ARTtwo50: a unique art-buying app that even Apple noticed

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on August 22, 2013

From The News Desk

There's always that bare wall in your house that just needs something on it. But what? You're not an art history aficionado and you aren't rich. You have the choice of either schlepping to Ikea to make your apartment look like everyone else's, putting up a family portrait, or maybe scotchtaping that classy velvet picture of dogs playing poker on the wall.

Now there's another option. ARTtwo50 is an iPad app trying to make art buying more accessible for those without big budgets, and it does it by letting you try it out first. It's kind of like Warby Parker's online try-on portal where users submit front-facing photos and then glasses frames are imposed. Except it's for art.

With ARTtwo50's new app, which launched a few weeks ago, and submitted its second version to Apple this week, you can digitally visualize artwork on empty wall space and then buy the ones you want.

The app's interface is straightforward, and actually pretty awesome. You take a picture of the empty wall in front of you and designate how far away it is, then it showcases potential art pieces that you can purchase to fill the void. You swipe between pieces until you find one you like. Each piece is $250. The company gets a 20 percent commission on each purchase (which includes shipping and payment expenses), and the rest goes to the artist (who the company deals with directly, thereby cutting out the gallery-owner middleman).

Following its initial release a few weeks back the app garnered some press, which led Apple to ask the startup for more promotional materials. And what do you know: just last week it was featured on the App Store as the #1 "New and Noteworthy" app. This gave it a 50 percent boost in downloads that week. According to its founders Ethan Appleby and Patrick Coughlin, Apple has asked for more promotional material about its upcoming release, and the two are hoping this means another Apple-propelled publicity boost.

I'm not surprised that ARTtwo50 piqued Apple's interest. It's a niche, design-oriented app, with a dare I say Apple-esque interface. The kicker: It's iPad only. Small screens need not apply. Doesn't this just ooze Apple?

In addition, it's fun to use. After borrowing a friend's iPad while at my local coffee shop, I instantly started using it and without having to endure a longwinded tutorial. I snapped a picture of an empty wall and was given artwork recommendations based on the wall's color and size parameters. The visualization really does work. While not every recommendation fit my taste (my favorite miss was a portrait of Eminem), there were some nice pieces for purchase of cityscapes and passable abstracts.

So often, you go to a friend's apartment adorned with a framed "Criterion Collection" poster (or if they're real keeper, just a torn "Die Hard"). ARTtwo50 wanted to create a way to avoid that and not feel stifled by a lacking art knowledge. According to Coughlin, ARTtwo50 is for the people out there "who weren't art history majors and don't know about specifics."

There are a bunch of other artwork apps and sites, such as and Amazon Art, be they for discovery or purchase. A lot of them, however, are tailored to an art collecting crowd. You know, those snooty people in museums that you avoid because they're talking about brushstrokes (or something). In contrast, ARTtwo50's recommendations aren't based on a users' preexisting art knowledge of genre or stroke, but just if the piece fits visually in your space.

While the search algorithm isn't perfect, it's a good starting point and down the road, the more you use it the more it will learn about your tastes. Appleby, the other co-founder, told me the app is always collecting data about how people are browsing, where they press, and other specifics. While it isn't being implemented right now, he sees a future where the app will be able to deduce better recommendations based on something as small as someone pausing a bit at a landscape.

We'll just have to wait and see if and how Apple will respond to the latest version. Perhaps it'll be featured in one of their "iPad only" campaigns. Either way, I'll finally be able to replace my age-old "Royal Tenenbaums" poster.

Though I may have to restrict my friends to those with iPads before I let them into my apartment. Then let the redecoration begin.