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Search Shows There Is a Place for Fine Art on the Web

Two rounds of fund­ing worth $7.25 mil­lion mean that access­ing art on the web just got eas­i­er thanks to search engine start-up

Two years ago an idea for an arts-focused search facil­i­ty was put for­ward by The com­pa­ny pro­posed to make art avail­able to the mass­es by mak­ing it search­able by style, colour or artist and would even use brows­ing data to give per­son­al­ized rec­om­men­da­tions and intro­duce art lovers to pieces they may not have encoun­tered before.

Invest­ment from Key Players

The idea first appeared way back in 2010, and since then for­mer Prince­ton com­put­er sci­ence engi­neer and CEO Carter Cleve­land and his team have been busy drum­ming up cap­i­tal. The sev­en-and-a-quar­ter mil­lion invest­ed in the busi­ness by the likes of Paypal’s Peter Thiel, Google’s Eric Schmidt and Twit­ter cre­ator Jack Dorsey sure­ly means that’s des­tined for great things.

After 24 months of devel­op­ment and beta test­ing is final­ly open for busi­ness and boasts asso­ci­a­tions with over 50 muse­ums, non-prof­its and estates, as well as an impres­sive 275 gal­leries. The result­ing por­tal allows vis­i­tors to browse, dis­cov­er and learn about over 20,000 indi­vid­ual works of art – many of which will be rec­om­mend­ed to them by clever use of their brows­ing data. Not a mil­lion miles away from Pan­do­ra’s Genome Project, and you can lis­ten to some great music on too.

Mak­ing Art Accessible

Cleve­land has said many times that the aim of is straight­for­ward – to make art acces­si­ble to any­one with an Inter­net con­nec­tion, and he and the gang have not only worked hard to ensure they cap­ture data to per­son­al­ize rec­om­men­da­tions for their users, they have also cre­at­ed an impres­sive clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem that tracks trends and nuances to cre­ate sug­ges­tions that are bang-on trend.

Behind the scenes at tow­ers, a ded­i­cat­ed gang of data min­ers and art experts pick up where the tech­nol­o­gy falls short and eval­u­ates each piece on the data­base based on pre­de­ter­mined cri­te­ria. For exam­ple, only the humans can decide whether they’re look­ing at an abstract piece, an exam­ple of pop art or impressionism.

A Com­plex Back End

The user inter­face does lit­tle to hint at the com­plex mech­a­nisms that lie beyond and dri­ve Vis­i­tors can search by cat­e­go­ry, geo­graph­i­cal area or artist and select­ing a par­tic­u­lar piece takes them to a page pop­u­lat­ed with info on the work, artist biogra­phies and con­text. What’s more, if the piece hap­pens to be on the mar­ket, can put users in touch with the sell­er. Once users have start­ed select­ing their own favourite pieces,’s clever tech­nol­o­gy will kick in and start rec­om­mend­ing alter­na­tive pieces based on art already selected.

Cleve­land and his sup­port­ers hope that will bring cul­ture to the mass­es and democ­ra­tize what some­times seems inac­ces­si­ble i.e. art, in much the same way that Google did with infor­ma­tion.  The pos­si­bil­i­ties for artists, gal­leries and bro­kers are clear­ly there. could act as a launch pad for emerg­ing tal­ent, high­light the work of gal­leries and cura­tors and shift pieces that may be up for sale to peo­ple that may nev­er have con­sid­ered buy­ing art before. How­ev­er it has com­pe­ti­tion in the shape of The Google Art Project and Paddle8 so whether it can deliv­er on its promis­es remains to be seen.

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