By Jessica Paindiris, CEO + Co-Founder, The Clarion List
Last year, I set out to use technology to solve an age-old problem in the art market: lack of transparency and access. I launched The Clarion List by taking a proven tech-backed business model—an online, searchable, sortable directory with ratings and reviews—and applied it to an industry that previously relied on word of mouth between the connected few or else various partial, disconnected, typically alphabetical, often outdated lists when it came to sourcing art companies. After all, technology enables unprecedented, efficient information sharing between people, companies and media outlets globally, so why wasn’t the art world taking advantage of this, especially given that art companies can so greatly affect the value of art or the cost of a transaction?
Perhaps a big reason is because art market players (dealers, auction houses, framers, conservators, etc.) have been thriving for hundreds of years without technology, and sometimes it’s difficult to change a well-oiled machine. I shared the view of many that the art world was simply slow to embrace technology and its many benefits, and I thought that I was one of the few trying to affect change. But, since The Clarion List’s beta launch in spring 2015 I have realized that there are, in fact, hundreds of industrious companies helping to bring technology to the industry—either carving out unique and new niches or advancing established business models—in order to add transparency, accessibility and efficiency to the market. What technologies are present in the art world today and how does it affect the market?
The fake Rothko that the Knoedler Gallery was accused of selling.
For one, technology is being applied to the industry to help with authenticity and theft issues. Forgeries, like the fake Rothko in the infamous Knoedler Gallery case, and stolen art, such as the five paintings by Francis Bacon stolen from a private residence in Madrid earlier this year, often make headline news. The art trade has countless fakes circulating, the black market for art is strong and it is often difficult for collectors or art companies to ascertain legitimate authenticity or provenance. Expert authenticators and artist estate authentication boards who deliver options are increasingly hard to find for threat of lawsuits; The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts disbanded its authentication board in 2011 after spending more than $6 million fighting a lawsuit. What is the industry to do?
© SGS Art Services www.sgs.com/art
Enter a wide variety of companies utilizing technology to enable transparency. Forensic Art Analysis firms are thriving internationally, equipped with many tech tools to provide insight into authenticity such as advanced pigment analysis, ultra high-resolution digital imaging in visible, X-Ray, UV and infrared, advanced carbon dating and more. Other companies and nonprofits are embracing the internet with searchable, sortable online stolen art databases, enabling victims of theft to share information and allowing would-be owners to ensure proper provenance. Meanwhile, other companies are embracing technology as a preventative measure against fraud and theft; blockchain databases maintain an art-focused online database with records that are secure from tampering, thereby enabling tracking of ownership of the artwork’s lifetime. Another company uses a technology chip on the art to monitor and alert its location in real time to thwart a theft. The goal of all these efforts? A more transparent art market where collectors, dealers and other professionals can have more certainty that a work of art is authentic and acquired by legitimate means.
Le pigeon aux petit pois, Picasso, 1911, one of five paintings stolen from Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2010
Technology is also being applied to the art market via a variety of online platforms that enable online transactions catering to a growing, global collecting class. Despite Hiscox’s report that sales are up 24% versus last year, skeptics insist that art isn’t meant to be bought online, that it needs to be experienced first hand. But this “old guard” attitude ignores reality, ignores the fact that online shopping for art is the newest way to engage in art transactions and is here to stay. After all, it is already considered mainstream for consumers to spending significant money online for luxury beauty products, imported furniture and designer clothes, all of which could be argued should be experienced first hand as well. As consumers, especially younger consumers who are already comfortable shopping online, are starting to demand access to a wider variety of art online, there is no dearth of companies willing to supply the inventory.
Online dealers (The Clarion List includes 80+ such platforms) are connecting collectors to artists directly via e-commerce platforms. While Artsy and Artspace are well established and well-recognized names, there are actually many online listings platforms that aggregate multiple galleries’ inventories in a centralized database for exploring and auction listing platforms exist to aggregate the hundreds of online auctions occurring internationally at any one time for easier exploration. Finally, online art price databases are thriving, with many taking advantage of the latest search technologies to enable better user experiences. The result? More collectors at all price points are able to access the art and the transaction data they need to purchase art anytime, anywhere and more artists are also able to make money in the art market via online dealers eager to sell their work.
Search results for E-Commerce Platforms category on The Clarion List
Lastly, technology is behind a wide variety of tools to support professionals in the industry. Dozens of collection and gallery management software tools are now available to seamlessly digitize an inventory and take the grunt work out of offline spreadsheet management. Some software tools even provide website software that interfaces with this inventory to provide an online shop. Other companies provide artist portfolio and website software to cater specifically to creators of art. Another company provides software specifically geared towards the unique needs of managing a catalog raisonné. Conservators around the globe inevitably have to restore work by hand, but some of the paperwork is made less tedious and simplified via new condition report software. Online listing platforms mentioned above enable a gallery or dealer’s inventory to be marketed around the world, maximizing the chance to capture the interest of a prospective buyer.
Image of the Artlogic 3 interface, built for galleries, artists and collectors. Courtesy of Artlogic Media Ltd.
Art photography and videography businesses utilize high-tech equipment on behalf of the gallery or private dealer, enabling better documentation of exhibitions and better showcasing of art for online and printed marketing materials to help maximize sale price. Companies specialize in the unique IT support needs for art businesses to enable security and privacy throughout high-value online trading. One company created a high-tech vitrine to help protect art and antiques against damage caused by light. The Clarion List helps art businesses to be discovered by a global, growing audience of art collectors in need of their services, even if the business has limited time, expertise and budget to devote to SEO, PPC, social media or web development. The result from all these companies providing services to art professionals? A more efficient market where industry companies can have more time to focus on and improve their core business.
Installation view of "FÉTICHE" at VENUS (formerly Venus Over Manhattan), 2016; Photo by art photographer Andy Romer
The art market is unique because art itself is unique. So much of the art trade involves subjective analysis and insight that requires much selling, buying and servicing to be transacted in person. But I feel strongly that even businesses operating in these high-touch corners of the art world can benefit from many of these aforementioned online tools and high-tech businesses. If their art company can be marketed better, or if they are operating in a more transparent market, or if they spend less time away from focusing on their core business, the result will be a stronger market, benefiting all aspects of the industry. I think the art world will continue to become more technologically advanced over the next 10 to 20 years as awareness grows about these various new companies and more companies enter the fray, resulting in a more accessible, efficient and transparent art market.
For more information on The Clarion List, the leading online resource for discovering top rated art service companies worldwide, visit www.clarionlist.com .