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Tappan’s Chelsea Neman Nassib Makes a Case for the Digital Art Gallery

A conversation with the artist-cum-entrepreneur on diversity and accessibility in the art world, and what’s resonating most with collectors.

Nema Nassib Photo: Courtesy

Chelsea Neman Nassib is democratizing artwork through the trailblazing Tappan online art gallery. The platform she established in 2012 connects up-and-coming artists with collectors worldwide and offers accessible art—with prices ranging from about $100 to upwards of $10,000. She also put art in an approachable context showing paintings, sculptures, and installations in varied aesthetics so even the novice can confidently envision a work of art in their home.

Her mission: “If we can penetrate the 95 percent of the population that isn’t in the art world today and make them feel comfortable exploring art and bringing that back into the conversation, then that could be huge.”

And, she is making headway toward that goal. Neman Nassib—named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30—speaks on the importance of exposure, diversity, and approachability in the art world.

 

How do you find emerging artists for the collective?

It started really with friends, and friends of friends—the best artists that we knew. Now we get a ton of submissions and have a team at Tappan dedicated to finding new talent.

 

In what ways do you market the artists and help them get exposure?

We work with incredible artists and, honestly, we can make a big difference in their lives. At first, we were predominantly e-com. Now, through brand partnerships, we’ve been able to highlight our artists and get them exposure through collaborations [with the likes of] Jenni Kayne, Vince, and Sweetgreen, getting them into high-traffic locations. That became an important part of gaining visibility for our artists.

 

“If we can penetrate the 95 percent of the population

that isn’t in the art world today and

make them feel comfortable exploring art…then that could be huge.”

 

 

What do you find resonates most with collectors?

A lot of it depends on the context: the story behind the works, and the connection to the artists. We find a lot of people [love to] read the interviews, and the studio visits lead to acquisition. And then there’s the materiality of the pieces—how Jonni Cheatwood works with studio debris; the way Gabrielle Teschner manipulates traditional material; the level of repurposing in Luke Chiswell’s trophies, which he makes from skateboards. It’s really feeling like this came from somebody; that it was done by hand by a professional artist. It’s special, unique, and there’s only one.

 

How can we experience Tappan beyond the digital realm?

At our newly relocated Tappan Studios in Downtown [Los Angeles], we wanted to change the way people experience artworks in person. You can come into a space that’s not intimidating and meet the artist, see their process, actually talk to them, and experience that kind of connection. We have a residency program, with artists from around the world staying from one to three months.

And we do artist exchanges, which is something we’re looking to continue. The last one we did was with LA artist Andrew Steiger, who switched studios and apartments with Paris’s Martinet and Texereau, and it was incredibly successful. The whole thing was documented; it got a lot of interest. And the artists’ works change based on the environment they’re in.

 

Are you seeking to cultivate more women and minority artists?

Diversity is a very important component to our artist roster and something we always strive for. Our ratio of male to female artists is even, which is incredibly unusual in [an art] space.

But I think it’s important to note that when I view work for the first time, it’s void of information about the artists themselves. So first and foremost, I’m looking at the artwork, whereas historically, the art world has been more of a who’s-who industry. While we do make a conscious decision to be inclusive, it’s not our driving strategy [for curation]. We focus instead on the product. And I think there’s more to that word “inclusion”: The idea behind Tappan is that everyone should be able to have access to quality artwork regardless of the price. So it goes beyond being inclusive on the artists’ side—it’s being inclusive on the collectors’ side as well.

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