The Duo Behind The Tappan Collective
By Kedric Francis
This summer a creative clique of LA’s coolest kids converged on The Tappan Collective’s inaugural exhibition/pop-up art show, held in Downtown’s skid row–adjacent historic core. Sasha Spielberg, Max Winkler, B.J. Novak, and Harley Viera Newton were among the chic crowd gathered to see well-curated works by Gia Coppola, Clara Balzary, and other emerging artists who are part of The Tappan Collective, an online enterprise that’s the brainchild of Chelsea Neman and Jordan Klein.
Offering fine artwork and limited-edition prints from emerging artists with an edge (think enigmatic photography, figure studies, and fine-art prints) at a price point accessible to beginning collectors ($80–$1,000), The Tappan Collective bills itself as “the cure for bare walls.”
“We saw a need not being met,” says Neman, an artist herself, of the impetus for their entrepreneurial leap online. “Artists needed a platform and young collectors needed an ‘in,’ an entry point to collect work.”
“People are getting more and more comfortable buying luxury online,” adds Klein, an art history major who worked at art galleries in New York after college, where she realized “how much art is bought via the viewing of JPEGs.”
Sonny Ruscha Bjornson bought a piece by The Tappan Collective artist Evan Robarts. “I usually like to see something in person before I purchase it, but in this case, I was very happy,” says the connected collector, who is the daughter of iconic LA artist Ed Ruscha. “Buying art online was quite effortless. I’ll definitely be doing it again.”
The stylish 20-somethings who developed the online art gallery first met at the University of Michigan, where the LA-born-and-raised women (Klein’s from Santa Monica and Neman, Beverly Hills) went to school.
“Coming from LA, we wanted that all-American college experience, and we definitely found it,” says Klein. While they appreciated the school’s sports and social scene (they were in the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta), they found a niche in Ann Arbor’s art and music world.
“We bonded over our mutual love of Cy Twombly and Egon Schiele,” says Neman. “That’s how we knew.” The two became fast friends despite some divergence in their art influences. “My heart skips a beat for the Abstract Expressionists,” Neman says, while Klein prefers Pop Art.
After graduating, Neman went back to SoCal to focus on her art (“If it weren’t so cold, I would have probably stayed in Ann Arbor longer,” she says. “But I had to get back to LA.”), while Klein went to NYC to work in the business of art. But the brainstorming that began in college dorm rooms continued on separate coasts.
“We tried to figure out how we could bring our different strengths and worlds together while working creatively,” Klein says. Putting emerging artists online was their answer, and The Tappan Collective is the result.
“Everyone’s excited about getting early exposure and support from an online platform,” says Klein. “We’re not competing with the gallery system, but the way that people emerge today is different.”
The photo-friendly friends are often seen out and about, and their exploits and the artists they represent are well documented through Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. But their art world isn’t all in the ether, either. The success of the first pop-up shows (their Downtown inaugural one was followed by a smaller version at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, with more planned for NYC and for Art Basel Miami Beach) inspired them to accept an offer they couldn’t refuse for a permanent space in Culver City.
“We think about the limitations of being only online,” Klein says. “We want to have smaller-scale works and works on paper online, where you can trust the digital image and know what you’re getting. But larger-scale canvases, sculpture, and site-specific pieces are the sort of art you want to see in person.”
Photographer Clara Balzary’s work is offered online and was also part of the first gallery show at the collective’s new Culver City space. “For better or worse, most communication and dissemination of imagery exists online nowadays,” Balzary says. “I’m excited about showing my work with Tappan because of the way they use this huge, weird Internet to give a platform to young artists.”
Balzary, who is the daughter of musician Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, appreciates that “Jordan and Chelsea give their artists freedom to show new work, and don’t try to force things into a commercial trajectory.” Plus, planned monthly art openings allow for face-to-face social networking (otherwise known as partying), which can inspire purchases, not to mention the very real validation of having an aesthetically pleasing audience admiring the art on the walls—and each other.
“It’s an amazing part of growing up in LA to be surrounded by so many parents and mentors who have become successful in creative fields,” says Klein, referring diplomatically to the many famously surnamed offspring who are part of The Tappan Collective’s well-connected crowd. “It’s inspiring and encouraging, and gives us the confidence that we can be successful, too.” 6039 Washington Blvd., Culver City
photography by brad swonetz; hair and makeup by amber kerns for solo artists
Cover shoot: September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.