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Bradford Shellhammer; Tech Visionary & Avid Art Collector

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Bradford Shellhammer; Tech Visionary & Avid Art Collector
Portraits of Bradford Shellhammer, Images courtesy of Untitled Magazine, Photography by Aaron Williams for The Untitled Magazine.

Serial entrepreneur Bradford Shellhammer is exuberant, larger-than-life Vice President of Buyer Experience and the General Manager of eBay based in New York City. As a leading product visionary in the company, he has a wealth of experience in creative direction and brand consulting. Bradford has been named as one of Fast Company’s ‘100 Most Creative People in Business’ and was coined the ‘King of Quirk’ by Forbes Magazine and the ‘Eames of E-Commerce’ by USA Today. Before joining eBay, he was the founder of Fab.com and Bezar, along with serving as the Chief Design Officer at Backcountry.com. Shellhammer's passion for art, design and colour shines through via his personal collection at home, where every single piece has its' own unique story. 

The Artling had the opportunity to interview Bradford to unearth more about his journey of art collecting and the tech industry, as well as the impact that art and design has had on his career. If there's anyone who can exemplify merging ones' passions with work, it's Bradford Shellhammer.

Image courtesy of Bradford Shellhammer

Tell us a bit about how your collecting journey began - What was the first artwork you purchased? Did you grow up in a creative environment?

I did not grow up in a creative environment, just the opposite. I am from Baltimore and was never exposed to art formally. It was in my teens that I became obsessed with NYC. I was coming out and the icons of art and culture there, Warhol, Madonna, Haring, Debbie Harry, Basquiat, Cyndi Lauper really inspired me.

For the life of me, I don’t recall the first piece of art I bought. It was likely something I made. Does that count? I collaged images of singers and bands and fashion and made wallpaper from it in my room growing up. That’s the first art I ever bought, reimagining posters. Thinking about it now, it makes perfect sense I prefer prints and posters, and taste for very graphic works.

Image courtesy of Bradford Shellhammer

How would you define your collecting style and how has it evolved with time?

I connect art along my personal life journey, as a relic, mementos along the way. I collect books, toys, and fashion, too, similarly. These things tell a story. As a result, my collection is a mix of those who inspire me and also the works of people I’ve met along the way, or who I have worked with: it’s mostly pop, posters, flyers, drawings, graphic arts, and photography.

I consume a lot. I keep needing a bigger place to store my collection.

Image courtesy of Bradford Shellhammer

Tell us more about your journey through the tech industry (Fab.com, Bezar, and now eBay); how has art and design played a role in terms of driving these brands?

I stumbled into Tech! I got lucky. I had a very popular blog in the early 2000s and as a result a following. A friend called me up, he had gone to Stanford and was starting his 3rd tech company. He asked me to co-found it. That was Fab.com.

Fab was, as I can see it now, ahead of its time. It was beautiful. We brought design and art to so many peoples’ lives and it was inviting, inclusive, oftentimes affordable. We struck a nerve and I think we helped many e-commerce companies be more modern, be more fun, then and now. And Fab would have been a great thriving company I think if it had been able to grow over time, rather than be forced to grow outrageously fast.

I helped start and change many employees’ and designer’s careers. That’s the best thing that happened from Fab and later Bezar. 

At eBay, I feel I have come home. My hunts for treasure started online on eBay and Bezar and Fab were both VERY inspired by eBay, so it’s interesting I am now working here. I feel so connected to eBay. It’s personal, it’s not just a job. 

Image courtesy of Bradford Shellhammer

As the Head of VP of Buyer Experience at eBay, how do you juggle scaling inventory with ‘curation’?

The great thing about eBay is that it’s about each person’s tastes, not curation. Ebay is built for myriad of interests, obsessions, geographies, price points. Our curation is not someone choosing things for others. We scale curation by building shopping experiences which reacts to, personalizes based on, and respects our customers’ unique interests. We build tech that empowers everyone to curate their own eBay. That’s the best part of my job.

Besides eBay (of course), where else do you hunt for your pieces?

Online, mostly eBay obviously. I love IKEA, another great democratic place for design. I love vintage stores, antique shops. I go up to Hudson NY and look for art and design pieces. I also use Instagram a lot to shop. I find incredible young designers and artists via IG.

Image courtesy of Bradford Shellhammer

What personal criteria do art and design pieces need to meet before you decide to purchase them?

They have to speak to me. Usually, that happens through color. But I romanticize AIDS era NYC, and 60s, 70s, 80s new york, hence why I have 19 Warhols and a handful of Harings. And I have to be able to afford it!

We’ve seen the art market rush online in the last few months due to the global lockdowns – what have been your go-to’s during this time? What would you like to see more of online?

See above, I am an eBay fanatic!!! I pretty much buy everything on eBay. The range and the finds are unmatched. There are lots of art start-ups, they come and go. I wish someone would build a proper print and poster experience though and focus on more affordable art. That’s what I miss about the Fab days, when we discovered new talent and people could afford it!

Image courtesy of Bradford Shellhammer

What do you envisage for the future of your collection? What would you title an exhibition featuring your own private collection?

I have a few pieces I desperately want. Warhol’s Mick Jagger, likely my next big splurge or a Ladies & Gentleman painting. My friend Luis Urribarri is making me a giant triptych now, so it’s good to have friends who are artists too.

The title of the exhibition, that’s easy. I’d call it “LOUD!” My collection is in your face, colorful, graphic, pop and it also has many posters and art made for or in response to the AIDS protests. So there’s the visual loudness and the protest loudness in one.

Image courtesy of Bradford Shellhammer

What would your advice to a young or first-time collector be?

Only buy what you love.
Save for it if you must.
And make more designer and artist friends!

If you had a limitless budget, tell us which 3 pieces you’d love to own and have at home.

Warhol’s Grace Jones
Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl
A red Homage to Square painting by Josef Albers

Study for the Homage to the Square: Distant Glow, Josef Albers


To learn more about Bradford, click here.

Discover more on Bradford's Instagram: @youngbradford
 



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