My favorite way to describe Beckie Warren, the infamous founder of @girlseesart, is that she could literally talk to a wall and the wall would talk back. Warren’s good-natured openness and innate mid-western charm are a vital part of her signature style, along-side her vibrant color blasting fashion sense. Not only has she amassed a large following on her Instagram account, 20K, but she has also managed to foster that community IRL. By posting invitations to exhibitions and events, she creates ad-hoc open environments for influencers and followers to meet her and each other in person. That’s just Warren, she makes you feel comfortable and inspired all at once. Warren and I were classmates at FIT Art Market Studies. At this avant-garde program, we were encouraged to push boundaries in how art is experienced and its commerce, which Warren definitely is doing.
Like most social media influencers in the arts, Warren wears many hats. She is preparing for the launch of her online gallery, she speaks frequently on the topic of Instagram and art and has curated two gallery exhibitions in the past year. I met up with Warren at Round K, a Korean-speakeasy-turned-cafe, to catch up on all of her latest art adventures and projects. Funnily enough, Warren’s choice of location for our meeting is just like her: the perfect combination of trendy and funky, yet still relatable.
Nina Blumberg: How and why did you start GirlSeesArt?
Beckie Warren: I find the ‘why’ is always more important and almost always more interesting than the ‘how’. It was 2015, I was at Art Basel Miami Beach for the first time interning for PULSE Miami Beach art fair. As a graduate student at the Fashion Institute of Technology studying contemporary art, I had been to plenty of museums and galleries in NYC, but this experience was something different. The sheer number of art fairs, not to mention the number of galleries and artists exhibiting at each was staggering and almost too much for my little mid-western-raised mind to handle. I felt privileged to be seeing what I was seeing, and I felt compelled to share. I posted photo after photo after photo on my personal Instagram and Facebook accounts. The feedback from my social network was not exactly appreciative, with many friends complaining that I was “blowing up” their feeds. “Okay, enough, we get it! You’re at Art Basel, cool!”
Having been on the receiving end of this experience from friends on vacation, I understood the irritation. Still feeling compelled to share all I was experiencing, I created a new Instagram account for the sole purpose of sharing photos of art. So GirlSeesArt was born.
Having been born and raised in rural Kansas, I didn’t have access to contemporary art museums or galleries growing up. I didn’t come from money or a family that collected fine art. I reasoned, therefore, why would anyone trust my eye for what was ‘good art’?
– Beckie Warren, GirlSeesArt.
GirlSeesArt was an anonymous account at first. What was your reasoning behind that decision?
I get that question a lot- why I chose to use the alter-ego GirlSeesArt instead of my real name. The answer is simple. I was new to the art world and a nobody in the art market. Having been born and raised in rural Kansas, I didn’t have access to contemporary art museums or galleries growing up. I didn’t come from money or a family that collected fine art. I reasoned, therefore, why would anyone trust my eye for what was ‘good art’? It was easier to hide behind a screen name. Also, if I’m being honest, this was the height of the ‘Banksy’ street artist era and the cool-factor for being anonymous was at its peak. I have since “come out” as Beckie Warren, the art-loving founder of GirlSeesArt.
An unintended benefit of being anonymous online is that people can see themselves in GirlSeesArt. She could literally be any girl, anywhere, at any time. This trait allows people across different socioeconomic classes, different geographic regions, ages, and levels of art education relate to her. I love this aspect of the page. It allows me to truly make art and the art institutions I visit more accessible and transparent to the average person.
Beckie Warren during the install of “Uncommon Beauties.”
What sort of opportunities have come along for you since the inception of GirlSeesArt?
I was at first and continue to be totally shocked by the popularity and success of the page. I quickly acquired a decent amount of followers, which gave me an audience I felt I needed to be held accountable to. With them in mind, I kept my finger on the pulse of the NYC art scene, visiting each new gallery or museum opening, making sure to cover all the latest shows. Slowly but surely, I became an expert in the contemporary art scene. I started to dig deeper, I got to know some artists on a personal level, and I began to go on studio visits with emerging artists all over the city. I love working with emerging artists. They are desperate to be seen, for their voices to be heard, and for their vision to be taken seriously.
The greatest opportunity that has arisen out of the page was the opportunity to curate my first show, “GirlSeesArt Presents: Uncommon Beauty,” featuring nine emerging artists across all mediums, last October. The show was a huge success, named by Paper Magazine one of the “Must-See October Shows” in NYC.
Since then I have been asked to speak as an expert on the topic of social media in the art world at various universities including the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Art Academy of New York, and Parsons School of Design. Things really came full circle when I was asked to speak on a panel about Art in the Age of Instagram at last year’s Art Basel Miami Beach.
Beckie Warren and featured artist Karen Fisher at “GirlSeesArt Presents: Paper Dolls.”
Your university appearances serve as important markers of institutional recognition, further proving that art specialists in the field of social media are a force to reckon with. What other projects have you been working on since we graduated from our Master’s program at FIT?
This month I curated my second show, “GirlSeesArt Presents: Paper Dolls,” a solo exhibition by Karen Fisher. I met collage artist Karen Fisher two years ago through social media. Karen, who is based in Denver, Colorado, had been following GirlSeesArt and asked to meet me in person when she was in town for a family vacation. I took one look at her work and told her that whenever she was ready to show and sell her collages, I would be there by her side. Karen created a runway-inspired fashion collage every day for each day of 2016. True to my word, this year during Fashion Week, we showed all 365 pieces from her series. It was hugely rewarding to help another woman from the Midwest achieve her wildest art world dreams.
That’s so awesome. I got to see Karen’s works in person at the show. I was blown away by the quality of each of the 365+ collages! So, what is your next big move as art an influencer/curator?
My latest news is that I have launched my very own online art gallery, the Uncommon Beauty Gallery. Together with my business partner Jean-Noel Moneton, we represent artists from all over the world. The gallery predominantly features the work of female artists of all ages, whether emerging or already established, and follows a socially conscious model. As a gallery, we recognize that minorities, female, queer, and gender non-conforming artists are grossly under-represented in today’s art market. We are determined to contribute to improving this unfair imbalance.
We will host our inaugural exhibition and launch party on October 18, 5-9PM at 198 Allen Street. The last bit of exciting news is that we will be exhibiting at Aqua Miami Beach!!! You are the first to hear it, we haven’t even told the artists yet.
Shantell Martin from Beckie Warren’s personal collection.
Wow, congrats. We are too excited to have gotten the scoop on that bit of news! What advice would you give someone who wants to start collecting art but doesn’t necessarily have the budget for blue-chip art right off the bat?
There are so many ways to collect without breaking the bank. One way is to buy art from emerging artists whose prices have not hit their peak, another is to buy prints or copies of original art, often you can get signed prints or editions for a fraction of the cost of the original. The last way I recommend is to start a digital collection, which is 100% free! By this I mean save images of the art you love and enjoy it from your phone, your computer, or any of the other various screens we have access to these days.
Beckie Warren with @LittleTwins_BigApple at “GirlSeesArt Presents: Paper Dolls.”
Love that idea… There are definitely a few artists who are on my list to collect first when the time comes! Who would you say are the 3 most inspirational people you’ve met thus far in your art world career and why?
Artist Shantell Martin – I worked for Shantell right after graduating art school. She broke the mold in so many ways. She worked for herself and represented herself, she did not seek gallery representation. She would create murals for spaces (like Facebook) and loan out the mural by the month. When the loan agreement was up, she would return to paint over the mural or agree to sell it to the company for a larger fee. She showed and sold work online when it was not hip to do so. She showed me what it looked like to think outside the box, to work hard for yourself and to honor your identity and stay true to your brand.
Former PULSE Art Fair Director Helen Toomer – Helen was my art marketing professor at FIT. She took me under her wing and allowed me to intern for PULSE, which is what brought me to Art Basel Miami in the first place. She has continued to champion and support me over the years and has introduced me to some of my most valuable art-world contacts. Like Shantell, she showed me what it looked like to be a woman in a position of power and influence in the art world. A huge extrovert with a witty British accent and a pixie haircut, she remains unapologetically herself in all situations.
Jean-Noel Moneton — My partner in crime. Just kidding, my partner in the business, Jean-Noel and I connected over a mutual love and appreciation of contemporary art two years ago before joining forces to curate my first show, Uncommon Beauty. Just as I gradually learned the key players and strategies to succeed in the art market by frequently visiting galleries and art museums in New York, his knowledge and unique expertise of today’s market stems from regularly attending auctions, open studios, and art institutions for decades in his home country of France. He began representing friends who were artists six years ago in an effort to increase their exposure and advance their careers. We share a similar aesthetic when it comes to our taste in art, but more importantly, we are both recognize the fact that minorities, women, queer, and gender non-conforming artists are grossly under-represented in today’s art market. We are determined to contribute to improving this unfair imbalance. This is the primary aim of our gallery.
Today you are you, that is truer than true, there is no one alive that is you-er than you.
Helen was such a great role model for us- so grateful we got to experience having her as a professor during grad school! If you could sum yourself up into one life motto or mantra, what would it be?
I live by Dr.Seuss’s birthday poem “Today you are you, that is truer than true, there is no one alive that is you-er than you.” I believe that everyone should have not only the right but the ability and the safety to be their true selves, that as human beings we should be free to express ourselves in any way that makes us feel whole, in any way that makes us feel seen and appreciated for exactly who we are.
Don’t miss the inagural opening of Uncommon Beauty Gallery on October 18, 5-9PM at 198 Allen Street, 10002, NY, NY.