On Arrested Development—soon to relaunch for a fifth season on Netflix—a running gag is Lindsay Bluth’s outlandish business schemes, among them “Dip-a-Pet,” a bespoke pet-coloring service, and “Mommy, What Will I Look Like?“, a photo-aging service that lets parents see their child as a 50 year old. Now the actor who plays Bluth, Portia de Rossi, is launching her own startup, and it’s no joke: General Public aims to transform the art market as we know it.
In essence, General Public produces three-dimensional reproductions of works of art, a mix between original painting and print using a special process invented by the actress working with Fujifilm. For de Rossi, allowing artists to distribute high-quality replicas of their work directly to an audience is all about democratizing art and putting value in the hands of the creators. The company’s motto is “Support artists, not art.” (Though the company only offers artists 5% of the profits from each painting sold.)
“As an artist myself, I have watched every other art form use technology to cut out the middleman, democratize art, and empower the artist,” she told artnet News in an email. “For example, the printing press and the internet have revolutionized writing; the phonograph and the MP3 have revolutionized music. And yet painters’ careers are still controlled by gallerists. I want painters to have the ability to sell editions of their paintings to maximize their profitability. I also want the folks who really appreciate these artists to be able to own and enjoy their works as the artist intended them to be enjoyed and not just the wealthy few.”
De Rossi trademarked 3-D printing technology is called the Synograph—named by the actress for its “synergy of art and technology.” It not only captures the color and graphics of a painting, but also the physical texture of each mark and brushstroke. The aim is to make high-priced, one-of-a-kind works available to those who don’t have the means or know-how to purchase them from galleries (hence the name General Public).
The company offers a mix of prints by emerging and established artists, selected by de Rossi and a small group of art advisers as well as printed reproductions of works in the public domain and anonymous 19th-century portrait and still-life paintings from antique stores and flea markets. Some reproductions are presented in limited editions; others are open-ended, available for on-demand orders. Prices range from around $500 to $3,000, but come in at $1,000 on average.
Creating a close facsimile of a painting makes the work available to more people, even as it threatens devalues the uniqueness of the original. However, de Rossi notes so far the responses from artists have been positive.
“We see the Synograph as an upgrade on traditional, flat, poster-like printing; it isn’t competing with an original. However, I do hope that the Synograph changes the way we look at art. A novel isn’t any less brilliant because there are thousands of copies in circulation. My goal is that the Synograph shakes up the antiquated idea that scarcity is how we should value art. It should be valuable because it’s good, not because it’s rare.”
De Rossi has long been interested in contemporary art. She studied it in school and “pored over art magazines as a kid.” Her personal collection, developed with her partner of 10 years, Ellen DeGeneres, includes original paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol. She says her “all-time favorite artists” are Cy Twombly, Jenny Saville, Christopher Wool, Joan Mitchell, Wade Guyton, Elizabeth Peyton, Lucian Freud, Anne Truitt, Alexander Calder, and Martin Barre.
The launch party for General Public took place at Galerie Half in LA last Thursday. The event featured a star-studded list of attendees, including DeGeneres, Diane Keaton, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, and Jennifer Garner. (de Rossi also made an appearance on Ellen Wednesday morning, where she promoted the company and revealed plans to quit acting to pursue the venture full-time.)