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Culterra and the Rise in E-Commerce Art Platforms

As this photography pop-up opens its doors in Laguna Beach, it builds upon the trend of selling art online.

From left, “Ephemeral,” taken in Laguna Beach, “Amplitude,” taken in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and “Stratospheric,” taken in Dibab, Oman. Images courtesy of Culterra

When it comes to shopping for art, it can be intimidating trying to determine where to start. Orange County is filled with art galleries, from modern treasures at Kennedy Contemporary in Newport Beach and the pop culture-focused pieces at Downtown Disney’s WonderGround Gallery to the many havens that line the streets of the artist colony of Laguna Beach.

In addition to its galleries, Laguna is home to many pieces of public art, summertime festivals, the famed Pageant of the Masters and a museum with a storied history, started by early plein air painters in the area. A new pop-up was added to the lineup this past weekend. Called Culterra, this temporary space will leave a lasting impression once it’s gone in the form of an e-commerce platform that allows founder Taylor O’Sullivan to revert back to a slower pace of creativity while reaching a widespread audience.

And while her efforts are somewhat unique, they’re building upon a recent trend for art galleries to turn to the web to expand their collection of buyers beyond Orange County. 

The Culture of Culterra

The new Culterra, a fine art photography company recently launched by Laguna Beach resident O’Sullivan, was dreamed up as a response to the popularity of art in the digital realm. The current plan sees it existing both within as well as outside of that realm.

“Over the last few years, as the digital revolution really ramped up, I noticed that much of my work was only being consumed on small screens,” O’Sullivan says. “As an artist, I felt a strong urge to offer my work in physical form – something more enduring than a fleeting moment on someone’s phone.”

O’Sullivan prides herself on being a storyteller that is constantly evolving, having directed and produced everything from commercials to documentaries and narrative films since earning a BFA with an emphasis in creative producing from Chapman University’s film school in 2012. In addition to her work behind the lens, she has also hosted a number of digital series for companies like Australian airline Qantas and Sunset magazine.

Culterra founder Taylor O’Sullivan. Photo courtesy of Culterra

The ultimate goal with Culterra was to spark a deeper connection with the natural world – both for herself and those viewing her artwork. The process of creating Culterra took her back to what she calls “patient art,” as she began shooting photos with 35 mm and medium-format films and waiting weeks to get the developed prints.

“This shift has been creatively satiating and seems to resonate deeply with people,” she says. “Many of us are craving less screen time and more real-world experiences, appreciating nature and the beauty right in front of us. Now, the earthy nuances, meditative nature scenes and enveloping landscapes I’ve captured from my travels can live on as timeless prints, preserving their magnificence as if they just occurred.”

This is the premise of Culterra, which launched a physical showroom over the weekend along Pacific Coast Highway in O’Sullivan’s hometown of Laguna. Open through July 25, the space is displaying museum-quality framed prints of exclusively O’Sullivan’s photographs. Taken all over the world, they are intended to bring calm and tranquility to the buyer’s home, showcasing countries such as Thailand, Italy, the Maldives, Brazil, Slovenia and more – as well as local scenes from Laguna Beach and San Clemente.

“I call … (photography) the art of noticing,” O’Sullivan says. “Art really is all around us, but it’s up to us to decide if we want to take the time to truly see it and experience it.”

In addition to this temporary physical space, Culterra will offer a varied selection through its new e-commerce website. Clients can hand-select their photograph as well as frame style, size and color, truly making the piece their own. Plus, the company ships anywhere in the world, making O’Sullivan’s artwork more accessible to those who don’t reside locally.

“E-commerce is a vessel that allows us to reach clients all over the world,” she says. “I feel grateful to be alive and running a business at a time when we’re not constrained by geography. I made sure to build the online platform to be just as much of a destination as the physical gallery. The fact that I can connect with anyone, wherever they live, brings the ‘culture of the earth’ to a global audience.”

According to O’Sullivan, selling art on the World Wide Web has provided potential for further connection. “It allows us to forge relationships and share an appreciation of art and ideas with people anywhere in the world,” she says. “If the internet bolsters that experience, then I’m the first to agree that’s a great thing. However, I would caveat that with our belief that the tangible, intentional experience of art is unmatched.”

Pacific Edge Gallery in Laguna Beach uses the 1stDibs platform to reach art collectors outside of Orange County. Photo courtesy of Pacific Edge Gallery
Taking Art to the Web

While O’Sullivan’s Culterra makes it easier than ever to customize your art purchase, she’s not the first in the area to take her pieces to the internet. The Gallery, which got its start in Laguna but can now be found in Mission Viejo, is a nonprofit that offered both a website and smartphone app years before its opening. The gallery now has 400 member artists, with physical showcases rotating through their artwork. A new exhibit is unveiled on the first Saturday of each month, but the group also still has a strong online presence, with a wide variety of pieces available for purchase on the website.

Another Laguna Beach space, Pacific Edge Gallery, has been selling art on its website for years, but has taken it a step further with the help of 1stDibs, a curated art and antiques platform that the gallery has partnered with for nearly six years. “Being on that website has exposed our artists to many collectors who may never be in Laguna Beach, but appreciate the artwork that we offer,” says owner Paul C. Jillson. “While there is no substitute for seeing the work in person, it has allowed us to pick up new collectors from around the world – including Germany, Ireland, France and Hong Kong – who have been very happy to collect from the gallery.”

Cultural center Laguna Art Museum has even infused its fundraising events with technology, auctioning off paintings and sculptures via online marketplace Artsy during its annual California Cool benefit. Featuring a bidding system for the online auctions, the platform provides a seamless experience before, during and after the gala, allowing the museum to promote the experience at the event and raise even more money while giving collectors what they desire while giving back.

As with any field, there are numerous ways to make use of technology in the art world. Whether it’s for buying and selling pieces online or something else entirely, these local businesses demonstrate the many ways that these e-commerce platforms can benefit galleries and artists alike. But possibly most intriguing of all is O’Sullivan’s thought that her Culterra platform is actually connecting art lovers around the globe, using the digital world to showcase the beauty of nature and bring people together despite technology’s tendency to do the opposite.

Culterra Pop-Up Gallery

When: Through July 25

Where: 1504 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach

Cost: Free to visit; pieces range from $700 to $3,000


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