Small business: Virtual gallery zooms in on art

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Online portal open all hours puts buyers close-up in front of works throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Simon Fisher, left, and Chris Taylor have nearly 150 galleries on their books but want to extend their web-based art dealing to even more. Photo / Natalie Slade
Simon Fisher, left, and Chris Taylor have nearly 150 galleries on their books but want to extend their web-based art dealing to even more. Photo / Natalie Slade

When we think of art galleries, lofty, hushed halls spring to mind with people in black sweaters gazing intelligently at the works hung on the walls.

In reality, collectors of art are often too busy or travelling to attend all the exhibitions they would like to see. Others find galleries intimidating, preferring to be sent online images and details of a piece of art they might be considering buying.

New Zealand company Ocula has created a portal, Ocula.com, that caters to such people. Set up more than two years ago, it takes the Asia-Pacific art world into the 21st century.

The aim is to help collectors do due diligence on possible purchases, enabling them to see exhibitions close up and providing them with details of each work's provenance, history and creator.

"It's like a virtual version of an art fair with the galleries all in one place.

Except we're on all the time - that's where our model came from," says Ocula's co-founder Chris Taylor.

"Ocula is about working with the best galleries from around Asia and those that want to engage with Asia from outside the market," co-founder Simon Fisher says.

The site, which is attracting two million page views a year, provides a zoom tool that allows individual brush strokes to be viewed.

But the Auckland-based site doesn't have the field to itself. Its major international competitor is artnet.com.

Taylor says Ocula is more selective, choosing galleries in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and North America whose works it displays.

The Kiwi founders have a reputation in their field. Fisher is a sixth-generation member of the Fisher family, which founded Fishers Fine Arts of Christchurch in 1870, and Taylor, formerly of Webbs, has been a consultant to corporate art buyers such as Lion Nathan and Deutsche Bank.

The new business has a number of platforms. It has a consultancy service for collectors and an auction website, Ocula Black, which has sold works worth $3 million since 2011.

On November 12, Ocula Black is selling 10 works from New Zealand artist and designer Milan Mrkusich.

"We are also looking at a benefit auction platform, working with charitable organisations to help raise funds through art auctions," says Taylor.

Ocula Black is part of Ocula Studio, which designs and develops software for the art world.

For the Ocula.com portal, galleries choose a monthly, quarterly or annual subscription which includes a range of marketing and advertising services.

Ocula Black charges a commission on sales and a buyer's premium, and Ocula Studio charges licensing fees.

With nearly 150 galleries on its books and $1.35 million invested of their own money, Fisher and Taylor are looking for just over $1 million of funding, an 18 per cent shareholding, to market Ocula to more international galleries.

"The potential funder or funders could be from the online, e-commerce, technology, publishing, marketing or media sectors or they might be a significant art collector or private art institution," says Fisher.

He envisages hiring about a dozen more staff, adding to two in Hong Kong and three in New Zealand.

The company is forecasting revenue in 2015 of $2.365 million rising to $6.2 million in 2018.

Sales this year are running at $555,094

Top Tip
Give people a taste of what you can do for them.

Best business achievement
Signing up almost 150 gallery partners on Ocula.com

- NZ Herald

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