Don’t be misled by the admittedly punchy name of Carrie Shibinsky’s online auction site: ARTBOMB doesn’t want to do anything nasty or threatening to art or the art world. What it does want to do is “explode” conventional thinking when it comes to the way we view and learn about — and, in some cases, acquire — art in our daily lives.
“As a name, it just sounded catchy,” laughs Shibinsky. People ask about it all the time, she admits. That’s actually an advantage when it comes to branding: the name’s memorable. “We do hope that we’re memorable, that we’re doing something people will not only remember but, hopefully, come back for.”
Hopefully every day: ARTBOMB is a daily art display/auction, held exclusively online, featuring one work of art only, starting at 6AM sharp and ending just as punctually at 11PM. As a type, painting tends to dominate, but prints, photography, sculpture, drawing, mixed-media and even video have all been offered for purchase. Every piece is photographed in-house with what Shibinsky, laughing, calls “our famous chair.” The site itself is one static page, refreshed every morning with the new image, artist bio and pricing information.
As far as concerns dollars and sense, Shibinsky and her curator, Lisa Campos Aziz, determine the opening bid: usually around $400 and cresting $1,000 at the high end, set as such because part of ARTBOMB’s agenda is to make art collection affordable for everyday fans. The sale price — assuming the piece sells — is split in half between the artist and ARTBOMB. “We sell three or four (out of seven) pieces per week,” says Shibinsky. “The ones that don’t sell break my heart, every time. I love them all. We only auction art that we love.”
Love isn’t the only criterion for consideration for a piece to be repped by ARTBOMB. Curator Aziz deals with applicants every day and has a rigorous process for determining who makes the cut; from there, Shibinsky gets the final word. (Note: interested artists can apply through the ARTBOMB homepage.) Still, love is as good of an explanation as any for Shibinsky and co.’s process. In fact, it’s built into the site’s tagline: Buy what you love. “At one piece of art per day,” says Shibinsky, “that’s got to be the reason.”
Launched in December 2011, the Toronto-based operation features Canadian artists exclusively, though the artists needn’t be located in Canada. Beyond that, “the main condition for consideration is that, once invited by us, the artists must get their work to our studio,” says Shibinsky. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of participants to date have been Torontonians — due, simply, to shipping/transportation costs the artists incur — though Shibinsky hopes to launch satellite “mini-studios” in Montreal and Vancouver, and perhaps some day outside of Canada.
ARTBOMB currently boasts a daily email subscriber list of over 10,000 aficionados-cum-collectors. And those are just the people who go out of their way to check out the daily auction: site traffic is also generated by Twitter, Facebook and various social media tools, as well as word of mouth. “The growth has exceeded our expectations at every point,” Shibinsky happily states.
Shibinsky previously spent 20 years in communications, most of it with Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). She co-founded the site with Andrea Carson Barker, the influential culture blogger behind View on Canadian Art, and the AGO’s Jim Shedden, after having a “eureka” moment during a family vacation in Cape Breton that summer. “It sounds so clichéd,” she says, “but I was looking out at the ocean and I just felt…inspired. I asked myself what would make me happy in my little world, and the answer was to do something different with, and for, art.”
During her time at the AGO, Shibinsky had noticed that “there can’t be more than 100 galleries in this city. We’re supposed to be a world-class city, and there aren’t enough places for culture.” ARTBOMB became a way too not just sell art — though in terms of sales, at three to four pieces per week, they move more merch than most galleries — but also, and more importantly, share art. “Of course we want the pieces to sell! But if people just come to look every day? If we can bring some art into their lives every day? That has to be a good thing.”