Absolut Vodka is taking a break from the bar to get into the art dealing business.
Absolut Art, an online retail platform for small-batch original edition artworks by global artists created for Absolut, will launch in the U.S. on October 5. Collectors can shop for pieces, which cost between $130 to $10,000, with $20 shipping and free returns. The pieces, pre-framed, ship in an Absolut-branded box within 48 hours. The marketplace launched in Europe last year.
With the venture, Absolut is looking to pull off on the global scale what many art startups have tried to do, with varying degrees of success: build an accessible online marketplace for original art.
It’s not the vodka’s brand first encounter with the arts. The brand has, in the past, released a limited edition bottle inspired by Andy Warhol, who designed print ad campaigns for Absolut in 1986. In 2014, the company launched the Absolut Art Fund, an award given to artists to put toward a “dream project.” When the company looked into launching its first additional revenue stream outside of spirits, it again turned to art.
“They thought about hotels, entertainment,” said Nahema Mehta, the CEO of Absolut Art and founder of online art startup Art Remba. “But art felt like the most natural extension of the brand. It didn’t feel forced — we had the thread, and we just moved it to the next phase.”
In seeking out a second revenue stream beyond its signature spirit, Absolut is looking to pull in new customers and give existing ones something else to spend their money on — the typical motivation in the ever-popular pivot to becoming a “lifestyle brand.” The company said revenue from Absolut Art was small last year, but declined to share specifics.
The brand, owned by Paris distillery Pernod, has been losing market share to both pricier options like Ketel One, and trendier options, like Tito’s. In 2015, the brand’s market share value was written down by $454 million by Pernod, and in the 2015-2016 annual report, released on September 1, the company noted “difficulties” at Absolut. Annual sales volume for the brand was at 10.9 million liters, down 4 percent over the year before.
Mobile and content-driven efforts to revive the vodka brand are underway. But to help rejuvenate business, the company is hoping to appeal to art lovers who are looking for a way to grow a global collection without traveling.
“Our method to be taken seriously in the art world is to show, not tell,” said Mehta. “You can’t say ‘hey, we’re a really serious player.’ We also aren’t trying to replace anything traditional in the art world. We’re trying to expand artists’ reach.”
The three-person Absolut Art team works with six curators who recruit artists in their respective cities to sell art on the platform. Right now, 110 artists, including Miranda July, Frances Stark and Gabriella Nordin, have commissioned art for Absolut. Through photos and videos shot of the artist, the platform provides context for shoppers about the artist they’re buying from, in order to avoid just displaying “a bunch of JPEGs,” according to Mehta.
In working with artists, Absolut takes a 50 percent commission of sales, which is the typical breakdown between artists and galleries who sell their work, according to Art Business. Mehta said that her goal is to take advantage of Absolut’s resources in order to grow a viable online art business that can scale. She said that as far as incorporating the well-recognized Absolut brand into Absolut Art, the plan has been to “cherry pick” certain elements to incorporate, like artist-designed bottles and familiar font, into the new venture, likening the link to Bulgari hotels and the brand’s jewelry.
“For customers, the first brand extension may not seem to make sense,” she said. “People may wonder what art has to do with Absolut. But once they get our history and see the artists we work with, they’ll get it.”