Alexander Gilkes and Aditya Julka are condensing galleries into gigabytes. The enterprising duo launched Paddle8, an online space where collectors, curators, artists and galleries converge, with the intention of guiding the web-shy art industry in a new digital direction. The result is an internationally enabled, information-driven destination for art lovers, sellers and buyers the world over. JC Report sat down with Gilkes and Julka to discuss their visionary approach, the future of the art industry and why Paddle8 offers a more democratized platform than traditional art sales models. In turn, Paddle8 would like to offer instant membership (without the application process, screening or waiting) to the first 50 JC Report readers to register here.
JC Report: What inspired Paddle8?
Aditya Julka: We met in 2009. At that time, I was a successful entrepreneur, interested in collecting art, but unsure how to start a legitimate collection, given so little time to visit neither galleries nor art fairs. Alexander was a veteran of the LVMH group, where he had witnessed the increasing vogue of the art lifestyle and the evolving interest in art across younger demographics. As an auctioneer and Global Marketing Director at Phillips de Pury, he witnessed early signs of an impending shift toward an online revolution in the art world. We put our heads together and joined forces with technology/design guru Dean Di Simone and Deitch veteran Hikari Yokoyama to better consider how the online space could provide a viable context for the presentation of fine art works—and to ease access for collectors and sales for galleries. The result was Paddle8.
JCR: What is Paddle8 changing?
Alexander Gilkes: Paddle8 is changing the way that galleries, artists and collectors access one another. Through Paddle8, collectors can acquire coveted artworks 24/7, and enjoy the ability to visit artists in their studios via original films, supported by extensive editorial content on the art-works. They can also find discerning insights from curators on their preferred works and artists, buy works, arrange for shipping, installation and insurance through a streamlined acquisition process, seek inspiration from the Paddle8 curators ([including] acclaimed actors, musicians, writers, thinkers, artists and business-leaders chosen for being respected collectors with a valid opinion on art and collecting) and validate their choices with their friends. Galleries can offer their works without the constraints of time and geography to the Paddle8 global collector community, using the Paddle8 technology tools to manage their storefronts.
JCR: The digital age has changed many creative industries. What’s been its most immediate impact on art?
AJ: The digital age is enabling the accessibility of art to transcend geographic and time constraints. With the onset of digital platforms leveraging the full capabilities of the web and technology, collectors now, more than ever, have the ability to directly access and acquire artworks from the comfort of their homes. This is leading to the emergence of a truly global art market.
JCR: What was the art world like at the beginning of your career?
AG: The art market has remained unchanged for centuries: galleries, auction houses and dealers maintain age-old practices. At the start of my career, when working for LVMH, I started to witness an ever-expanding interest in art, as the art world began to engage new cultural channels—be it in the form of fashion designers’ collaborations with artists (Jacobs and Prince) or artists becoming film directors. It seemed inevitable that the art world would expand its collector base as technology improved communication and afforded greater transparency. This thought was further enhanced when I started to work in the art world as a Director at Phillips de Pury in 2008. The recent art boom was relenting in tandem with the world’s financial markets, and a subsequent flurry of creative and entrepreneurial thinkers were looking at ways to ease access between collectors and dealers.
JCR: What did you want to change in the system then?
AJ: We wanted to make fine art more accessible from an acquisition and understanding perspective and also help galleries engage with an increasingly nomadic collector base. We felt that improved access and education would in time draw a new audience into the art world, as well as facilitate the engagement of established collectors.
JCR: Are there any other art world practices that need to be retooled today?
AG: The process of acquiring art, particularly for new collectors, is a somewhat disaggregated process. Payments are typically only accepted by wire transfer or checks and few automated shipping databases exist or are even utilized, making it difficult to discern the cost of shipping an artwork, and finding an appropriate insurance product can be cumbersome and costly. This disaggregation can also present operational challenges for galleries who have to expend time and resources toward collecting payments, researching shipping quotes and managing other administrative requests. With the proliferation of online luxury sales, however, there are clear and present solutions for all of these concerns in the art market.
JCR: How would you address these ongoing issues?
AJ: Paddle8 has designed a unique and proprietary four-step transaction process to ease the challenges of selling and acquiring art for both galleries and collectors. Paddle8 has partnered with leading payment, shipping and insurance partners to offer convenient solutions for each. At the point of sale: payments are accepted by all major credit cards, wire transfer and ACH, an automated shipping quote is provided by a proprietary shipping database created in-house and we offer a unique and inexpensive blanket insurance product providing protection against financial loss for artworks. Moreover, as part of the process, Paddle8 manages all of the invoice, billing and administrative processing associated with the checkout process to alleviate the gallery of those tasks.
JCR: Is there a strong future for art in the digital space?
AG: Yes, for three reasons:
The continued globalization of the art market has created geographic disconnects between galleries and collectors. With this imminent dispersion in the supply and demand of art, traditional sales channels (e.g. galleries and art fairs) cannot service the entire, often nomadic client base, paving the way for digital platforms that can bridge these geographic constraints.
Traditional brick-and-mortar models are becoming increasingly prohibitive. Online platforms for art sales offer the ability to execute all of the primary operational and administrative functions of a gallery/gallerist—promoting artists, managing inventory, engaging collectors and facilitating sales—without high overhead costs.
There is a rapidly evolving generation of global, web-savvy potential collectors with earnings between $200,000 – $1,000,000 without “art portfolios” who find the art market esoteric and largely inaccessible. The interconnectivity offered by the digital space enables this new class of collectors to access the art market through an educational platform they are comfortable using and concurrently allow galleries to engage a new and expanding collector base.
JCR: Where does your iconoclastic approach stem from?
AG: The proliferation of such digital platforms as Couturelab, Net-A-Porter and Blue Nile evidences that there is both a demand for and a viable path to luxury retailing online. Art remains one of the last luxury goods to adopt a digital medium. However, as wealthy, albeit time-starved, consumers rapidly embrace the web as a preferred medium for shopping, it seems almost inevitable that the art market will evolve into the digital space.