Responding to the pre-pandemic art market which already felt outdated and inspired by recent, transformative developments in the ways we live, work and use technology, The Stand is a pioneering digital platform where selling art, supporting artists and funding social causes form a virtuous circle described by its founders as ‘commercial philanthropy.’
At the forefront of an extraordinarily steep digital curve that saw online and hybrid auctions leap from gains of $45m in 2020 to $728m in 2021, widespread virtual exhibitions and gallery tours, the dramatic entrance of NFTs, and an Instagram hashtag that provided artists with an alternative economy during lockdown, The Stand has conceived a ground breaking infrastructure that prioritises transparency, collaboration and fairness. ‘We are harnessing the money and goodwill which already exist in the art world,’ says director Beth Greenacre, ‘to support rising artists and for philanthropic causes we all feel passionate about.’
Through the online marketplace, Invaluable, The Stand will produce themed, curated auctions of works by emerging and mid-career artists in which the artist receives 70% of the sale price. This approach is unprecedented and disruptive – two words that are embedded in The Stand’s DNA – and its impact on artists’ lives cannot be overstated. Galleries usually give artists 50% of sales while auctions on the secondary market net artists nothing at all. The remaining 30% goes directly to The Stand’s partner charities (20%) and to The Stand (10%) to cover costs. ‘When we stopped flying all over the world to art fairs and biennales and were forced to stay at home, we started thinking about changes we could make,’ reflects Greenacre. ‘Our values have shifted in terms of how we want to spend our time and resources and how impactful we hope to be. There’s a move towards social impact investing at the moment and it’s crucial to activate that within the art world.’
Until now, the art market has served a limited pool of people. Myriad voices go unheard, support for artists and smaller galleries is insufficient, and the relationship between art, capital and philanthropy is episodic. Charity auctions require artists to donate works for free – a very big ask of a rising artist with a studio to run – so they are unlikely to give their most valuable pieces. Consequently, those auctions don’t always attract the top collectors. The Stand properly rewards its participating artists which encourages them to bring their best work to market or to make a new piece specific to the sale. Buyers are motivated by the knowledge that the works for sale will be of the highest quality and they will be connected directly with the galleries – there are no barriers to information, only access to The Stand’s network. Added to which, they’ll be helping a cause that resonates with them. ‘The response from galleries has been fantastic,’ says Greenacre. ‘We offer a different and distinguished profiling of an artist and by introducing buyers to sellers, we will also drive footfall to the galleries. What we have created is a new, holistic marketplace.’
The Stand’s emphasis on collegiate reciprocity is in sharp contrast to the traditional friction between galleries and auction houses with their opposing agendas of primary and secondary market dealing but, ‘The Stand is not an auction house,’ says Robin Woodhead, a member of the advisory board and former CEO and Chairman of Sotheby’s International. ‘We operate in the primary market and are presenting a wholly new methodology, a transparent, sustainable, circular model, whereby capital is converted via the art market to philanthropic and social good.’ The Stand’s wheel of fortune will be powered by an ever-expanding community in which artists, galleries, collectors, patrons, charities and art lovers are connected, generating dialogue. ‘We are a team of experts,’ says Greenacre, ‘with well over 100 years of art world experience between us but we are accessible, not exclusive, and we will open up our networks. The Stand is a place for conversation and collaboration.’ This goes for curious onlookers and potential collectors as much as art world insiders: ‘People are fascinated by the artistic process,’ says Greenacre. ‘By giving this platform to rising artists, we are also providing access to a world that has been a tightly guarded for a very long time.’ The Stand’s online presence will revolve around conversations, interviews, filmed studio visits and all kinds of unexpected encounters that underline the importance of a connected, outward-looking art world.
Artists always like to know that social good will result from the sale of their work but here they have increased agency, invited to choose the beneficiary from a selection of The Stand’s partner charities which includes the Gallery Climate Coalition (GCC), founded during lockdown by art world professionals with the goal of collectively reducing carbon emissions by 50% over the next decade and promoting near zero-waste practice. Single charity sales will also feature, starting with an auction to raise funds for the Courtauld Institute of Art in September, curated by a former alumnus. The Stand is also in discussion with two international, artist-led foundations. ‘We want to develop stories around the artists and by the artists,’ says Greenacre. ‘When you begin to explore the ways in which art informs their lives and decisions, generating all kinds of innovation, the possibilities around how art can be used for good simply expand.’ So far, there is no forum for the exploration of the multiple possibilities of art and philanthropy and its creation might put a much-needed crack in the art world’s seemingly impenetrable veneer. ‘Art goes to our souls,’ says Woodhead, ‘but the market has been confined to a rather small group of participants. Now we have the technology to change that.’
The digital world lends itself perfectly to the development of the kind of global networks that will grow from this model as the social media followings of artists, galleries and charities are alerted to The Stand’s activities, not to mention those of the team, their volunteer sales force and the guest curators. Made up of The Stand’s art world friends and colleagues, the sales team is fuelled by goodwill and a mutual desire to share networks and connect artists with collectors. Curators are drawn from art institutions as well as from across the creative industries; given that so many musicians, writers, actors and fashion designers went to art school or have become serious collectors, we can expect an exciting roll call. The digital realm also enables the economics that make The Stand such a timely, scalable, light-footed proposition. With no building, no leasehold to negotiate, a small staff and all admin run by Invaluable, The Stand boasts a minimal environmental footprint and is endlessly adaptable. ‘We can be nimble if need be,’ says Greenacre, ‘and responsive – that’s how we began. We are not locked into any one country or region and our model generates interest in all parts of the world.’ Woodhead agrees: ‘It’s such an innovative time. People want to do things differently and we’re part of that wave, we reflect those changing values.’