Whitehot Magazine

VU: A New Online Platform For Buying Affordable Art That Uniquely Serves Artists, Galleries, & Collectors

Kara Walker, Untitled, 1995, ink on paper 35 x 24 inches (88.9 x 61 cm), Photo courtesy of Kara Walker and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

By VICTOR SLEDGE, October 2021

There are new art platforms opening every day. All of them have artists, all of them have art collectors, but not all of them have the nuances that VU brings to the table. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Tim Malyk, one of the founders of VU, to talk about the pocket he and his partners have found in the art world and how they are shining their own light down this unique path. 

VU is a new art platform that puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to bold ideas in buying and selling art, such as putting the artist first.

The platform is a passion project of sorts that came out of the collaborative daydream of three art, technology and entertainment professionals (alongside Tim Malyk this includes Warren A. Bruleigh and Justin Anderson) who wanted to see a model of art selling and buying that prioritized the underdogs in the industry, which, ironically, are the people selling and buying the art.

VU focuses on work that is valued at $20,000 or less. This financial accessibility opens the platform to audiences that have often been axed out of the fine art world. It also means that the artists they work with have a chance to reach a more financially diverse audience that can be as beneficial to them and their exposure as selling to more high-bidding audiences.   

“I’d rather sell 100 pieces for $1000 than one piece for $100,000,” Malyk, the art professional and mastermind behind VU says.

Malyk is no stranger to selling $100,000 pieces, though. He started working in the art world as a teenager, working in major galleries and auction houses, including Philips, Freeman’s and Paddle8. After climbing the ladder, he went on to explore other business ventures before getting connected with one of his current business partners through a mutual friend. 

In short, VU’s aim is to provide the people they work with – artists, charitable organizations, art dealers, and more – with a platform to expose as many people to their work as possible, while also preserving the artists’ bottom lines. 

Russell Young, Kendrick Lamar, 2018, acrylic paint, enamel and diamond dust screen print on linen (silver) 62 x 48 in. (157.5 x 121.9 cm) Photo courtesy of Russell Young.

VU offers the most competitive fees and commission rates in the market, all in favor of the artist. Even further, VU only makes a profit if their artists do. This dynamic creates a unique partnership between VU and the artists they work with that demonstrates a working relationship built on genuine investment. 

“It gives you more incentive on both sides,” Malyk says. 

Essentially, VU’s philosophy is to treat artists and other professionals in the industry as the small businesses they are. In that sense, VU is focused on creating innovative, redefined solutions for small businesses. 

“Everybody asks, ‘how do we help small businesses?’” Malyk says. Malyk and his partners answer that question by creating a “complementary service rather than a service that wants to compete with any existing infrastructure in the industry.” 

“It's an add on,” he says. “It's here to create another stream of revenue, whether it be to support artists in life or to generate some money for another project they want to do.”

Alongside their commitment to buyers and artists, another pillar of VU is their ardent effort to support charitable organizations. 

The first major auction VU facilitated was for The Orchid Foundation, a mentorship and scholarship program for underserved girls. The Orchid Foundation chooses girls who are excelling in their academic and extracurricular pursuits to help fill the resource gap presented by their socioeconomic backgrounds with the mission to mentor these girls to and through college. “100 Artists of the Orchid Foundation” went on to receive quite a bit of press and collaborations with well-known celebrities. 

Before the opportunity with The Orchid Foundation arose, Malyk actually did not want to be back in the world of auctioning. 

“I didn't really want to do auctions anymore,” he explains. “I wanted to get as far away from the auction world as humanly possible.” 

However, The Orchid Foundation’s cause helped Malyk rethink his idea of art auctioning. 

Thomas Houseago, Detail of The Orchid Vortex for NG, 2021, mixed media on canvas 48 x 36 in (121.9 x 91.4 cm), Photo courtesy of the Thomas Houseago.

“I thought, we can retool this. We can shift it up, and I can make it function as a charity option.” 

And with that, what normally is a somewhat tense, anxious battle between wealthy art collectors became a way to support a worthy cause that also eventually helped build one of the principles of VU: giving back. 

VU was started in 2020, amidst the whirlwind that is COVID-19. After working with The Orchid Foundation, Malyk and his partners recognized that giving back would and should be a principle part of VU’s impact. 

VU offers options to host charitable auctions for organizations, as well as direct selling without the auction element. Even further, VU offers to sell any artwork acquired from a charitable event on the site, and the bulk of the proceeds will go back to the organization from which it was originally acquired. 

It all sounds too good to be true, but when platforms are forged with the idea of creating solutions where there is a lack, VU is an example of what can happen. Malyk and his partners have used their position in each of their fields to consider the underdogs in this venture and, from every angle, build a platform that uplifts them. It’s a space in the art world that hasn’t quite been occupied in the same way before. 

And as Malyk and his partners continue to carve out their own space in the art world, the possibilities of where the company and its philosophies can go are virtually limitless. For Malyk, though, it's about sharing this model of buying and selling art with the world. 

“In my wildest dreams,” he says,  “I’d like to have the whole concept replicated internationally."

He says that one of his goals is to support the artists as small businesses in and of themselves. Therefore, branching out internationally doesn’t just mean more opportunity for VU, but it also means sharing their work with a wider audience and making connections that are beneficial to them as artists.  

It’s an artist-first approach that is rarely seen but sorely desired. With the virtual space freeing VU of certain brick and mortar costs, the long, successful careers Malyk and his partners have amassed before VU and the genuine passion for reimagining how art is shared and sold, Malyk and his partners are simply at the right place in the right time to sustain that approach. 

He and his partners have taken their ideas, resources and expertise and patiently built this platform to be what it is.

“I don’t have to rush,” he explains, and he’s right because the great thing about charting new ground is that there are no precedents to say how long it should take to cover it.  

“I would rather wait and do it right,” he says. 

With or without models to guide them, Malyk and his partners’ innovation and seemingly radical commitment to the artist will surely make VU a game-changer for how people buy and sell art in the future as Malyk and his partners light this path moving forward in art.

For more information about VU and to see their Autumn 2021 exhibition line-up, please visit their website: www.vugalleries.com. WM


Victor Sledge

Victor Sledge is an Atlanta-based writer with experience in journalism, academic, creative, and business writing. He has a B.A. in English with a concentration in British/American Cultures and a minor in Journalism from Georgia State University. Victor was an Arts & Living reporter for Georgia State’s newspaper, The Signal, which is the largest university newspaper in Georgia.  He spent a year abroad studying English at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, where he served as an editor for their creative magazine before returning to the U.S. as the Communications Ambassador for Georgia State’s African American Male Initiative. He is now a master’s student in Georgia State’s Africana Studies Program, and his research interest is Black representation in media, particularly for Black Americans and Britons. His undergraduate thesis, Black on Black Representation: How to Represent Black Characters in Media, explores the same topic. 

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