Creating a sustainable business in the ever-tricky art world is no easy task. So many companies rise and fall as quickly as the artists and their works can do across the globe. Therefore, creating a business that revolutionizes the way that people buy and consume fine art seems like an almost impossible challenge.
Tamsin Nugent, the founder of Red T and Red T Multiples, however, has done just that in Hong Kong. She’s created a platform that could go on to transform the way anyone, from the casual art buyer to the specialist collector, chooses and buys easily accessible artworks.
Red T is, at heart, an art consultancy. But a collaboration between Nugent and Hong Kong marketing and tech company Concinnity has created an art-buying platform, Red T Multiples, that could be replicated across the world in the coming years.
In short, customers can go on to the platform, find a piece of art from a named artist that suits what they’re looking for and then they can crop and transform it into their perfect piece. This is a unique way of buying art but it has come after years of hard work in the China and Hong Kong art markets for Nugent, who started Red T in Beijing in 2004 because ‘I wanted to promote cool stuff to cool people’.
Nugent, who is now 40 years old, was born in Hong Kong to British parents in 1980. She grew up in the city but moved to the UK aged 10 and stayed there until she’d finished her university years studying Modern Chinese Studies at Durham University. She says: “I always wanted to go back to the East, so after getting a job in a bar at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, I left for China.
It was 2004.” Nugent went straight to Beijing. “My love of alternative music took me to the underground scene in Beijing,” she says. “I wanted to expose this scene to the West. I went to ‘An Ear to the Ground’ alternative rock nights which were sponsored by Volkswagen. These nights were run by a company called Logistix and I ended up working for them, helping to pitch events to car manufacturers. I was 24 years old and I was there, in Beijing, keen and eager to start a business there.”
Red T began life when Nugent’s bosses, she claims, asked her to organise the first Swedish jazz festival in China. She says she told them she’d do it under her own business name in partnership with Logistix. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “They said ‘yes’. And so Red T began, as did Swedish jazz festivals in Beijing.” Nugent says Red T’s origins are simple: ‘T’ is the initial of her first name and ‘Red’ refers to China. “Red T started out trying to promote alternative music in China but that was so difficult because everything was bootlegged at that time,” says Nugent, who adds that later it became a promotion company, promoting local bands and organising gigs for them. “We tried to bring Western bands in too,” she says, “and organise gigs in the West for Chinese bands but that was a non-starter. Nevertheless, the alternative scene in Beijing at that time was amazing. It was like what I imagine the punk rock scene was like in the 1970s in London, only with Chinese faces. And at every gig, I spoke to a lot of people and got to know who I could.”
After a while, Nugent realised she was moving and shaking with some of the hottest contemporary artists and musicians in Beijing at these gigs. “This was when I realised that art was the way to go with Red T,” she says. “Most of the galleries in Beijing were expensive or just not accessible at the time. But I knew many of the up-and-coming artists. I connected the dots and realised my interest was in creating a more accessible art market. There wasn’t really one in Beijing. And I was in the right place to start it. It was time to create a platform for emerging artists in China’s capital city.”
Nugent took on an employee and found ‘the last vacant lot’ in the city’s now-famous 798 Art District. In March 2005, the first – and only – Red T gallery opened, carrying works by emerging artists in and around the city. It was like nothing else in the district and became a hit, not only giving Nugent a successful business model to build upon but also helping countless young artists to find a market.
Later in 2005, Nugent formed a new collaboration with a colleague who moved from the UK to Beijing and joined Red T, forming a music arm. Over the coming years, the music arm promoted countless Chinese and international bands and even held one of the first live-streamed unplugged concerts in China.
All the while, the art arm strengthened as Nugent came up with the idea of Affordable Art Beijing, a fair where the public could pick up affordable artworks.
Nugent’s event premiered in 2006 and featured more than 100 artists and 800 works of art. Hundreds of people attended and, despite it being cash only, Nugent says about 70 percent of all the artworks on show were sold. She says it was a phenomenal success, adding that she had help from ‘Time Out Beijing’ to promote the fair, which should not be confused with other international affordable art fairs at the time. She says that Red T took 10 percent commission on all sales. This was a fresh, new and workable business model.
In 2007, the amount of artists attending Affordable Art Beijing doubled and there were far more works on show than the inaugural event, plus Nugent says that Red T’s gallery was ‘booming’ and the music arm was doing well, particularly in booking gigs ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But by 2008, all was not so peachy. “I was in the gallery one day,” says Nugent, “and this asshole comes in with a smirk on his face and gives me a piece of paper. It’s an eviction notice.
They are clearing a way for a car park for ‘perceived Olympic traffic’ and my gallery is to be demolished. I was so upset. So we cleared the space and asked some artists to come in to graffiti the whole gallery. Tons of people came over a whole day, along with major newspapers, and the space looked amazing by the end. I kept the bathroom mirror which had been completely painted over with acrylic. It was amazing. But also sad and, afterwards, Red T had to adapt.”
Nugent’s next calling took her to Hong Kong. By chance, following the Beijing Olympics, she got to know British gallerist Ben Brown on one of his trips to China and the two hit it off, with her casually ‘fixing’ for Brown in Chinese during his trip. The pair struck up a rapport together. He then mentioned he was looking to open a Ben Brown Fine Arts gallery in Hong Kong and before long, he’d offered her the role of gallery director. In 2009, she moved to Hong Kong, the gallery opened in the Pedder Building, she folded Red T for a period and she then spent two years running the new Hong Kong gallery to much acclaim.
“I really enjoyed my two years at Ben Brown,” says Nugent, “but in 2011, I fell in love with an Australian pilot who is now my husband. So I moved to Melbourne and became the director of Art Melbourne for a short while, managing to get singer Goyte to the fair on one occasion, although he didn’t sing at the event. A friend and I also got an office above a restaurant and ran a business that acted as a consultancy and an ‘art recruiter’, matching people to arts jobs, until, after having my first child in 2014, we decided to move back to Hong Kong. I’d missed the art business itself and I’d missed Red T. This was time to rebuild Red T and get the company to the next level.”
” I wanted Red T’s ‘why’ to be about innovation for the benefit of artists and art buyers “
In Hong Kong, in 2015, Nugent had a revelation. “I wanted Red T’s ‘why’ to be about innovation for the benefit of artists and art buyers. Most people who collect art as a business or passion don’t need any help. They know what they’re doing. But they aren’t actually the majority of all art buyers. Most people who buy art want help and advice. They usually have an idea of what they want and its size and colour but they don’t know how to go about finding what’s in their head. No-one was helping them to discover artists and find a piece they like and then replicate that work or part of it to create just what they were looking for. And so Red T Multiples was born: an arm of my business that helps anyone find the piece of art they really want for their wall.”
In 2016, the basic Red T Multiples website was built but ‘the message was lost’, so between 2016 and 2019, Nugent organised the entire rest of the business, signing up with a plethora of artists and works who would all be in her database so that customers can choose the exact artist, work and even section of work to replicate for their wall.
But she did not get the key to it all, the website, looking and operating perfectly. She is now working on that with the help of Hong Kong marketing and technology firm Concinnity. “I needed a fully dynamic, agile system alongside some excellent marketing with the right message,” says Nugent. “Concinnity is doing this with me, helping me realise my vision, where I am in control of the platform. The key is to attract a constant flow of customers who can easily navigate themselves around and order that perfect piece of art at an affordable price.”
Red T Multiples opened with 26 digitised original artworks in 2016. Now, there are 55 with, as Nugent says, ‘infinite possibilities’. Over the years, she has pulled in big hospitality clients alongside individual buyers. “On this platform,” she says, “you don’t get all the back and forth and grey areas that you would offline. You choose your artwork, you can crop it any way you like, input your own dimensions and just order it. If your design changes, you can change your art to fit.
Many people will ask what the artists think about them ‘chopping up an original’ but the artists we have like a bit of disruption and would rather offer their work through us than do commission work directly. Of course, they know there is a ‘manipulation capability’ on my website. In reality, you are getting a super-exclusive fine art bespoke one-off when you create out of an original by a named artist. It’s a new way of engaging with art.”
” I created a business model which is a new way to consume art while the integrity of the fine arts is fully retained “
“Most people are not fine art collectors,” continues Nugent. “I’ve listened to them and most people just know what they want and go out looking for it. They get what they want on Red T Multiples. And the artists do too as they love the idea that others are creating pieces out of their works. I only work with reputable artists.” Nugent says that each artist gets a royalty on every print sold. “I created a business model which is a new way to consume art while the integrity of the fine arts is fully retained,” she says. “I am still tweaking the platform with Concinnity, with the aim of Multiples becoming a white label product that can be replicated in markets across the world. I see this as a proper industry innovation and I would love this platform to be the standard that people can just plug into and get a lot out of. It could go into retail or events spaces. I have some great ideas of how to apply the platform that I shall share at another time but, for now, I’m working with Concinnity to achieve my dreams…”
“Red T has been years in the making,” concludes Nugent, “and after many ups and downs, the future for the company is really bright. Art should be accessible to all and if my company becomes an effective cog in this process then it will be ‘mission accomplished’ for Red T. That makes me proud.”
To find out more about Red T Multiples, visit https://www.redtmultiples.com.