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

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 New York’s downtown galleries three decades ago. Then, as archivist for the late gallerist Robert Miller, she saved and shared only documents essential to the gallery’s sales, upon request.

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

Many works of art can be purchased or bid online, bypassing older models, such as negotiating directly with galleries or participating in 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 that online art sales reached $4.8 billion that year, up from $1.5 billion. in 2013. This figure is expected to rise to $9.32 billion by 2024.

The coronavirus pandemic has also brought about significant changes – with major 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, driven primarily by NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

But that said, those who are capable and interested in purchasing artwork for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more), hire an art consultant to guide your collection and advise you on the market art probably still makes sense.

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

But for first-time buyers or newcomers with a smaller budget — say, hundreds or thousands — they’ll find there are plenty of new ways to get started.

How to buy art online

Online art marketplaces offer a number of tools to help you understand the market, from robust search features and detailed pricing data to informative articles to help you put artists and works of art. art in 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 click to buy all works listed — for some you will need to make offers online or contact the gallery. Artsy and Artnet also partner 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 to start ? Generally, prints, works on paper, photography and digital art often offer more reasonable prices than painting or sculpture. Plus, following the market for early-career artists can mean finding a great piece of art before their works get too expensive.

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

This is where Platform stepped up, the David Zwirner-backed marketplace selects just 100 contemporary works each month from independent galleries across the United States. Managing Director Bettina Huang says their model is similar to Net-a-Porter, which offers editions of luxury fashion and beauty deals, “and then makes shopping really, really easy for you.”

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

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

After mega gallery David Zwirner partnered with smaller galleries to launch a series of showrooms as the pandemic shuttered galleries and halted their 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 under $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 allowing regular buyers to get early access around the clock 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 multiple layers of checks,” Lucas Zwirner said in the video call with Huang. “Our aspiration with Platform is to present a very diverse and accurate snapshot of the best that’s out there.”

How to rent with option to buy

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

Parlor users only have to make a small commitment, signing a 3-12 month lease, with the option to renew, purchase, or trade for a new piece upon completion. If an artist’s market value increases during the rental period, the cost of the artwork will not increase – although if someone else wishes to purchase the artwork during the rental period , 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 hard…most people don’t really know what they want, because they haven’t really lived with art,” said the co-founder and CEO of Parlor, Julian Siegelmann, in a video call.

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

Although some of the works listed on Parlor can fetch upwards of $50,000, Siegelmann says they are primarily focused on offering artwork under $20,000. (Works 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 artwork that interests you while browsing galleries or art fairs, and they will contact you on your behalf.

A Collector's House Parlor with

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

Parlor marketing manager Kaitlin Macholz, who left Christie’s to join 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 really different reaction to seeing an artwork in person than seeing it online,” she said. “Things like scale or texture that aren’t always visible online…Hanging it above your sofa or above your bed can totally change the way you look at this artwork and space.”

How to Collect Digital Art

One of the biggest shifts in the industry has occurred in the digital realm, with the emergence of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. NFTs act as 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 fashion, event tickets, memes—meaning technology has impacted far more than the visual arts, too.)

Merel van Helsdingen, founder and managing director of the new media-focused Nxt Museum in Amsterdam – and a digital art collector herself – says NFTs have broken down barriers for who can sell their work as an artist. The physical art world is “all very 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 of traditional art spaces, on newer or proprietary e-commerce platforms that do not distinguish whether an artist is “blue chip” or gallery-represented. estimated.


“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 hold your collections as well as your coins.)

That doesn’t mean the major auction houses haven’t gotten involved – last March’s eye-watering $69 million Beeple sale at Christie’s cemented the commercialization of NFTs in the art world.

One of the biggest benefits of artists using NFTs is that they automatically make a percentage of every 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, unfortunately, hacks and scams. (It’s also environmentally unfriendly due to the energy requirements of mining and trading, though many crypto projects and NFT platforms have sought to reduce their ecological footprint, van Helsdingen notes.)

As for displaying your NFT collection, you can do so on any digital screen, but the virtual world will soon offer more options, such as displaying your works in video games or via reality apps. extended (XR).

Top Image: A Parlor Collectible Living Room featuring “Mantle” by Zach Bruder of Magenta Plains.

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