Screenshot of Foundwork.art's artist search page.
Last winter, Adam Yokell was looking to expand the scope of his fledgling Brooklyn gallery. But he was hard-pressed to find emerging, unrepresented artists outside of New York—and he was intent on developing a diverse and expansive program. Then an idea hit him.
“What if there was a tool that helped artists become more visible to an interested base of curators, gallerists, and academics?” Yokell tells me, over coffee on a recent morning in Brooklyn. And further, he adds, “What if curators and gallerists could search more broadly—but still deliberately—for an artist or artwork that resonates with their interests, or helps to develop their program, or relates to an exhibition they’re curating?”
For the next year, he continued to organize shows at his gallery, Hometown, and search for new artists as he best knew how: through his art-savvy friends and colleagues, and by attending MFA presentations within the New York area. But he still felt limited, and the idea for an online platform that extended this process beyond the limits of his personal network and the local art community lingered. (Prior to opening his gallery, Yokell served as legal counsel at Artsy for over four years, after earning degrees in art and law.)
He closed Hometown this past summer, and two weeks ago, he launched Foundwork.art: a website that serves to connect artists with curators and gallerists. After signing up, users are given two options: “Find Artists” or “View Artwork.” Both buttons are portals into a searchable database of primarily emerging, unrepresented artists and their work.
Right now, the site features just 36 artists. But that’s because Yokell is growing the directory slowly—and within a specific framework that sets his project apart from other online artist registries, like those hosted by White Columns, BRIC, or Saatchi Art.
Perhaps Foundwork’s most defining characteristic is that all featured artists are either enrolled in a U.S. MFA program, or are alumni of one. Any artist who falls into either of these categories is welcome to create a profile on the site. This criteria acknowledges the influence of an MFA degree in the art world—both in terms of the development of an artist’s practice and their visibility to galleries and curators.
It also fills a gap in the online art space. There is currently no website with the stated intention of gathering together artists who’ve matriculated through a broad range of MFA programs.
While Yokell recognizes that there is a “whole universe of incredibly talented artists who fall outside of this scope,” he wanted to provide Foundwork with an initial focus. “It was important to me that the platform wasn’t overwhelming to users, while still trying to include and serve a really substantial population of artists,” he explains. This initial MFA focus, he adds, “leaves room for growth and for the site to evolve.”
Detail of artist Lillian Kreutzberger's work on Foundwork.art.
The choice is one of several Yokell made when building Foundwork that balances efficiency and accessibility. The design of the site itself is clean, straightforward, and user-friendly, allowing for artworks on the site stand out. Participating artists can manage their own profiles through a simple content management system, and include enough information for a user to gain a well-rounded, online introduction to that individual’s practice.
Artists can add their biographical details, a CV, an artist statement, a link to their personal website, and as many images of their artworks as they’d like. This is the information many creatives upload to their own websites, but Yokell places it within the context of a larger community of artists—and adds a specialized search engine.
The search function was designed to be straightforward and effective—and optimized for artists, gallerists, and curators who use a shared set of terms to describe artwork. Currently, you can hone your search by making selections in one of three categories: Format, Attributes, and MFA Program, including class year. Yokell noted that fourth category—location—is on its way, too.
From now through March 2018, artists can create profiles and try the site on for size free of charge. After, they’ll be asked for a $5 per month fee.
As Yokell gives me a tour of the site, I’m reminded of a recent email I received from a curator friend based in Puerto Rico. She asked if I knew of any Brazilian artists with strong video practices. I wasn’t much help, but I could see Foundwork—as it grows—becoming a sound resource for cases like this.
Foundwork also offers a messaging service. If a gallerist or curator finds an artist who they want to be in touch with, they can send a note via the “Contact Artist” button. This sends a message straight to an artist’s personal email address, where they can then continue the conversation, off of the Foundwork platform.
Yokell notes that like many web platforms, Foundwork facilitates discovery and a first point of contact, which can lead to a conversation. “It’s about creating visibility for artists and access for those gallerists and curators interested in their work,” he says, “in a way that’s efficient but also thoughtful—after all, the interest has to be mutual.”
Cover image by Bench Accounting.