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Former SAC manager's new site makes buying good artwork easier
By: James Tarmy

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG).- Larisa Leventon, a former portfolio manager at SAC Capital Advisors, wants to shake up the art market.

Her new website, Dot Dash 3, allows artists and curators to take real artworks and place them in a virtual gallery of their own design.

Online buyers can “walk” through the spaces, view sculpture, paintings and videos, and then buy the art with a click. Currently, there are six solo exhibitions and one group show on view.

Leventon, 41, met with me in a cafe in Greenwich Village, just days after her site went live. Wearing a purple blouse, black cashmere cardigan, and a silver link bracelet, she told me about her plan to democratize the art world.

Tarmy: Can you describe the features of your site?

Leventon: For people looking to buy, it allows them to discover art in a novel way. For artists and curators, it gives them unlimited possibilities for how to create a space.

Tarmy: How did you choose the artists?

Leventon: I talked a lot with various curators and explored different programs. I was looking for emerging artists, but emerging artists with a good track record.

Finance Background
Tarmy: Did your background in finance influence your approach?

Leventon: Absolutely. As a portfolio manager, I invested in public equities. Every day I had to decide whether the stock was undervalued or overvalued. And it’s not emotional -- you might like the management, the company and everything they stand for, but it all comes down to facts, to data, to the numbers.

When you transfer that to the art world, there’s a lot of subjectivity involved: Do you go emotionally for the work? You also have to separate yourself when you look at the art.

Tarmy: In what way?

Leventon: There’s art I might love, but then I look at certain other components, and the data, so to speak, of what’s in front of me. You meet the artists, explore their thinking, you can make projections, say, if something that they’ve done is part of something bigger.

You look at art in the context of time: You can hop forward in 10, 20, 40 years -- is this work still relevant?

Art Appreciation
Tarmy: So you’re not talking about art as a commodity?

Leventon: Art is an asset, and some people look at it that way, but you have an appreciation component -- hopefully you’re buying it to enjoy it.

But say you’re presented with 50 artists who have other “components” checked off, then you choose what moves you.

Tarmy: Did you leave SAC to start this site?

Leventon: No, I left it to do my own fund, and my side project was that I just wanted to get some art because it was the first time that I wasn’t occupied 24/7 with stocks.

I was not comfortable living with something that just looked good -- I wasn’t buying it simply for decoration. And then I embarked on this process and discovered the art world.

Tarmy: Who are your potential customers?

Leventon: Anyone who buys art. Even people who don’t buy art today.

I really wanted to make the price point affordable, so in the first exhibition the prices range from $300 to $12,000. What I was aiming to do was take the legwork out of a situation where someone says “I have $1,000 to spend on a piece of art, and I want to buy something that’s meaningful.”

Market Inefficiency
Tarmy: Right, it’s an impossibly broad mandate.

Leventon: The landscape is quite vast, and the art market is not efficient in terms of pricing from an asset-valuation point of view. So where do you go?

You can buy a poster for $1,000, or you can buy a beautiful original by an artist who is breaking out and building a career in a meaningful way. I think if you present that choice to anyone, the answer is obvious.

Tarmy: You’re demystifying the art world, then?

Leventon: When you think about music or film, when you think about any other form of art, it’s much more democratized than visual art.

If you ask somebody on the street who their favorite contemporary artist is, how many people would be able to name five artists working today?

From a cultural standpoint it’s very important to change that.

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