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Endemic World talks 10 years in art

Kiwi art retailer and print specialist Endemic World has produced a series of gently satirical prints in celebration of a decade in business. Its new gallery art print series includes four graphic posters designed by the Endemic World team “for the art critic within”.

The business was founded in 2007 by Elliot Alexander. It offers original art and prints at a wide price range, with thousands of prints by established and emerging artists on offer. We asked Alexander about Endemic World’s journey.

Tell us about Endemic World’s development. What was your vision at first?

It was originally an online design store retailing a boutique mix of small design-led brands from New Zealand. The vision to be online only was based around the delay in this market being capitalised on in New Zealand back then. I was already shopping online from stores in Europe when Trade Me didn’t have one single image on its homepage. New Zealand was so far behind, but the products being made by talented New Zealand designers were only in physical stores. Prices were high, and you had to get to those shops to buy them. So we set out to be New Zealand’s first online design store.

Does it live up to that vision now?

Hardly - the recession hit, within two years every physical store was online and we couldn’t differentiate. The breadth of categories grew to the point we felt like a gift shop battling for clicks and the love was fading, despite some amazing recognition. We had to make some big changes to continue the charge.

Overnight we decided to remove every category, keeping “art” only and also removing the “New Zealand only” positioning, taking on some international artists. We rebuilt the site from scratch, repositioned ourselves as an “online art print store” purchased a fine art printer, and had a big re-launch event in an old basement in [Auckland’s] Fort Lane (now Cassia).

We never looked back.

Can you tell us about some unexpected twists in its journey?

The growth took off again, but the next biggest change or unintended path for us was stumbling upon an empty building on Ponsonby Rd. We never intended to have a physical gallery space. But with my family saying just try a pop-up for summer, and a casual shared-retail lease agreement on offer there wasn’t a lot to lose. It was a new world from conversion rates and SEO.  Our model was far from a traditional “white space” art gallery and it resonated with the local Grey Lynn community well. It also gained a lot of support from the artists. We had a home. That was five years ago and we are still here.

So we never really set out to be an “art gallery” at all, who knows what we will be in 10 years or even two years from now. 

How has the art sales market changed since Endemic World first opened? Consumers seem more excited than they used to be about prints as an extension of trend-driven home décor.

The art industry has changed hugely in the last 10 years, and will change as much again in the next five years too. The home decor industry has definitely helped art get more eyes and feel less scary. Excluding Auckland, councils have got behind more art events too, just look at Seawalls in Napier, or Graffiato in Taupo. Then there is a growing list of very successful artists who have never been to art school. Throw in Instagram, and some might say grabbing a new painting isn’t much different to splashing out on a new pair of shoes. It’s all a voice for one’s style and we are just getting braver at showing it off.

The 10-year-anniversary prints are pretty tongue in cheek. Can you tell us more about that series?

Ha, well they are exactly that, a bit of tongue in cheek. We take art and what we do really seriously, whether we are selling a $10 print or $10k painting. But what we don’t do is let the seriousness stop us from having fun or letting us have fun with art. The day that stops is the day we fail. 

Our underlying values are about access and removing those intimidating barriers like eliteness and cold white quiet spaces. It’s not that we don’t like those environments, it can be a rush standing in a white space with no sound, just you and a painting. But so many people are put off by them. The only rule is there are no rules, so for us to say “I could draw that” or “Everyone’s a critic“ or “Art/Not Art?” is out way of saying it doesn’t really matter what another thinks about a work. Only what you think about it should matter to you, and be ok with not liking what everyone else does. What’s on your walls is an extension of your style. Follow nobody.

Is there anything you’d do differently with the benefit of hindsight?

Kind of, we spend more time thinking ahead rather than back. Art is a long game. Reputation is everything. And although we are 10, we only feel like we are one, and so have some interesting views on what an art business might look like in another 10 years from now! 

This story originally appeared at The Register.