Buying a work of original art via the traditional gallery system can be an intimidating experience, even for business insiders such as Brian Sharples, former CEO of holiday rental business HomeAway, which was bought by Expedia for $3.9bn two years ago. “I have a hard time spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a piece of art in a market that, to me, has no rationality,” says Sharples, co-founder of new company Twyla, which offers exclusive, limited-edition prints by more than a hundred artists. “I get the stock market, I get the fact that a company’s value goes up and down based on profitability – but the art market is a very tough thing to read.”
Thus Twyla was conceived as “a better way to buy art”, with an emphasis on transparency. “We tell people: ‘This is it, this is who made it, this is why it was done, and this is what it costs’,” he explains over the phone from his home in Austin, Texas, where the company is based. The result is a selection of works overseen by lead curator Ariel Saldivar (former associate director at influential Dallas contemporary art gallery The Goss-Michael Foundation, founded by Kenny Goss and the late singer George Michael), ranging in price from $360 to $3,500.
Saldivar’s team forges relationships with emerging and more established artists, enabling it to offer a range of exclusive pieces. Its current roster includes Miya Ando, who predominantly creates sculptures and metal canvases but whose prints for Twyla, such as Bodhi Leaf Mandala (rose), $2,600, feature delicate overlapping leaves; painter and printmaker Kristen Schiele, whose mixed-media works, from $600, make use of bright, geometric colour blocks; and the just-signed, internationally exhibited abstract painter Stanley Casselman.
Before committing to buy, the site’s users can also opt to take a piece on a 30-day trial period for $30 (plus extra shipping costs for international orders), giving them a chance to see how it will fit in with their home. Each work is delivered in specially designed packaging that makes it very easy to repackage and return; so far, however, Sharples says, no one has felt the need to send anything back.