suzanne shade of the beholder: let’s chat!

posted by the scholar on April 17th, 2008
filed under: art, illustration, let's chat!, mixed media, paintings, photography

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i embrace living in the computer age, especially when it comes to collecting art. never before have we been able to see and enjoy the multitudes of choices available at our fingertips. the trick, however, is to be able to steer through all the options and find what we are looking for. when i think of affordable contemporary art, the beholder, directed and curated by suzanne shade, is at the top of my mind. it’s a very well-edited online gallery that literally has hundreds of works to view. upon arrival it’s clear that suzanne has already done the hard work for us, putting lots of high quality, like-minded paintings, drawings and photography in one place, with thoughtful navigation and search tools for our browsing pleasure. really the main difficulty here is deciding which pieces not to purchase. let’s have a chat with suzanne and find out more!

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donkey and squirrel by catherine ledner

q: where do you live and where do you create/manage the beholder?
a: i live in the castro district of san francisco with my husband, rob. anh-minh le did an apartment therapy house visit that i think is still online, so you can take a peek there if you want. the unglamorous part is that the beholder happens here, so if you’re picturing me writing this in my pajamas, you’ve got the right idea. i’m a freelance graphic designer as well, and when i go to work for advertising agencies, sometimes it happens there, too.

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reception and like satellites by ian dingman

q: how did the gallery come into being?
a: i have always wanted to do something outside of what i was trained to do, and have been really interested in having a business related to fine art. about three years ago i was trying to find art to buy for my home and found that it was difficult to know what work was available even in san francisco. so that’s when i thought of doing something like the beholder, because i knew that there had to be many more people like me who felt the same way i did.

i launched it in december of 2005 with about 15 people: mostly my friends and a few brave artists who believed in what i was doing.

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pivot joint by matthew curry

q: what is your criteria for including pieces on your site? are you currently accepting submissions?
a: the work needs to be strong, and i generally need to feel like i respond to most of what an artists does, not just a few pieces. just as important is their overall professionalism… do they understand what it is the site is meant to do, do they communicate well, are they organized? our process is much more DIY than many gallery relationships, so they really need to be on top of things.

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christmas rose, larkspur and chamomile by lisa solomon

this year i started my marketplace, which gives artists their own space on the site to sell work directly to collectors. once they get accepted, they can manage and sell as much as they want without me taking a commission. i get a yearly fee for this, and most of the time the artist makes that money back on just one sale. to make a long story short, this allows me to accept and encourage many more artists to be on the site… so i’m always on the lookout for great new talent. one lead i got was from one of my customers. She found michelle armas, who has amazing work (claud, pictured below).

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q: what can you tell us about some of the valuable features of your site, namely the seven day trial period for “testing” art in your home and your commissions, which are lower than traditional galleries?
a: the trial was set up because i wanted people to feel like they weren’t locked into a piece just by seeing a photo of it. art is such a big decision, and i wanted folks to really love what they had picked out. strangely, only about four people have returned work in the three years i’ve been doing it. people worry that the artist will feel bad, but mostly they understand.

my commission used to be 20% when i first started, and i’m still committed to keeping it low. i knew that once it goes above 40% artists need to adjust pricing up to get a decent amount from the sale. my costs are lower, but i’m finding out that the costs of events, advertising, and new web development are pretty substantial. so it’s something i struggle with. the marketplace makes that easier because once the artist pays their fee, i don’t have to take a portion each time.

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untitled by mike monteiro

q: what are the benefits of purchasing art online, versus in a brick and mortar gallery?
a: it’s the access. to be able to see up to 500 pieces at a time, it gives people a really good overview of what type of work is being created. it frees people to choose what they like on their own without being sold to or told what is good. i trust that most people who come to the site already respond to this aesthetic and know what they like. the other benefit is the freedom it gives artists to choose alternative ways of reaching customers and building their own collector base.

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blue swing and yellow kiss by katja ollendorf

q: what do you think is the biggest challenge in running an online art gallery? what is the biggest reward?
a: the biggest challenge for me is that people have a tendency not to view me as a “real” gallery. i’ve actually had artists say that to me in reference to their future… like, “when i get into a real gallery.” that’s kind of a buzz kill, because it reminds me about how important building status and image is to the art world, something that made we want to start this in the first place.

the biggest reward is the amount of people who write and tell me they love what i’m doing. i save my customer’s emails in one folder, and when things get tough, i flip through them for inspiration. they regularly say things like “this is my first piece of real art and i’m so excited to have found you.”

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lebenssprung by fabian geyrhalter

q: what do you think we can look forward to in the future vis-à-vis the online art world?
a: that’s a good question. right now prints are the hot new thing, and people are gobbling that up and making a good business of it. since my mission is to encourage people to buy originals, i hope to see artists continue to build their own audience using the web. you see a number of people like lisa congdon and jennifer sanchez (below) making it pretty big without the help of galleries. they have total control and freedom to make their own choices, and it seems to be working really well.

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i’d like to see art make as much progress on the web as music has… although the structure of the business is different, you’re still able to see the control shift from the few to the many.

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some of us are able to go and see suzanne’s picks in person, because she is currently curating the california dreaming show at rare device in san francisco. the show features seven fabulous artists, including martha rich, suzanne husky and naoki mitsuse (below). california dreaming closes on april 27th, 2008, but the beholder is open all the time.

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thank you suzanne!

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2 Responses to “suzanne shade of the beholder: let’s chat!”

  1. Lauren Kilberg Says:

    I just stumbled on the Beholder a few days back, via Mike Monteiro’s work and I love it! I could spend hours, literally, clicking through the work of all the talented artists. It so nice to put a name/face/background information on the woman behind the project. Thanks!

  2. the scholar Says:

    hi lauren,

    the beholder is awesome — i love what suzanne is doing and am very happy that you are enjoying the site too.

    thanks for the visit!

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