Tumblr’s Head of Fashion & Art Partnerships Valentine Uhovski sits down for a chat with Dream The End’s founder Melissa Jones.
Tell us how you got your start at Tumblr.
I got started at Tumblr primarily working in fashion industry, I guess in editorial in both art and fashion. I never thought I was going to work in a tech company before, but I guess before that, I never thought I was going to work in fashion either, so it was all a series of happy accidents. When I worked on editorial for about seven years, doing various projects for IMG, launching Interview Magazine internationally and helping realize to that project, contributing to Wall Street Journal. One of my things at the time was working with Milk Studios and helping with editorial for that site, and this was one of the first times that Tumblr came around. I saw incredible creators going to Fashion Week for the first time, and we were excited to see that. We got Tim Barber to shoot some of their portraits; we interviewed some of the creators as well. This was one of the first times I got to interact with the Tumblr team, and then a short while later, they asked me to come consult with them, and now almost five years later, I’ve gone on this incredible journey with them doing 12 seasons of Fashion Week and god knows how many rounds of fairs around the world, but it’s been a dream opportunity to combine both of my passions and to work with young artists and young talent.
So when you cover Fashion Week and fairs, what does that mean for Tumblr?
I had a funny title for a while the “Fashion & Art Evangelist” at Tumblr but now I’m just known as the Head of Fashion & Art. It is like being a senator for both of those communities, so it’s really helping a lot of our partners whether its big fashion houses or younger designers, from big museums to smaller galleries in Bushwick, to really find their voice on the platform, whether it is creatively or editorially. On flipside of that, one of my biggest missions is to help grow our community; for Fashion Weeks, it means bringing artists to Fashion Week, giving them all access to as much as we possibly can and introducing them to houses, magazines, models, and editors that they could collaborate with. The same for artists when we do events at Art Basel or events with artists like Marina Abramović and Dustin Yellin; it’s very important for our community to be there and to really experience that, to meet them first hand and create this incredible cross collaborative environment. It’s also about supporting our hundreds of our partners editorially and creatively and giving them incredible footing on Tumblr and making sure rest of community globally gets to see what they do.
How do you explain to someone who has never experienced Tumblr what it is?
Tumblr right now is the biggest public blogging platform in the world with a community behind it. I think that is the biggest difference because you can actually follow blogs, find your passions, and find your creativity. Unlike other platforms, you don’t see follower counts for any of the blogs, meaning we don’t put the popular kids in the corner or the most well known artists, celebrities, or even politicians. Everyone is on the same footing, and I think what that creates is when people use Tumblr, they are the true versions of themselves. When you follow someone, you relate to them creatively, visually, or aesthetically; you tune out everything else; you turn on your favorite music and sit on Tumblr for 2 or 3 hours a night and just really get inspired by images, blogs, gifs. It is like this incredible oracle for inspiration, visuals, creativity.
“I remember 1 Direction blew up on Tumblr in one week.”
Tumblr champions fashion and art, but are there specific parts of Tumblr that are more popular than others? Like how’s porn doing?
(laughing) There are so many incredible sub communities on Tumblr. We have this internal billboard chart called Fandometrics that gets updated on a very regular basis just to see who top the celebs, tv shows, and musicians are. Those names, sometimes when you actually look at them, you’re like “who are these people?” because the Tumblr community is actually sometimes a year or even 2 or 3 years ahead of everyone else. I remember 1 Direction blew up on Tumblr in one week. They did a takeover, and the whole community discovered them, and a few weeks later, they were booking a word tour because they were that popular. For shows, like Game of Thrones, they have their own incredible fandoms. Well I love getting into really crazy tags like Korean street style for example. It’s huge in Korea; I’ve never even been there, but seeing all these incredible blogs, hundreds of them just on one singular, incredible topic translated in english, it’s amazing, and some of them get very specific. Obviously there are memes born from huge ones like the dress (the black & blue vs gold and white dress) to very niche ones that kind of surprise us everyday about very particular animals or Nicholas Cage faces. We are always in wonder with our community and what they create.
What is it that you love about your job? What is the future of Tumblr?
I see it becoming bigger and more global. We are very privileged because I don’t only get to work for a tech company, but I get to work for a tech company in New York. I feel like the environment here is very, very different, much more open and more collaborative. I personally keep an open door policy to all of the creators that I work with, and I’ve work with hundreds of them really in the last 5 years. It’s amazing really, you meet them as high school students, as early college students. When I was growing up here in the city, I didn’t have an opportunity just after college to do what I wanted to do completely or to be a creative full time for a living, and right now where the industry is trending and going, Tumblr really helps support that.
“…it actually gives them an opportunity to have a full time job, say to create gifs for a living”
So you’re saying Tumblr is a platform that helps catapult, nurture creatives…
It creates a community and a support community for them, and in a lot of cases it actually gives them an opportunity to have a full time job, say to create gifs for a living or be a fashion photographer. I was looking at my own feed, I follow 3000 blogs, how many of our Fashion Week alumni are in Paris right now, you know shooting Balmain…
How many are there?
Dozens, it’s amazing. When they went through our Fashion Week program, most of them had never been to a fashion show in their lives, and now for them to evolve to do this full time and to work with incredible brands, it makes me very proud to actually have created life changing opportunities for a lot of young artists. There are Tumblrs, for example like Nick Knight is amazing because internationally he gives a lot of younger Tumblr creators a chance to take over his page completely. Marina Abramović does the same thing. At the end of the day, it’s a huge community, and the more you put into it creatively the more you get out of it.
So let’s talk about your guest edition with Dream The End. Tell us a little bit about your choices and why you’ve put this together in the way you have.
Well I look at a lot of art every day, not just on Tumblr; I make it a point to try to see every big show in the city from a gallery and museum perspective. About 6 years ago my wife started a website called ArtRuby, and since then, we’ve been co-running it together which has been a wonderful distraction outside of work. It forces us to discover a lot, see a lot of art, go to a lot of studios, and go to a lot of fairs together as well, which is great. So for this edition, I just wanted to think of the stuff that makes me happy. Obviously there’s a lot of visual reproduction thats going on with art these days, not just for Tumblr, but Instagram and Snapchat and pretty much every other social channel, so there’s a whole other breed of artists that are creating art that is not just resonating with the art community but with a global community as well in a weird pub-digital way. I wanted to classify them as these colorful, vivid dreamers that do really incredible work that really resonates with audience beyond their studios and their cites, whether based in Tokyo, Brooklyn, or Berlin, so I wanted to pick art that makes me happy and that really evokes color, light, and the incredible everything in between.
“I wanted to classify them as these colorful, vivid dreamers that do really incredible work…”
A lot of the artists you picked are working young artists. Your edition is very very fresh, very you, very Tumblr. Are there any favorites or particulars you’d like to talk about?
I’m really inspired by the younger ones. I love what Curtis Santiago is doing with his boxes sculpturally and painterly. They’re so intricate, so thoughtful, and so in tune with what is going on in the world right now in the news, and I love that. On the other hand, someone like Chloe Wise is an incredible realist painter and sculptor. People don’t realize the work she puts into all her pieces. She creates these unbelievable food sculptures, but she creates everything by hand, everything is so painstaking and amazing. Our friend introduced to us to Liz West’s work a couple months ago, and I was just astounded when I saw it. I just kept looking at every single image I could find. She is a British artist out of Manchester that creates these stunning light installations. They just create a world on its own. I just can’t wait until I can see one in real life. Daniel Arsham has a show that just opened recently in New York at Gallery Perrotin. For him the challenge was always working as a color blind artist, and he had this incredible breakthrough with these Yves Klein blue tones in his current show, and it was just so inspiring just to see a pop of color at his new show. His incredible new works were really inspiring, special, and really cool. There are a lot of artists that are different age ranges. Do Ho Suh is based in South Korea, but he is represented by Lehmann Maupin here in New York. Every time I see his installation work anywhere around the world it is so inspiring. I think they are all different in their own ways creatively.
“…in general digitally that’s what people want to see – stuff that makes them happy.”
What brings them all together is a very positive point of view. The whole collection is just very happy and excited.
ArtRuby is actually one of the most followed art blogs on Tumblr, and it was even before I started working there. I think in general digitally that’s what people want to see – stuff that makes them happy. Kind of like now probably one of the most viral artworks is Ugo Rondinone’s sculptures out of Nevada. His show just opened up at Gladstone Gallery. They’re basically just rainbow rocks that people really gravitate towards, and it makes them happy. This reproduction of digital art production makes people united when they see it, they touch it, and they feel like they already understand it when they see the artwork in real life.