David Sasson, of Wichita, Kansas, is the co-founder and president of overstockArt, a website that sells reproductions of great art on canvas. This year he is closely associated with Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, a reality show that airs on Bravo every Wednesday at 9/8.
You came to the United States for the first time at the age of 16. So to some extent you can see America through the eyes of an outsider. Do you think that this helps you in business and marketing?
I came to America twice in a way. In the '60s I came to Newton, Massachusetts, right by Boston. I was there for a year and a half or so, and then went into the military. I came back here when I was 24, and I’ve been in the United States ever since.
I’ve never thought about it. You’re continuously searching for the psyche of the customer, and being a foreigner maybe gives you an edge.
I think there is one advantage you have as somebody not born in America. When you grow up in Israel, America is the land of possibility. Hollywood brings it to you. Maybe you have greater appreciation for that when you’re born somewhere else, as opposed to being born here. You see that the possibilities seem endless here, whereas when you come from a very small country like Israel, the market is so small, and the market is so limited. Just the opportunities here seem so much greater. And that’s a big advantage of someone who comes from a different country.
That sums up the experience of so many people who have come to this country.
When you returned to America after serving in the Israeli military, you settled in Wichita. Did you have family there?
No, the main reason is that I didn’t know what Wichita, Kansas was. I had some experience of being on the East Coast. Wichita State is a recognized school in Israel because of the importance of aviation. The cost of living of was lower here.
When and where did you acquire your knowledge of art?
Art appealed to me originally mainly because of what I saw in the product that I could deliver to the customer. Not just from the art perspective. I wouldn’t say that the first pieces that we got are as good as what we have today—I wouldn’t touch them today—but I didn’t recognize that at the time. I can now recognize the great names like Van Gogh and Monet.
Originally we bought some works and were just blown away. That was the beginning. It was great to see something made by hand that looked so beautiful. We thought it was a terrific opportunity.
Now let’s talk about Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. Whose idea was it?
The show is produced by Magical Elves. They took it to Bravo, and they contacted us earlier this year. They wanted to be able to sell some reproductions of the works. We worked with them to develop it, and hoped that they would choose us as the vendor.
We like it a lot, and it takes us into the world of contemporary art to a much greater degree. Maybe this will enable us to have access to artists that we wouldn’t otherwise have had access to. We’re excited.
Why don’t you tell our readers who may not have seen the show about the premise?
The premise of the show is that 14 artists who are competing to be the winner of an exhibition of a major gallery. You get to be seen by such a huge group of people. If you’re the winner, or one of the three or four or five, it’s a tremendous opportunity for the artists.
And the thing is, art is subjective. The judges are saying what’s good and what isn’t, but a lot of people might say, well, “The judges thought this was the best piece, but I think this was the best piece.” Artists might develop a following from this show.
And the winner gets $100,000.
That’s a pretty nice prize!
There are some very clever ideas for the individual shows. Who organizes them?
The Magical Elves. They’re the ones who do it. They are actually three principals—Bravo, the Magical Elves, and Pretty Matches. Pretty Matches is Sarah Jessica Parker’s company, and she’s involved in the show. She appears on the show. She is one of the judges on some episodes.
What’s the current status of the competition?
I believe that there are going to be eight artists left. One artist is off the show after every episode. The final winner will be announced around Christmas time.
David, thank you for talking to us. We’ll be looking forward to finding out who wins!