Inna Didenko, Founder of Art Acacia

Thanks for speaking with us Inna, we are really intrigued by Art Acacia’s name you say it comes from the tree which is the symbol of your homeland and the emerging international artists you find and feature. How do you go about working with more remote unknown artists, and marketing them to your clients?

Inna Didenko: Besides art I also love travelling and exploring the world which brings a lot of new connections in the art world too. I visit on average about 15 countries annually. It’s a special treat to visit galleries in Cape Town, South Africa or discover an unfound art talent at a festival in Oaxaca, Mexico. Establishing a personal relationship with an artist makes conducting business much easier in the future. So traveling is one of the many ways to find artists. The other way is through extensive online research, social media etc. Art is subjective, of course, but there are certain trends, relevant topics, new ideas that prevail in the market. It’s important to consider them as well. Working with artists around the world can be an adventure but it is also very rewarding. Sometimes there are challenges, for example week-long power cuts in Africa or extreme custom regulations. However, the joy of bringing those works to a wider audience is overwhelming.

Why did you decide to make your service an online one? How do you compete in an increasingly saturated market?

I started the business online simply because it was not sustainable to get a space in San Francisco and manage all inventories. However, after the first year, I realised that there is a great potential to keep it that way. And the reason is not only about the financial benefits, digital business also allows us to be more mobile and flexible and respond to clients’ needs faster. We offer our clients a 14 day return policy, which brings us closer to a familiar e-commerce model: buyers can select a piece in the comfort of their home, purchase it online, receive it within a week and try it on their walls. They can decide if it creates a dialogue with other pieces, if it responds to their interior design and style and maybe even consult with other family members, and if it does not – we accept returns for shipping costs only. Nowadays not only the younger generation is online, most of us are used to ordering goods digitally. Why should buying art be any different? It is definitely one of the company’s strengths to provide clients with an opportunity to interact with art and let people experience it outside of the museum-like environment. Clients like it too: it is simple, convenient and reliable.

What’s the advisory process like for guiding your clients in choosing the right artworks for them?

It all starts with purchase objectives or even intentions. Is the intention to decorate the space, or to build a collection, or to invest in an art piece and get a financial return over time? Depending on the client and their reasons for buying an artwork we develop a strategy on how to approach it. We work with a wide network of galleries and art dealers in the US and in Europe as well as many artists directly – it helps us to prepare a step by step plan and assess various options. The art industry is extremely crowded – it is not difficult to find artwork, but it does require a significant amount of time and knowledge to navigate the market, find an artwork that will suit personal objectives and which will have a good value. Seasoned private collectors, art appreciators who want to buy their first piece, commercial spaces and interior designers hugely benefit from using art advisory services. Knowledge of what to buy, where to buy and how much to pay is extremely important.

List of Africa Top Collectors

You work with a number of African artists, what are your thoughts on this growing market? Who are your buyers purchasing this work?

I think Africa has a lot of potential, especially in the art industry. Several factors make it difficult for local artists to build a career there (lack of institutional support, transparency of the market, lower purchasing power etc). However, the continent itself has a phenomenal mix of cultures, ethnicities, beliefs and challenges – and this crazy cocktail finds its expression through fashion, music and of course, art. It’s so powerful! I would say that African Art is becoming less and less foreign. We see African artists being represented at art fairs in London and New York, we see them in the largest modern art museums and galleries. Essentially, globalisation, travelling and the internet brings all of us closer. It is easier to appreciate African Art today than ever before. Maybe clients who buy contemporary African Art are just slightly more experimental or adventurous.

BREXIT is of course a comment topic, but are you worried it will have any affects on your business?

It’s very exciting to see how the world is changing. However, I prefer to let analysts and experts build hypotheses on what the future holds for us all. With regards to Art Acacia, we continue receiving art orders from the UK without a noticeable decrease in numbers and we expect that to remain the case in the future as well. At the moment, we plan to focus on strengthening our online presence. This space has no geographical borders and I guess it’s just another advantage of an online business.

We have seen a rise in millennial collectors in recent years. How do you think the art world has changed to be more accommodating for younger, less experienced buyers? Is making art available to broader audiences an aim of Art Acacia?

It is a fact that the art world sees more and more young buyers. I wouldn’t necessarily call them less experienced – many of them have a strong voice and have built decent collections. I see two big forces here making the art market a more inclusive space: art accessibility and art education. Currently there are many online marketplaces where collectors can explore art pieces and connect with artists directly; then there is social media allowing us to follow artists every day; there are art tours in almost every city; auction houses allow us to bid on pieces online now and we see more and more experimental art pop-ups and new unconventional galleries – all these factors lower the barriers for art buyers to experience art. Education also is important: podcasts, videos, talks, engaging programs at local art museums and galleries make art much less intimidating. The way we see art has changed as well – it is a lot about personal branding, it’s a channel to express our personality. At Art Acacia we are open to all types of clients and generations. Contemporary art remains our focus and we are happy to join art buyers at any stage of their journey into the art world.

Do you think blockchain has the potential to increase transparency and reduce forgery in the art market?

There is a lot of potential for blockchain technology to help authenticate art. These days we often write about blockchain technology and its impact on the art market on our blog as well as other mediums. It seems to be a hot topic and lots of smart people benefit from the technology already. It will certainly be a huge relief if we can have a single trustworthy system to track all original artworks with a clear title and provenance. The first step has already been taken by a few businesses (like Verisart). I also think auction houses trading genuine artworks, originals authenticated by experts will follow. There are other ways blockchain can impact the art market, but authentication is a big breakthrough.

Recently some have voiced the opinion that ‘Instagram is ruining art.’ What do you think about Instagram and more generally social media’s effect on the market?

Instagram and other forms of social media are a marketing tool. How can we be upset with a tool? It’s simply a channel for artists to showcase what they do in the studio. However, the true work is done outside of social media. Artists have vision, they have a particular way of reflecting on things, expressing themselves – that defines the final product. Instagram brings vision, skills, practice and talent to our screens (if we don’t put it on a pedestal). I do agree though, that some may find that Instagram lowers the standards of what is called art, but then again – if there is demand there is supply. The art market is just another market. It is regulated by supply and demand forces. And yes, emoji art is an art form if it is appreciated. It can be overwhelming and also harder to make a final choice following dozens of profiles on Instagram. That is why art consultants are so helpful when finding art forms that express a client’s voice and personality and recommending artists to watch out for.

What does the future hold for Art Acacia?

I hope we continue working on exciting projects and partnerships and building a bigger pool of artists to work with. Another exciting avenue will continue to be interior design projects in residences around the US and in Europe.