcohol intake moderate. I like to watch part of a movie before bed (if I’m not too exhausted, a whole one). I try to sleep at least six hours a day.
It’s important to know when to stop, I’m not great at that. With a startup, no task is ever truly “finished”. I try to turn my phone off for at least twelve hours straight per week (usually on a Friday evening) and I try to take at least one full day off (usually a Saturday). It’s important to surround yourself with supportive people—whether it’s friends or family, as it can get lonely at times. I’m very lucky to have my people. The level of focus startup life requires really pushes me to the very edge regularly. Building, fulfilling and staying true to my vision is enough to keep me going.
What do you love most about your venture till now?
We have an incredible track record of success stories of our artists. A large percentage of them have had huge increases in their markets (up to 300%) within one year. Many have since had a solo show within the year or have had works acquired by interesting collectors, been featured in the press and won national art prizes and international residencies.
I’m really proud of the artists that are on board with us at AucArt, they’re bringing our collectors all over the world joy, and a sense of progression. These innovative art collections will continue to be built and remain relevant in history. AucArt was MADE FOR THE BELIEVERS!