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Ads for art get professional with a $6 million budget for eyestorm.com

A slick campaign of prominent ads for multiples by contemporary artists is being counted in London, New York and San Francisco

An ambitious advertising campaign intended to widen brand name recognition for its prints and multiples business has been launched by eyestorm.com, the catchily titled on-line gallery which went live at the end of last year.

Quarter page advertisements, captioned “Kick Start the Hirst Habit” and illustrating one of several spot screenprints supplied by Damien Hirst, have been appearing in the national daily press in Britain, New York and San Francisco, while an arresting suite of large posters promoting images by Helmut Newton, Marc Quinn, Boyd Webb and Hirst himself was pasted the full length of the Oxford Circus underground station platform in a month-long spread which ended last month. Other London venues for eyestorm advertisements have included the entrance to Waterloo’s subway and the intersection of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road.

Not even the auction houses, with their powerful publicity machines and generous promotional budgets, have strayed quite so far from the traditional boundaries of an art-market readership, but eyestorm is not entering entirely virgin territory for contemporary art. Artists such as the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres have used billboard imagery and the display of works of art on the façade of office blocks and other public buildings as a means of reaching an audience beyond the gallery or museum.

Sam Taylor-Wood’s monumental photographic mural which sheathed the scaffold erected around Selfridges, the Oxford Street department store at present under renovation, is the latest and most spectacular example of a trend launched by the 1989 Times Square advertisement devised by Jeff Koons to promote his “Made in Heaven” portfolio of paintings and sculptures.

What makes eyestorm’s campaign particularly intriguing is its offer of impeccably established art products to a clientele beyond the usual collectors’ circle . It has been devised by the content team, as the nine experts convened by eyestorm founder David Grob, are known. They include MrGrob’s founding partner Michael Hue-Williams, private dealer Eric Franck, Whitechapel Art Gallery curator Judith Nesbitt, and Kim Kaputo, editor of art photography magazine Blindspot. Together they are exploiting the yawning gap which exists between the unique work of art, with its associations of preciousness and rarity, and the inexpensive souvenir print of strictly decorative value.

Typically, an eyestorm publication is a signed edition of 500 prints or photographs retailing on-line for $500. The site at present offers 500 images created for it by some seventy artists who include Matthew Barney, Hamish Fulton, Andy Goldsworthy, Jeff Koons, Bettina Rheims, Hiroshi Sugimoto and James Turrell. If these were all to sell, the turnover would be $125 million.

From the artist’s point of view, the economics are attractive but the overriding consideration appears to be the wide circulation of their work. Besides the new collector with a modest budget, orders are likely to come from the hotel and restaurant trades, as well as offices, and eyestorm has opened a business to business department to service this clientele.

Branding the site does not come cheaply and eyestorm has allocated $6 million for advertising and promotional work in its first year of business. That includes its sponsorship of “Apocalypse”, currently showing at the Royal Academy of Arts. But the site has already raised $11 million from venture capital funds in Europe and Asia and a further tranche of $15 million is believed to have been agreed with a West Coast investment house.