Earthlink’s Dayton Joins Artsy, Firm Raises $5 Million

The online art database Artsy said it has raised $5.6 million in new investment and has added Internet entrepreneur Sky Dayton to its board of directors.

Dayton, the chairman of Boingo Wireless Inc., joins Artsy founder and chief executive officer Carter Cleveland and Wendi Deng, co-CEO of film company Big Feet Productions and wife of Rupert Murdoch.

Dayton has founded and helped build technology companies including EarthLink Inc., Boingo and Helio that have gone public or been sold for almost $3 billion in aggregate market value, according to his profile on the Boingo website.

He’ll be involved in the strategy, fundraising and business development of New York-based Artsy. The website allows visitors to browse and comment on artworks and pursue sales through links to galleries. Artsy gets a fee on sales it facilitates.

“He sees the same opportunity in the online art market as he saw in the Internet almost 20 years ago,” said Cleveland, 26.

The art market’s growing online segment has attracted heavyweights like Christie’s International as well as startups such as Paddle8, VIP Art and Artspace. Last week, Artspace announced that it had raised $8.5 million in new funding from investors, including venture-capital firm Canaan Partners.

Artsy has drawn prominent supporters including advisers Larry Gagosian and Pandora Media Inc. CEO Joe Kennedy. Investors include Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt and Dasha Zhukova, who is billionaire Roman Abramovich’s partner and an art collector.

October Debut

Founded by Cleveland in his Princeton dormitory room in 2008, Artsy started its website in October. It previously reported raising $7.4 million, according to Sebastian Cwilich, president and chief operating officer. The additional funds bring the total investment to $12.97 million to date, he said.

The company offers aspects of social-media websites, allowing its 125,000 registered subscribers to share comments on art, while also presenting material that would serve a buyer or collector, such as prices and provenance.

“The more you use Artsy the more we learn about what you like,” Cleveland said. “Over time we can better suggest things for sale that you might like. Even if there are no works by an artist for sale today, we have captured your interest in the artist. In the future, if the work becomes available, we’ll notify you.”

‘Biggest Idea’

“Artsy is building a platform for the future of the art world,” Dayton said in a telephone interview. “They have the biggest idea, the longest view and the best team.”

A son of a sculptor father and poet mother, Dayton grew up around art. As a collector, who owns pieces by Alexander Calder and Yoshitomo Nara, he frequently bought art online, he said.

“Art is one of the last areas to benefit from what the Internet can bring,” he said. “It’s about opening up a whole new market of collectors who previously were underserved by the existing system. I think there’s going to be a major transformation in the art market in the next 10 years. It’s going to get a lot bigger.”

To build up its database, Artsy has formed links with more than 400 galleries, 85 museums, foundations and artists’ estates. The company has legal rights to about 25,000 images of artworks. Artsy maps out connections between artists and artworks by using what it dubbed the Art Genome Project, a collaboration between art historians and computer scientists.

“Our focus has been to create a large database and now we are more focused on the commercial aspect,” Cleveland said. “To create a marketplace, you need to know where the art is and what people like.”

Tomorrow, Artsy will offer collectors the first peek at artworks that will be exhibited at the Armory Show -- a week before the fair opens to the VIPs on March 6. About 85 percent of the exhibitors have contributed images to Artsy’s Armory Show platform.

Muse highlights include James Russell on architecture and Catherine Hickley on theater.

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