Some thoughts from Farmboy Fine Arts President & CEO Todd Towers.
As our ever-frothy art world continues to bubble along with ratcheting price tags, multiple auction houses, and art fairs popping up all around the world, it seems crazy to think we need a new online conduit to sell fine art. Many opinions abound. Everything from the protectionist old-guard warning against soulless transacting over the ‘interweeb’, to the many online retailers thinking they can sell bath mats and coffee cups along side fine art.
All due respect to the wonderful duopoly of Christies and Sotheby’s for getting paddle-raising bums in seats, and for their focus on the high-end art market which is an ever evolving and critical part of the business. But in my opinion, we need to evolve in order to accommodate our growing global art market. A growing segment of art sales are going digital; auction sites and online art retailers transacting at any time, on any day, at any place around the world. It’s now easier to follow artist and artwork online and easier to spend your money, by simply clicking “bid” or “buy now” from anywhere.
And there’s certainly no better place for this disruptive shift than in the art business. It’s time. And for the record, I like it.
For someone like me, a consultant and collector, I don’t feel threatened that there will now be others out there selling work or that I could potentially lose a chance to help someone find a fantastic piece for their collection. It’s quite the contrary; I embrace it!
One of the biggest mars on the art market is its lack of liquidity; that when you really need to sell something, you may not be able to. Online art auctions and e-commerce players, though, help to address this. They allow you to auction or offer your work, with exposure to a much larger buying audience and usually at a lower commission than current bricks and mortar providers. And let’s be honest, the more eyes on the work, the better chance I have to sell it.
Another consideration is this; the entire world art market per piece transaction size is relatively small. Most people look at art as something that only the wealthy can afford; in awe of the amazing blue chip auction records. But the reality of our art world is that of the estimated 17,000+ commercial art galleries worldwide1, nearly all of the work being sold is transacted at under $10,000 USD.
Now look at a sampling of their online counterparts, such as Artspace, Paddle8, Saffronart, Artsy, VIP Art Fair, artnet and Sattchi; they also have wonderful artists, great gallery connections and strong, diverse work. And most of it is being sold under the $10,000 threshold.
People can begin to build their collections without feeling intimated; are they spending enough? Are they buying something they shouldn’t? The anonymity of “online” broadens access to fine art, allowing people to truly collect what they love first, and what they want to invest in second.
There are counter arguments of course; tracking secondary online sales results is (currently) difficult for those wanting to build analytical data around artists and works, its difficult to gain a true sense of what a work “actually” looks like in person, and with less reputable e-commerce players, authenticity concerns are a factor… But in time, many of these issues will be mitigated and the leading providers will rise to the top.
At the end of the day, the more opportunities we have to connect people with truly fantastic artwork, the better. If we at Farmboy Fine Arts can help you build a collection, fantastic; but if you don’t know of us and are looking to acquire that special piece on your own, the online auction channel is a good one to look to.
1 Thompson, Don. The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009