Connected by Perspective with Tze Chun of Uprise Art
By Rachel Schwartzmann · Publication: Supermaker · 2019
The adage that art imitates life has slowly evolved into art influences life. In a time of hyper-connection, "influence" is thrown around with abandon, and creativity can come to life with the click of a mouse. This seismic technological shift has turned the art world on its head, especially since, in the past, influence has taken on a less approachable meaning in an industry traditionally known for exclusivity and pretense. In a more modern context, I think about my own relationship with art as it envelopes the rooms of my apartment and inspires on the studio walls of the many (super)makers I've visited over the years. I think about the conversations I've had with these creators and how much they've had to overcome to have their stories told and their artistic vision fully realized. Finally, I think about a particular individual who has taken stock of the world around her and has transformed these observations into an actionable, digital destination where influence is inclusive, where art can be consumed—and eventually collected—with ease. Such a place exists thanks to the ingenuity of Tze Chun—Founder and CEO of Uprise Art.
︎Founded in 2011, Uprise Art is a gallery catering to a new, digitally inclined generation of art collectors. The company aims to combat the confines of the more conventional gallery environment by creating an ongoing dialogue and experience for modern art consumers to build collections and engage with artists (and their stories) in real-time. With their commitment to curatorial excellence, personalized service, and discovery, Uprise Art proclaims that "art collecting has never been easier."
After getting to know and work with Tze over the last couple of years, it doesn't surprise me that she's managed to democratize the art buying experience so seamlessly. Growing up in a quiet suburb south of Boston, Tze attributes her lifelong love of art to her parents, who encouraged both Tze and her brother to pursue their creative interests. To honor this, Tze began building her artistic practice at an early age culminating in studies of studio art, Chinese brush painting, and various forms of dance. The latter led to an enriching career as a choreographer in her first professional life.
These days, Tze continues to hone in on her creativity through an entrepreneurial lens. When she's not visiting an artist's studio or setting up for a showcase, you'll find Tze buzzing around Uprise Art's airy loft in Soho, New York. It's a work of art in itself: light pours in, casting shadows on the white, exposed brick walls, which are accented with eye-catching paintings. An assemblage of communal tables hosts Uprise Art's small but mighty team at work — the few times I've visited the space, I've seen how Tze sits among them, speaking quietly but acting boldly as a leader with unparalleled precision and thoughtfulness. When we hop on a call to chat for this piece, I picture this scene in my mind and hear the hum of her colleagues in the background. These details set the perfect sensorial stage to have a conversation about what role connection has played throughout every phase of her business.
Connection, and poker, that is.
"Around the time that I was starting Uprise Art, a friend of mine from college (who is a very experienced poker player) would always say there weren't enough women playing poker," Tze begins when I ask her about meaningful early connections. "And so she started a group of our friends that met to learn how to play poker from her basically. In that group, there were a number of female founders—a few of them I still keep up with weekly and consider some of my closest friends. But when I was starting Uprise Art, it was incredible to draw from each of their professional experiences and also their support."
While she admits to not mastering her poker face in those years, Tze did learn to put on her game face and continued to build relationships within the group, which would ultimately lead to an important moment of growth. "One of the women was working at a new type of brand consultancy. She brought me in to basically pitch my company in front of five women angel investors," Tze shares. "This was the first time that I pitched the company, and so that was an opportunity for me to really hone in on the company's story. Long story short is that having a connection with a support system of women that I admired professionally, and that I personally considered friends, was a big factor in my ability to take risks and to tackle challenges early on."
Armed with a unique perspective from this experience, Tze would go on to face one of the most critical challenges of all: connecting and creating relationships with artists who aligned with Uprise Art's big picture mission. The site officially launched in June 2011 with a core group of eleven artists—one of whom Tze connected with on a professional and visceral level. "Millee Tibbs is a photographer who had been recommended by another artist, and they had said that her take on narrative was particularly interesting," Tze explains. "She was an artist that was very much a representation of what I wanted for Uprise Art. Millee is a perfect example of an artist creating conceptually driven work that a large audience would find interesting and fascinating but is not going to be something pinned on Pinterest. It's not art that is easily consumed online. Her work, like the other works in the gallery, hopefully, causes people to pause and resonates with them long after they close their browsers."
I can almost hear her smiling as she speaks and listening to Tze share how far she's come, early memories of our first meeting at a Create & Cultivate conference begin to consume me. Like Tze, I was a panelist attending a welcome dinner with my fellow speakers. Unlike Tze, I was newly 23 and in way over my head. But I remember her calming disposition and genuine interest in what I was trying to do. Later on, when I caught glimpses of Tze speaking on her panel and relating to her fellow speakers with that same sincerity I had experienced the evening prior, I wondered: If she could command that level of curiosity in a 45-minute discussion, what could she accomplish with the world at her fingertips? A highly-acclaimed, industry-disrupting company, that's what.
After we finish our conversation, a new question surfaces in my mind: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what can be said of art? Art imitates life, and in this day in age, it also influences it. But more than anything, art creates room for connection to give way to a new perspective. Tze's story is living proof as she has created a space for these perspectives to be collected—and celebrated. And if you ask me, that's priceless.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.