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Aug 15, 2016

Online Art Dealers — A Practical Overview of The Fast-Growing Hunting Ground for Collectors

We download music and electronic books every day. Order groceries, housewares, clothes, and office supplies from online sales outlets without a second thought. But is it possible to find the next addition to your art collection on a website? Yes. The online art market is growing and it is enabling collectors to discover emerging artists from around the world. Some online art sales sites work in conjunction with brick & mortar galleries, while others act as virtual shops in the growing international art marketplace. 

Is the Online Market for Real? 

Bruce Grimes Founder of Subculture Collective, goes straight to the stats to support his perception of both the growth of sales and the increased comfort level associated with buying art via the Internet.

“The art market is facing a major change right now. The traditional belief that art is just for the select few is a thing of the past. If you look at reports published by TEFAF, Hiscox or Deloitte you can see a clear trend indicating that art buyers are increasingly comfortable with buying art online. The online art market alone generated 3.27 Billion in 2015 (up 24% from 2014). So we can see a clear change of mindset from both buyers and artists that shift from traditional ways of selling. Art galleries are being replaced by online platforms. The notion that one must experience the art in real life before buying has also decreased by as much as 71% according to the Hiscox 2016 Online Art Trade Report.”

Why Buy & Sell Art Online?

Online selling platforms that connect artists directly to collectors offer distinct advantages to both parties. The principal benefit for art collectors is access to a wide—and growing—number of artists from every corner of the globe. Emerging artists without conventional representation, artists outside the circuit of established art fairs, and artists unlikely to get a show at your favorite local gallery can all be discovered on the Internet. Many of these sites are focused on the primary market (artist-to-collector, as opposed to works resold from collections), so they are in tune with new collectors and people interested in cutting-edge art.

For artists, the upside of online sales is concrete—the opportunity to reach more collectors with lower commissions paid to dealers. Some of the online sites are cooperatives run by groups of artists, others are helmed by art consultants or gallerists, but the commission structure—like most commerce moving from the brick & mortar world to the virtual marketplace—has changed the math of art sales.

Gigi Campos is both an artist and the Content Manager of ARTograma. She explains it this way:

“Artists get to keep a higher percentage of the value of their piece, and their work gets exposed in different markets which can help build demand and exposure. Speaking from a personal point of view, the seller benefits are that we do not hold any inventory (artists ship their work) which limits our chances of damaging pieces and helps us avoid lawsuits. We also get to see how our platform, ARTograma builds a community and brings people together while helping artists establish their name in the industry. The artist will still pay commission but it’s generally much less than the commission of a dealer. Dealers have to earn a salary, pay rent, utilities and hire employees which is primarily generated by selling work.”

Return Policies

Works of art are NOT like a pair of shoes that you can slip into a box and send back because the color isn’t the perfect gray for your new suit. The liberal return policies typical of the overall online marketplace do not necessarily apply to the online art market

Jose Frances, Founder of +598, has yet to encounter an unsatisfied art collector, desiring a refund/return, but he is prepared.

“I do take returns or replace the piece if it arrives damaged. This has happened only once. For the most part, all sales are final. That being said, I want the client to be happy so if I needed, I could look into refunding.”

Avoiding the need for returns with clear communications between the buyer and seller is the best approach. Critical information includes the exact size of the artwork, the color and anything else that might prevent it from fitting into the collector’s home or collection. Quality control—both of the artworks and the online images that represent the works to potential buyers—is key.

“We want them to know anything and everything possible about the work and the artist before they make their choice and agree to the selling terms. We haven’t dealt with too many returns, but we do not accept returns based on personal opinions.” Gigi Campos, ARTograma

Internet Art Fraud

In general, the Internet is awash in hucksters and schemers ready to grab our credit card numbers and personal information. Art fraud is another kind of menace, one that infiltrated major collections with forgeries and stolen artworks decades before the Internet existed. Online art sales are simply another venue for a small number of nefarious dealers. Online or in person, it’s important to verify that you are buying exactly what you think you are buying—whether it is a limited edition print or an original oil painting.

“The art industry is often targeted by fraudsters, and we have had to employ the same techniques we use offline, online. Education is key for all galleries selling online and understanding issues of PCI Compliance and The Consumer Contracts Regulations (formerly the Distance Selling Act) but we are able to learn from other industries’ best practice. We review security regularly and advise those seeking to sell art online to ensure they understand what is and isn’t insured by their policies as in general, the retailer has very little protection if fraud occurs.” Elinor Olisa, Director and Co-Founder of DegreeArt

Authenticity and provenance are issues in both online and conventional art sales. The way images are exchanged on social media adds another level of opportunities for questions related to copyright ownership, the numbers of multiples in editions, and more. Trustworthy online sales platforms seek to protect both the artists and collectors with transparency in communications. But the buyer must ask questions about provenance and authenticity. Ask the online gallery the same questions you would ask at a conventional gallery and request provenance as part of your purchase. Reputable websites will help you obtain certificates of authenticity from living artists and other critical information.

The Art World is Big—And Getting Bigger

One of the most exciting aspects of the online art market is the way it is transforming the sale of art across borders. Kim Tay, Gallery Manager of The Artling in Singapore specializes in Asian and Southeast Asian contemporary art.

“Our main goal is to highlight these talents (both emerging and established) in our region and to make them accessible internationally. The Artling provides unrivaled access to these artists where we now feature over 600 artists and over 130 galleries in a region that was previously only accessible by physical visits to these spaces or studios. That in itself has changed the discovery journey for our customers and in turn, the reach of the artists featured on our platform.”

Is This the Future of Art Sales?

At the very least, it’s part of that future. The online art market is shrinking the distance between far-flung art scenes and your collection at home.

“I think that online is the present and future of art. One can buy a plethora of art pieces from the comfort of their home. Now that being said, I believe that there is nothing like the real life experience of seeing the actual piece. As technology improves I foresee online sales growing more but never fully replacing the role of a physical gallery. We still need that human component, our ability to emotionally connect with the art piece. “ Jose Frances, +598

The same caveats and cautions that are part of conventional art buying apply to Internet-based sales. Find out as much as you can about the artist and how the artwork you plan to purchase fits into their entire body of work; when/where this artist has been featured; and if he or she has a cohesive artistic vision. This will provide a reality check on the pricing and help gauge the work’s potential for increased value over time. Get and keep paperwork authenticating and supporting the work’s provenance. And most of all enjoy the latest addition to your collection!

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