The new online art business that isn't trying to sell you an NFT – The Spinoff

With record-breaking art sales over the weekend, new art business Artfull is here to reach wider audiences.
This is an excerpt from our weekly business newsletter Stocktake.
Stop, says Jessica Agoston Cleary. Pause for a moment. Does the image in front of you stir something? “You see it with your eyes and your heart,” says the owner of Artfull, a new online business connecting local artists with potential customers. “If something moves you, grabs your attention, you just have to trust that.”
What if you don’t know anything about art? Do you need an art history degree to truly understand a painting or a photograph? “Oh God no,” she says, “it’s about a feeling. If you like it, that’s all that matters.”

Agoston Cleary is hoping to help stir these feelings in visitors to her new website. Launched in June alongside co-founder and veteran TV producer John Barnett, Artfull offers an online gallery experience. Everyone from first-time buyers to collectors, emerging artists to those with established careers, are welcome. Without a rigid show schedule, Agoston Cleary says artists are freed from the shackles of having to produce multiple works for a dedicated gallery exhibition that often only lasts a few weeks. Instead, they can produce and sell one-off pieces whenever they’re ready. “They love it,” she says. “The art is available 365 days and 24/7 to anyone who wants to discover it.”
For buyers, there are AR tools to project art into a 3D representation of their homes. Plus there are lengthy notes about what the artist was trying to convey while making their piece, including video interviews. Giving artists space to discuss their work is rare, says Agoston Cleary. Often, their work is instead interpreted by gallery staff. “They don’t generally get to speak about their work in a public forum,” she says. “It’s them talking about it. That doesn’t happen often.
Artfull has launched at a timely moment. NFTs, non-fungible tokens that give owners the rights to digital art files, surged in value in 2021 but have recently plunged. Meanwhile, prices for real-life art continue their ascent. Over the weekend, the Bank of New Zealand sold up to 50 pieces, including works by Rita Angus, Gordon Walters, and Ralph Hotere, fetching a combined $3.7 million. Many went for double their estimated price.
Agoston Cleary is, perhaps predictably, an NFT art skeptic. “Why are people spending millions on what is essentially a pile of 0s and 1s to store in your digital wallet?” she says. “What are you going to do with that? You can’t put it on your wall.”
Instead , she wants Artfull to build a supportive community around the artists whose work features on her website. Many, she says, did it tough during lockdowns. Some felt creatively stifled by stay-at-home orders, while others saw gallery shows – often their main source of income – postponed or cancelled. “There’s very much an expectation that art is there to lift us up build up a society and a culture,” she says. “It takes a toll to have that burden of propping people up [have] very little recognition and support.”
But there’s another trend Agoston Cleary is hoping Artfull taps into: the working-from-home era. It’s here to stay, and after several years of staring at the same four walls, many are looking to upgrade their spaces, from adding new furniture to spa pools or upgrading their kitchens. She believes art has an important role to play in making a home an inviting, liveable space.
“Art expresses so much more than we can say in words,” she says. “I’ve got a couple of pieces on my wall that I’ve had for years. Every morning I get up [and] it’s this big beautiful bunch of flowers that greets me when I’m bleary-eyed. It’s that kind of thing that makes owning art worthwhile.”
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