The art market has changed dramatically. Here’s how to buy art today

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Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

For a long time, the art market has been “a secret world of whispers,” according to art consultant Kim Heirston, who began her career working in galleries in downtown New York three decades ago. Then, as the archivist of the late gallery owner Robert Miller, she saved and shared only documents essential to the gallery’s sales, on request.

But today, creating a collection of works of art is easier than ever, thanks to the Internet, where many players in the art market now operate. Buying works of art isn’t just for art experts or wealthy collectors who can afford to hire them. Now “you are able to get all the information,” Heirston said in a telephone interview.

Many works of art can be purchased or auctioned online, bypassing older models, such as negotiating directly with galleries or attending auctions.

Platform works by Aneta Bartos (left) and Lucía Vidales (right). Credit: Jonathan Hökklo @ hawkclaw / platform

In 2019, Hiscox’s annual art trade report captured the trend, estimating online art sales to hit $ 4.8 billion that year, up from $ 1.5 billion. in 2013. This figure is expected to reach 9.32 billion dollars by 2024.

The coronavirus pandemic has also brought about significant changes – with big auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s experimenting with hybrid live and digital sales, and galleries and art fairs adapting to virtual showrooms. There has also been the meteoric rise of the digital art market mainly thanks to NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

But that said, those who are able and interested in purchasing works of art for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more), hire an art advisor to guide your collection and advise you on the market. art is probably always wise.

“I got to see the vicissitudes,” Heirston said. “I know who’s in favor and who isn’t. I try to project who can be favored or coveted down the line.”

But for first-time buyers or newcomers on a smaller budget – say, hundreds or thousands – they’ll find there are plenty of new ways to start.

How to buy art online

Online art markets offer a number of tools to help you understand the market, from robust search features and detailed price data to informative articles to help put artists and works of art in. their context.

Artsy, founded in 2009, remains the largest marketplace, with an inventory of over one million works of art from over 4,000 galleries, art fairs and institutions [disclaimer: this writer was a former employee at Artsy], but sites like Artsper and Saatchi Art also offer plenty of options. Users of these platforms will not necessarily be able to buy with one click. all works listed – some will require you to bid online or contact the gallery. Artsy and Artnet are also partnering with auction houses and other organizations to offer exclusive online auctions.

A view of the platform market.

A view of the platform market. Credit: Platform

So where could someone start? As a general rule, prints, works on paper, photography and digital art often offer more reasonable prices than painting or sculpture. Additionally, following the market for artists early in their careers can mean finding a great work of art before their work gets too expensive.

With seemingly endless lists, however, the question becomes how to sort them all.

This is where Platform has stepped up, the market supported by David Zwirner selects just 100 contemporary works each month from independent galleries across the United States. Managing Director Bettina Huang said their model was similar to Net-a-Porter, which has luxury fashion and beauty deals editions, “and then makes it very, very easy to buy.”

Works on the platform by Marcel Dzama (top) and Danielle Orchard (bottom).

Works on the platform by Marcel Dzama (top) and Danielle Orchard (bottom). Credit: Jonathan Hökklo @ hawkclaw / platform

After mega gallery David Zwirner teamed up with smaller galleries to launch a series of showrooms as the pandemic closed galleries and halted sales, Zwirner’s son Lucas turned the project into his own art e-commerce company with Huang and a separate team. The platform offers many works for less than $ 10,000, and all of them can be purchased directly through the site (even in installments through Klarna). It’s first-come, first-served – unlike many galleries, which can require intensive relationship building – although there is a loyalty program that allows repeat buyers to gain early access 24 hours a day each. month.

“By limiting it to a number of works of art that are really vetted by the galleries that we’ve specifically invited, it’s a very different approach so that as a consumer or collector you can be really sure that everything you buy has gone through several layers of verification, ”said Lucas Zwirner during the video call with Huang. “Our aspiration with Platform is to present a very diverse and accurate snapshot of the best of what is out there. “

How to rent to become an owner

Buying expensive artwork isn’t a quick decision for most people, which is why Parlor, a company launched in 2020, operates on a trial-before-buy model, signing galleries to offer monthly installments that go out of the total cost of a work.

Show users only need to commit slightly, taking out a 3-12 month lease, with the option to renew, buy, or exchange for a new part at the end. If an artist’s market value increases during the rental period, the cost of the artwork will not increase – but if someone else wants to purchase the artwork during the rental period rental, the galleries reserve the right to sell it. Parlor takes care of installation and insurance, and also offers advice on how to build a collection.

A view of the Parlor website.

A view of the Parlor website. Credit: Parlor

“Buying art is difficult … most people don’t really know what they want because they haven’t really made a living with art,” said Julian Siegelmann, co-founder and CEO of Parlor, during a video call.

“Most (people) don’t put several thousand dollars into galleries or fairs. So for us it’s really about … lowering the financial barriers, taking care of the logistical headache, then to also offer consulting services. “

While some of the works listed on Parlor can fetch over $ 50,000, Siegelmann says their primary focus is on offering artwork under $ 20,000. (Jobs under $ 10,000 typically cost $ 85 per month for a 12-month lease). And the company’s inventory isn’t just limited to what’s on their site – they recently launched a request feature where you can send them works that interest you while browsing galleries or fairs. art, and they will contact you on behalf of.

A Parlor collector's house with

A collector’s house with “Flow (Buckley)” by Henrik Eiben from Pablo’s Birthday. Credit: Mark Rosen / Salon

Parlor marketing director Kaitlin Macholz, who came from Christie’s for the company, said living with a piece first is the best way to ensure you want to keep it for the long term.

“Sometimes you have a very different reaction when you see a piece of art in person rather than seeing it online,” she said. “Things like scale or texture that may not always be visible online … Hanging it over your sofa or over your bed can totally change the way you look at this. work of art and space. “

How to collect digital art

One of the biggest changes in the industry has happened in the digital realm, with the emergence of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. NFTs act like virtual signatures that use blockchain technology, giving digital creators the ability to prove that their work is the original file. (NFTs can be created from any digital file – virtual mode, event tickets, memes – which means technology has had a much bigger impact than the visual arts, too.)

Merel van Helsdingen, founder and managing director of the new media-focused Nxt Museum in Amsterdam – and herself a digital art collector – says the NFTs have demolished the barriers for who can sell her work as an artist. The world of physical art is “very highly organized and controlled by the big auction houses, the biggest galleries and institutions,” she said in a video interview.

NFTs, on the other hand, are sold largely outside the confines of traditional art spaces, on newer or proprietary e-commerce platforms that do not distinguish whether an artist is a blue chip or represented by an esteemed gallery.

Foundation

“It’s open to anyone, if you have an email address and a cryptocurrency wallet, but you don’t even need (a wallet) everywhere,” she said. (She recommends a Rainbow wallet to protect your collections as well as your coins.)

That’s not to say the big auction houses haven’t signed on – the $ 69 million Beeple sale last March at Christie’s cemented the commercialization of NFTs in the art world.

One of the biggest advantages of artists using NFTs is that they automatically make a percentage of each new sale of their works, unlike traditional auctions where artists’ works can sell for millions and they don’t see a dime. . Collectors know that every resale benefits the creator.

But the market is also subject to “a lot of hype,” van Helsdingen said, with competitive and fast-paced auctions for limited editions, inherent unpredictability and, sadly, hacks and scams. (It’s also unfriendly to the environment due to the energy needs of mining and trading, although many crypto projects and NFT platforms have aimed to reduce their ecological footprint, notes van Helsdingen.)

As for showing your NFT collection, you can do that on any digital screen, but the virtual world will soon offer more options, she said, like displaying your works in video games or via extended reality (XR) applications.

Top image: Parlor collector’s lounge with “Mantle” by Zach Bruder of Magenta Plains.


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