Former Finance Whiz Launches Online Affordable Art Business
FLATIRON — When Giorgio Piccoli launched his startup Americanflat last year, his goal was to make art more accessible and affordable to people like him — singles who want to enliven otherwise drab apartments and maybe even impress a girl.
Using his last bonus check from JPMorgan Chase, Piccoli, 27, created what amounts to a virtual art gallery filled with paintings and photographs stretched across large canvas squares — with nothing costing more than about $250.
Last month alone, Piccoli — who, for the record, now has a girlfriend — said he sold nearly 500 pieces.
"Right now, we’re doing well as a bootstrap company," Piccoli said of the business, which is based on West 23rd Street.
"What resonated with a lot of people was the fact that we were making something that was traditionally just so unaffordable and out of their price range, and we were making it affordable," he added. "And we were doing that with the power of the Internet."
The idea for Americanflat came to the Manhattan native when he moved back to the city after college to start his job at the finance giant.
"I was trying to outfit my dingy studio apartment that was on the West Side, and I was looking for some artwork to really impress people when they came in," Piccoli recalled.
He scoured local art fairs and galleries looking for statement-making pieces, but kept finding price tags that reached into the thousands.
"I was even walking through the aisles of the Affordable Art Fair, and I just saw how all the artwork was completely out of my price range," he said.
With Americanflat, Piccoli sought to dispel the idea that art has to be expensive to be good.
He finds artists — by way of two on-staff curators — who are producing work that is attractive and compelling, but not too edgy or controversial. They create small-scale paintings or photographs, and Piccoli has those pieces blown up and printed in high-resolution on large stretches of canvas.
Each piece can be reprinted as many times as needed and shipped around the world. The artists keep the original work and get a chunk of the proceeds, Piccoli said. Five percent of all profits go toward the company’s philanthropic arm, aimed at building community-based art programs across the United States.
Chizuco Sophia Yw was among the first artists who signed on with Americanflat, and her work is among the most popular on the website. In March alone, she sold 16 pieces through Americanflat — a feat that she said would not be possible selling only original pieces.
"My original artworks are quite big, like 200 inches," Yw said. "It is hard to sell that size of paintings. So this is better to reach [the] audience."
Yw said she was drawn to the website in part because she could use pieces she already created.
"They don't demand me to create works for them in their style or size," explained Yw, who moved to New York from Japan in 2000. "I already have a lot of artworks and images with me. So they picked up from my portfolio."
When the company was first getting off the ground last year, Piccoli said he sold mostly to his friends, and even his mom.
"She’s a big customer," he said with a smile.
But when Americanflat started to grow, Piccoli partnered with online distributors around the world and started selling prints from Australia to Germany and Canada. He used curators to find the artists, and discovered that those artists also doubled as a marketing team.
"As an individual running a company, you only have so much exposure," Piccoli explained. "If you have 40 artists on your team, it’s really great because they spread the word."
Piccoli said he has gotten flak from some in the artistic community who take issue with the mass production of works. But, he noted that hordes of happy customers have more than made up for any backlash.
"We’ve had a lot of success," Piccoli said. "It just seemed like it was an industry that was ready for this."
Marina Reiter, the company’s senior curator, said that as an artist herself, she recognizes the power the website has to provide artists with a larger audience and supplemental income, which allows them to continue producing artwork.
"For artists, it is a great marketing and promotional tool that does not cost them anything, yet at the same time gives them worldwide exposure," Reiter said.
"I think you can’t beat that proposal."