Gentry Wealth April/May 2014 : Page 56

UP A NOTCH Want some Seurat with your supper? How about some Monet with your morning coffee? An ambitious new startup, Artkick, brings your favorite art into your home by turning your TV into an interactive picture frame. STORY BY ROBIN HINDERY | PORTRAITS BY JACK HUTCHINSON KICKING ART s a child growing up in New York City, Sheldon Laube was bathed in art and culture. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was, quite literally, his playground. “My friends and I would race each other from one wing to another,” he recalls. “But for every kid like me, there are millions of other kids who didn’t have that experience.” Today, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers is working to shift that balance through his new startup, Artkick, which brings a seemingly endless supply of art to any-one with an Internet-connected TV. The company, which officially launched in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, has secured more than 50,000 representations of paintings and photographs from museums throughout the world, as well as sources like NASA and the Library of Con-gress. Users can select a single image or a constantly rotating selection to display on their TV screen, and can make adjustments any time using their smartphones or tablets. “The notion of decorating one’s space is as old as human civilization—think of cave paintings,” notes Laube, who serves as Artkick’s CEO and has given over part of his Los Altos Hills home to function as its “international headquarters.” “What art you choose, that’s up to you, and what you like and what enriches your life changes over time,” he continues. “Artkick is about delivering the widest possible range of images to people, so no matter who you are, you’ll find some-thing you like.” In addition to evolving alongside an individual’s tastes, the service keeps up with daily—or even hourly—shifts in mood. “Every day, you wake up and decide A GW x 56

Kicking Art Up a Notch

Robin Hindery

Want some Seurat with your supper? How about some Monet with your morning coffee? An ambitious new startup, Artkick, brings your favorite art into your home by turning your TV into an interactive picture frame.

As a child growing up in New York City, Sheldon Laube was bathed in art and culture. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was, quite literally, his playground. “My friends and I would race each other from one wing to another,” he recalls. “But for every kid like me, there are millions of other kids who didn’t have that experience.” Today, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers is working to shift that balance through his new startup, Artkick, which brings a seemingly endless supply of art to anyone with an Internet-connected TV. The company, which officially launched in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, has secured more than 50,000 representations of paintings and photographs from museums throughout the world, as well as sources like NASA and the Library of Congress. Users can select a single image or a constantly rotating selection to display on their TV screen, and can make adjustments any time using their smartphones or tablets.

“The notion of decorating one’s space is as old as human civilization—think of cave paintings,” notes Laube, who serves as Artkick’s CEO and has given over part of his Los Altos Hills home to function as its “international headquarters.”

“What art you choose, that’s up to you, and what you like and what enriches your life changes over time,” he continues. “Artkick is about delivering the widest possible range of images to people, so no matter who you are, you’ll find something you like.”

In addition to evolving alongside an individual’s tastes, the service keeps up with daily—or even hourly—shifts in mood.“Every day, you wake up and decide what you want to eat, what clothes you want to wear, what music you want to listen to,” says Laube. “Now you can wake up and say, ‘What I’d love to do is see Paris. Show me some images of Paris.’ And there’s a beautiful photo of the Eiffel Tower right in front of you.”

The inspiration for Artkick sprang from a somewhat depressing date night with Laube’s wife, Nancy, an accomplished fine art photographer, about a year ago. The pair attended a panel discussion on collecting photography that featured a representative from Sotheby’s, a gallery owner, and a museum curator, among others.

“After the talk, they did a Q&A, and my wife asked, ‘How does a new artist get recognized?’ ”Laube recalls. “The gallery owner basically said, ‘You don’t have a chance. If we don’t know you, and you send us samples of your work, we just throw it away.’So a little later, I asked, ‘Well, what does the Internet have to do with all of this?’ And they said, ‘Well, not much, because nobody’s really going to buy a piece of art online without coming to see it in person.’”

Things could have ended on that sour note. But instead, Laube’s entrepreneurial wheels started turning. “A random thought struck me,” he shares. “We have a niece and nephew who live here in the Valley, and they would never go out and buy a CD anymore; they’d just download the music they want through Amazon or iTunes or whatever. And I realized, they’re not going to want to buy art anymore either. They’ll expect to get it digitally.”

What’s more, Laube mused, the increasing prevalence and affordability of flat-panel TVs made for a natural “frame,” often located in one of the most prominent and heavily trafficked spots in a person’s home. “I thought, ‘Holy mackerel, that’s really a profound shift!’”

Laube is quick to acknowledge that the concept behind Artkick is hardly a new one. Plenty of movies and books have described a future that includes rotating digital screens, and the idea became a reality—albeit a staggeringly expensive one—back in the 1990s, when Bill Gates set about filling his Seattle home with digital art-display screens (an effort that required costly equipment, as well as images that were specially photographed).

Today, Laube says, the stars have finally aligned to bring this appealing technology to the non-billionaire masses. Most homes now have Internet connectivity, he notes, and a 32-inch, Internet-connected TV at Costco retails for about $300—approximately the same price one would pay to frame a 32-inch piece of art. (And for those whose TVs lack Internet connections, companion devices such as the AppleTV and Roku are very affordable.) “Perhaps the most important transformation in recent years,” Laube adds, “is how many museums now make their images available to the public. The role of the museum traditionally was to get people to show up to see art, but they have started transitioning from being guardians of art to being purveyors of art.”The convergence of these factors, he says, “makes this the perfect moment to do something like Artkick.”

The company clearly occupies a special place in Laube’s heart, but it isn’t his first tech baby. His first startup, a software consulting firm, was based in his college dorm room at Case Western University, where he received a degree in engineering in 1971. His second, Consumer Financial Institute, produced individual personal financial plans using artificial intelligence technology, and was purchased by Price Waterhouse in 1986. Laube joined the global firm and served as its first Chief Information Officer for 10 years before moving on to the software and services company Novell and co-founding two more startups, including US Web, which grew to become the world’s largest Internet professional services firm. In 2002, he returned to Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) and served for eight more years as its Chief Innovation Officer. “Then I left and didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Laube with a laugh. That is, until that fateful panel discussion.

Over the next year, Laube and his team will work on expanding Artkick’s offerings to feature more emerging artists, as well as highlight the (often somewhat obscure) collections of individual art lovers. (For example, the site recently loaded images of one man’s extensive trove of netsuke, miniature sculptures invented in 17th-century Japan.)

In addition, the now-free service will begin offering fee-based “premium” options, including the ability to control multiple TV screens, import your own pictures, and bypass the ad images that pop up periodically on the screen. Premium subscribers will also have access to content that Artkick has to pay to acquire, including the work of artists such as AndyWarhol.

As for critics who lament that Artkick is trying to substitute itself for invaluable in-person encounters with great art, Laube scoffs at the claim. If he had his way, everyone would spend ample leisure time strolling through museums and galleries, just as he did as a child. But that’s simply not the reality for most people. “We don’t make any claims about ‘this is better,’ or anything like that,” he says of Artkick. “That’s not the point. It’s just like music—people listen to music on their iPods through $10 ear buds and everyone understands it’s not the same as going to a live concert. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that people enjoy it.

“The more people who get to experience art, even in its changed form,” he continues, “the better off we all are.”

Read the full article at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/Kicking+Art+Up+a+Notch/1667759/202409/article.html.

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