The standard white-walled art gallery isn’t for everyone. Sarah Mantilla Griffin and Tricia Benitez Beanum recognized this truth, among the many other problematic elements of the art world, when the two Los Angeles residents connected via Instagram in 2019.
Sarah, a private art consultant and founder of Art House Market, and Tricia, an estate sale specialist and interior stylist who owns Pop Up Home vintage showroom, discovered they had much in common, from their shared Puerto Rican heritage to their Ivy League educations. Even their sons have the same name. So it wasn’t long before their other goals started to align.
“We just started talking about representation as a concept and an idea, and [how] growing up we didn’t see representation of ourselves,” Tricia says. Sarah, adds, “When we say unrepresented, it means who’s underrepresented in the art world.”
The two then hit upon a way to shift the art market paradigm by championing BIPOC, women, and nonbinary artists in an innovative way through UNREPD, their new art sales enterprise. When Tricia moved Pop Up Home to an expansive and flexible space in Hollywood’s style-centric Sycamore District in the late spring, the pair realized UNREPD could further evolve alongside it. After a few months of settling in, the team officially launched in August.
Running UNREPD involves nurturing emerging artists as well as supporting those further along in their careers, and encouraging them to fully recognize their own worth. Sarah and Tricia help communicate that value to buyers too. Thanks to Pop Up Home’s welcoming vibe, conversations happen organically.
“People come in here because it’s relaxed and chill and they ask us all kinds of questions that they wouldn’t ask in a gallery,” Tricia says while settling into a black leather Timothy Oulton sofa. Seeing art in a designed environment takes a lot of the edge off, and helps create a relatable context as opposed to cold, unfriendly galleries that often intimidate those who aren’t already insiders.
Sarah and Tricia champion the artists they represent while still being on the lookout for new talent. Creatives on the UNREPD roster such as Sachiko Bradley, Moncho 1929, Elisa Valenti, Corey Pemberton, and photographer Bryce Batts have already attracted a diverse group of collectors. “It feels really good that this is a safe space for buyers of color to come and buy from artists of color,” Tricia notes. “That is a dream right there.”
Here, Sarah and Tricia offer their expertise and insight to those who are looking to start collecting.
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Own the term collector
Sarah recalls that “it took a while” to consider herself a collector. “It always felt like a term that wasn’t for me, that was for someone way richer,” she notes. “I think first and foremost, own that you are ready to become a collector, whatever that might mean.” Making the commitment “to put original work in your home” is a solid starting place, for example.
Support and buy from underrepresented artists
“Women and artists of color have been historically ignored by the art world, which means there’s a ton of amazing art out there that is priced so an early collector could actually afford to buy it,” Sarah says. This advice isn’t to suggest that the work should be undervalued, of course, but rather, that that’s the reality of the current marketplace. Over time, greater visibility will help address and remedy equity gaps, so use your purchasing power to advance that objective.
Strategically use social media as a research tool
“Instagram is huge for emerging artists and there are so many,” Tricia says. So Sarah has suggestions on how to best narrow the field. “If you find one artist you really like on Instagram, they’ll often tag their friends, and their friends might be working similarly,” she advises. “You can see who they’re following, and you can find these threads where you might be able to better home in on an aesthetic that makes sense for you rather than just generally searching.”
To find your own collecting style, forget the rules
“You can’t worry about what the rules are for what should go in a certain space,” Sarah observes. Truly beloved pieces will “go together in some sort of way and will make sense for you who are.” Tricia leans in hard to this philosophy. “There’s nothing in my house that matches. I’ve never done things that way. I am a collector—I’m proud to say—which means I collect the things I like,” she says. “Obviously you have scale and size that you have to be mindful of. But I always say buy what you love, and somehow, because I’m into the spirituality of design, it works out.”
Find alternative resources
Artists might sell independently and directly to buyers without representation, some are affiliated with online platforms including Tappan and Saatchi Art, some participate in group shows in unorthodox locations, and businesses such as UNREPD continue to disrupt the traditional gallery model. These new avenues also help challenge a certain seriousness and entrenched hierarchies. “Art is supposed to be playful and fun, not rigid and weird,” Tricia says with a laugh.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest