Virtual art galleries have taken the internet by storm in recent years. While major international art fairs such as the globally renowned Art Basel and Frieze art fairs, and emerging art fairs such as the Asia Contemporary Art Show which is held twice a year, bring together artists and galleries from around the globe for easy viewing and access for interested clients looking to buy, the general consensus seems to be that it is no longer enough.
According to industry experts, online channels are offering avenues for emerging artists and new buyers to interact with established artists, sellers and buyers. As trust and technology grow, so does the level of interest in this new way of buying art.
ArtWizard was present on Viennacontemporary. One of the most interesting discussions was related to the future of the online art market and the opinion of the galleries, platforms, and collectors.
Stuart and John Evans, father and son, collect contemporary art and help others with their collections. Their enthusiasm is based on a passion for living with art. Stuart, from 1981 to 2008 a partner at international law firm Simmons & Simmons, is responsible for building the firm’s Contemporary Art Collection which includes early works by Tracey Emin, Angus Fairhurst, Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Michael Landy, Sarah Lucas, Chris Ofili, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mark Wallinger, and Gillian Wearing. For the last ten years, John and Stuart have worked together building a collection of works by artists from Latin America. John took the lead in establishing a venture called “BALON” to introduce Latin American artists to new audiences. Their opinion was part of the discussion on Vienna contemporary.
According to the latest figure from the Art Bazel market report, as well as the Hissox online art trade report, the online art market remains enigmatic. Growth is slowing and the long-anticipated consolidation of an over-crowded market remains elusive, even though a sizeable 81% of platforms expect more. Lack of transparency, especially concerning pricing, seems to be the main stumbling block holding the online art market. Buying art however continues to be hugely enjoyable and exciting and the continued influence of social media, especially Instagram, helps fuel the growth of the market. The future of the online art market is guaranteed, although the shape remains not yet very clear.
In 2018, the share of online art buyers paying an average price in excess of US$5,000 per fine art object increased to 25%, up from 21% in 2017. Online art market broadens buyers’ interest in cross-collecting. Almost three quarters (74%) of online art buyers bought more than one art object online in the last 12 months, and are expanding the range and type of artworks and collectibles that they buy.
Third-party marketplaces gain popularity, as three-quarters of galleries used third-party marketplaces to sell art online in 2018 (up from 59% in 2017 and 41% in 2016). One in five buyers are now using these marketplaces as an outlet for at least half of their online sales (up from 3% in 2017). Galleries report that their online buyers are mostly new clients – 73% said so this year.
Online gallery sales attract an increasingly international collector base. A significant proportion (70%) of galleries this year said they sold their artworks online to international clients (those based outside the country), up from 54% in 2017 and 52% in 2016.
Confidence is inevitably the biggest obstacle for online art sales. А lot of buyers cite the inability to inspect the physical work as the biggest setback to online sales. This should come as no surprise. Part of the charm in the traditional way people buy art is the chance to see and experience the piece up close and in person. In order for online platforms to succeed, buyers must be willing to sacrifice this notion.
"Trust is vital in earning the support of clients, and it is especially critical when it involves precious objects," Christie's expert says.
The industry expert credits the auction house's well-established reputation as a leading auction house and the fact that integrity and authenticity are built into the brand as reasons for the growing number of sales, as well as growing lots for sale per year. Digital sales for Christie's began at two auctions in 2011 and have grown to more than 75 during next years, ths meaning that even the long established galleries are embracing a future in online sales..
"Digital sales are now fully integrated into our DNA as a company," Christie's online experts say. "We use the same processes for our online sales that we do for our auction and private sales. For online sales, customers just use a mouse instead of a paddle."
Another method to give buyers confidence is through digital assimilation to provide a platform where buyers are not missing out on the traditional art buying experience. In this case, as in ArtWizard Platform, high-resolution images are provided, allowing clients to zoom in and inspect the artworks in detail. A "view in room" feature is also available, where the buyer can see the image scaled in a familiar home setting against illustrated silhouettes indicating the height of people compared to the piece of art.
Technology can also provide opportunities for clients to grasp a better view of the piece. "Sometimes, if the client is using a mobile app where video chat is possible, this allows them the opportunity to see the art, providing almost the same experience as viewing in a gallery and examining an artwork," the ArtWizard Platform expert says.
Christie's offers a similar experience. Clients can view lots online, and accompanying each lot will be several photographs to reveal details of the artwork, as well as a detailed description, a condition report, provenance, payment and shipping details, an estimated cost calendar which includes the buyer's premium, shipping and insurance. Other personal touches are also included to heighten client satisfaction and confidence. "Clients are also able to call upon our experience in financial and credit issues, packing and shipping issues," Christie's expert say, noting that the auction house's specialists can answer questions from clients to ease any uncertainties.
As the industry and online selling platform matures, industry experts are excited for the future.