Carlos Rivera is the young and ambitious art entrepreneur who is shaking up the art world with his two successful online businesses ArtRank and Levart. ArtRank launched in 2014, initially called ‘Sell You Later’, and has been a topic of interest and controversy for many in the art world. The website uses data to rank artists into clear-cut categories like ‘buy now’, ‘sell now’, and ‘liquidate’, with the intention to reveal information that previously wasn’t readily available to the public.
What are some developments you’ve noticed in the LA art scene over the past few years?
The art market has changed in a really fascinating way. Years ago, it wasn’t the global market it is today, in a sense that most sales would happen in a gallery setting, whereas today I would say that more than 75% of sales happen in an international art fair setting. Another development that really transformed the market, is that more and more people are comfortable buying art through JPEGs, without ever seeing the work in person.
An increasingly international and online market has allowed artists and galleries to work anywhere in the world, and this made LA a serious option for galleries. A lot of artists and galleries started moving to LA for a big part because of the relatively cheap real-estate: where in New York you’d pay $25.000/m for a cheap, Chelsea ground-floor space, you’d only pay $10.000/m for an extraordinary space in LA. This just gave emergence to a growing art market.
What is the relationship between LA’s artists and developing art market compared to its collectors?
There is a collecting gap in LA right now. We’re not at that point where everyone in the film or music industry collects art, in the same way that in almost any New York hedge fund there’s a level of collecting that is well established. That sort of peer-pressure-based collecting isn’t happening in LA yet. That’s mainly because LA just hasn’t reached that point of maturity yet, since the city is much younger than any other art capital in the world. The way established New York collectors have started moving their collections to Miami - like Margulies, De la Cruz, Rubell – and opened public foundations, that culture hasn’t really emerged yet in LA. But this kind of culture is necessary in order to compel not only collectors of the highest level to open public foundations, but also to compel aspiring collectors to aim for this level of collecting one day.
I think it’s great for LA that public foundations are starting to emerge, like The Broad Museum that opened in summer 2015, or the Marciano foundation, which is scheduled to open early 2017. This drives other philanthropists to open similar foundations, and that’s what it takes to get a ‘collecting philosophy’ going. You need to get the ball rolling, and these guys are inspiring everyone else. I think it’s a really good thing.
With LA being such a young city, do you think there’s more freedom to move into unchartered territory and embrace change, as opposed to the more established and traditional art capitals?
Absolutely. To answer that question, I would like to speak in an analogy: I was in the middle of the Saharan desert a couple of years ago, on the Algerian border, 9 hours on the road from any small city. And we had full reception and internet, and that’s because they never had CDMA towers, they had GSM satellites from day 1. A week ago, I was in Big Sur California, and I didn’t have any reception between the city of Big Sur and San Simeon. And that’s because the whole network was build upon CDMA towers, and you can’t move from towers to satellite overnight, because amortization is in place and financially it doesn’t make sense to tear down an entire previous system that was built.
In emerging technology, that theory is called leap-frogging. In the same way, I think why you see the art scene here rapidly jumping to the forefront of other art capitals, is because LA is leap-frogging. You have younger museum patrons here, you have younger institutions here, you don’t have to tear anything down, you can build.
Where do you see the art market going in terms of the digitalization of art sales?
Globalization has created an art economy where artworks are sold digitally, so to speak the digitalization of the art market. I think the JPEG is the pinnacle of the digitalization of the art market. For example: today someone will call me and say that they’d like a painting of a certain artist, and they don’t need to see it in person. But still, the tech guys aren’t really collecting yet. And my theory about it is somewhat materialistic archetypal: I think that every purchase is driven by something. If your home is particularly organized, it might be because that’s what you want to portray to others because your life is in chaos, right, that’s the theory of materialism. Amongst serious art collectors, if you try to convey to others that you’re early to things, you tell people that you discovered an artist early on when he was sold at $5.000, instead of saying that you bought his work for $7m. There’s an intellectual capital associated with that.
In tech, however, intellectual capital is best exhibited publicly on your AngelList profile through successful seed investments. The point is simply, that, in terms of exhibiting intellectual capital, there are far more efficient mechanisms available to Silicon Valley than art. Maybe the more established tech players are collecting art, but that is a point of maturity which doesn’t usually happen until they’re aged philanthropists. These guys might find that philanthropic foundations are helpful with the amount of money they made, once they start their estate planning. Art can play an important role in this as well.
In terms of digitalization, access is definitely a key word. I think one of the other reasons why tech guys aren’t collecting as much right now is because when they walk into a gallery, the gallerist doesn’t smile at them or doesn’t talk to them, because maybe they’re not a multi-generational collector. They're just someone who made $100m, and they’re not recognized. When you walk into a gallery with $100m saying ‘I need art’, you’re not getting the best art, you’re getting whatever the gallerist can’t sell to anyone else. The art world has always been very opaque and elitist this way, that’s the simple truth we have to acknowledge.
And now, something like Instagram for example is actually very helpful to access information, and has definitely allowed for more transparency in the art market. You can see what some great art dealers or collectors are excited about, and what is trending, so to speak. Similarly, it has always been my goal with ArtRank to appeal to those individuals who don’t have the full scope of information.