Pete Tullin previously brokered major FTSE arts sponsorships before co-founding Culture Label, a highly curated collection of art and artist-designed products sourced from the world’s leading galleries, museums and makers. John Jones is delighted to sell our museum quality art materials through Culture Label, and we caught up with Pete to find out more about his future plans for the brand ...
Q) How did the idea for Culture Label first come about?
A) I was in the ICA with my future business partner Simon Cronshaw when we had our light bulb moment. That week an artist called Mark Leckey had won the Turner Prize and he had an exhibition on at the gallery at the time. The ICA had produced two limited edition art prints and even though his name had been all over the media there were still some available. We did some research and found out that IKEA was one of the biggest sellers of art in the world but here was something that was in our view more original and authentic for not a great deal more. Our gut instinct was that they should have sold ten times over and that there was a huge hidden market and that the next area the Internet could disrupt was the arts world.
The idea then snowballed as the more we looked into it, the more we recognised the power of cultural organisations as ‘passion brands’ at a time when a growing number of consumers were looking to get beyond the high street and connect with organisations that offered authentic products with artistic quality and integrity.
Previously working as a Director at a creative agency developing partnerships between the arts and business, I was very fortunate that I had a lot of friends within my network that opened doors for us and gave us the momentum you need to kick start the business.
Q) How has the organisation changed and developed since its inception?
A) Things have changed massively over the last 3-years. We have grown from 25 founding partners to featuring a curated selection on site from around 750 international museums, galleries, artists and designers. Our focus on curation is what sets CultureLabel apart. Everything must have a story to tell.
The success of CultureLabel.com in the last 3-years has enabled us to grow and grow and we have recently secured some major technology venture capital investment as we take the brand into new territories. Suddenly there are 25 people in the team and it is growing all the time. It is really exciting to work with such talented and driven people who also have a social and creative purpose. We can feel good about the fact that if we do a good job then it is the partners that we work with that share the benefits of that.
Q) Which are your favourite museums and galleries to work with and why?
A) I’m not dodging the question but it’s hard to pick a favourite as I genuinely believe I have the best job in the world. I realised quite quickly that this is the thing I have always wanted to do and you need a burning passion to get anything off the ground. I get to spend my day working with some really creative and lovely people who work for organisations that I’m naturally drawn to. If I have to single some out, I’m a huge fan of the V&A as I think they have done a great job in building such a strong brand identity. They have been very clever in the way they have used their collection and core artistic vision to create a contemporary range of products that has started to blur the gallery and retail experience.
The British Museum have also been incredibly supportive of us since the word go at all levels of the organisation. The team are great to work with as they are prepared to take risks and seek out new markets. Finally, I love the Southbank as a venue and the diversity of their artistic offer means they have such a great canvas to play with so their ranges are perfect for the CultureLabel customer. On the art side, Whitechapel Gallery and The Serpentine offer really accessible collections of limited editions by some brilliant contemporary artists and I love watching emerging talent flourish at our partners University of Arts London (Made in Arts London) and the Royal College of Arts.
Q) Was it a challenge to persuade collectors to start making their investments online as opposed to solely at fairs and in the gallery environment?
A) We are helped in this aspect by the quality of our partners, as they are the curators of our art collections as well as CultureLabel. Buying online is always going to be an alternative to the gallery/fair experience – however if you are already familiar with the galleries and artists you like, then the internet is a great way to browse, buy and follow artists, especially if an artist has works sold across a wide geographic area. There are also some specific advantages because the Internet is such a great tool for making retailing more efficient and convenient. For example, we work in partnership with Arts Council England and Creative Scotland to operate their hugely successful Own Art scheme online. This means that uniquely, customers on CultureLabel.com can take out an interest free loan to spread the cost of their artwork over 10 months between £100 and £2000.
Q) How does Culture Label invest in and support emerging artists?
A) By far the largest part of the revenues we generate goes to the artist, which is really important to us. We work with The Other Art Fair as their official online partner, offering some incredibly exciting talent an online presence and sales platform throughout the bi-annual fair – and all year round. Additionally, we always look to work on projects that help nurture talent. Working with The Skinny and Creative Scotland, we identified some of the best emerging artists north of the border and created a range of editions that were sold online at CultureLabel and at Urban Outfitters stores. We ran a similar project to identify upcoming UK talent with a panel including the Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy – so there is a pretty good chance you could find the next big thing on CultureLabel right now.
Q) Culture Label is successfully bridging the gap between high art and popular culture. Do you think sites like yours are paving the way for a new era in which art is more accessible and understandable for the masses?
A) The internet is changing everything and it has clearly opened up a lot of new opportunities for how you can access art. I think the anonymity of browsing plays a key role in enabling people to overcome the barriers of what can sometimes be an intimidating ‘white space’ gallery experience.The Google Art Project is also a great example of how technology is allowing people to consume art in new ways with their ‘gigapixel’ zoom feature. It is not better in my view but just different.
As far as CultureLabel is concerned it is all about offering a compelling story about the artwork and building a valued relationship with art fans in much the same way as a gallerist would. In terms of online behaviour, the scene has been set for selling collector higher priced collectors’ artwork too, with consumers now comfortable with purchasing luxury goods online from the world of fashion for example.
Q) Where are your favourite London haunts to relax and unwind outside of work?
A) We are based in a warehouse office / gallery in Shoreditch and so I spend a lot of my time in that area as so many of our partners are close-by. The diversity of the creative scene here never ceases to amaze me and I love spending time soaking it up, with everything from hidden speakeasys and pop-up bars to the pubs and gallery bars by the Regents Canal down the road in Haggerston. I’m also a huge fan of Secret Cinema and although I’m not sure if you would call it relaxing, it’s amazing to always be caught up in the middle of the action. I love the adventure of going into the amazing locations they find across the City to bring to life films like Blade Runner and Shawshank Redemption.
Q) What are your future plans for CultureLabel?
A) Our big thing for 2013 and 2014 is to take CultureLabel to new places. It still surprises and delights me how many of our customers deeply love what we are doing and are spreading our message by a word of mouth fuelled by the social media revolution. We really want as many people to buy great art and design as possible and this means taking great CultureLabel product to an even bigger international audience over the next few years.
Q) Is there a particular figure in the art world that provides you and the Culture Label team with inspiration?
A) On an inspirational level, I remember a few years ago seeing an early production by Punchdrunk of Faust. I got to spend some time with its founder Felix Barrett at that time and still think it was one of the most creative things I have seen from the quality of the sets and inspired me with its ambition and scale of vision.
Q) What advice would you give to young collectors looking to make their first fine art investments today?
A) It has been said a million times before, but always buy art because you love it and want to live with it. Art is more than just an investment, it is about who you are. You don’t have to spend a fortune just do your research and stay close to the scene using the multitude of art blogs that give free insight. I mentioned the work by Mark Leckey, a Turner Prize winning artist which was not much more than £200 squid. In terms of specific recommendations, we have an edition by Elizabeth Price, the current Turner Prize winner, with the novel feature that it increases in price as fewer remain. I can tell you we have sold quite a few already and it has moved up from only £35 to just over £100 but that is still a bargain! Finally we worked with Frieze Art Fair recently to take the Allied Editions section of the fair online for the first time featuring work from A-list galleries like The Serpentine and Whitechapel. Those sorts of organisations are always a kitemark of quality for me and you can’t go to far wrong as their judgement and curation is so good. Art Fairs more generally are also a great way to get started.