The art market is a complex wheel with many spokes: artists, galleries, dealers, collectors, museums, curators, critics, conservators, and the most recent additions web venues for viewing and purchasing works of art.
One of the first entries into the world of art e-commerce was the venture founded in 1998 known as artnet.com which now has offices in New York, Berlin, Paris, China, Russia and the UK. With 99 employees, the site claims to have revenues of 12.2 million Euros where funds change hands over a trading platform with the purchases of fine art, decorative arts, and design. Their primary operating vehicles are auctions – with 550 conducted since their opening day. In addition to an on-line data base of values, artnet.com has an exhibition calendar, library of art works, and a magazine with data from 2,200 galleries worldwide. Its founder, Pierre Sernet, and CEO, Hans Neuendorf, took the company public in 1999 on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. For active art collectors, the hammer prices reported on this site set the current fair market value for works of art. These sales prices are the keys to understanding value as sometimes gallery prices are as much as 300% above this index.
Following on the heels of this contribution to the art market is the googleartproject.com which was launched on February 1, 2011 with on- line viewing of works of art from seventeen leading art museums and galleries from around the globe. The idea was to provide intense viewing through the use of gigapixels that are about 1,000 times more magnified than the normal on-line image. Some of the institutions provide a walk around option so that the viewer can scroll from wall to wall as if he were in the space himself. A recent entry from the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City is an example where the institution uploaded 209 images from its permanent collection. No fees are charged by Google for this opportunity. A six minute TED talk by its founder, Amit Sood, explains that he pitched the idea to his Google team and then it took him 18 months to prepare the web program. His idea was that ACCESS was the key for his customer who wants to see works of art that are only available in situ. Scholarship links are available next to the image itself and the actual brushstrokes of the artist’s hand can be seen in the minute detail only known to conservators. A wonderful option is to create your own collection of masterpieces on the website which you can then share with your friends via social media connections.
Googleartproject.com has recently expanded its base to cover 30,000 images from 151 participating museums. Copyright challenges have however been filed from a number of artists estates who retain copyright to the images for 70 years after the artist’s death under the current copyright law. Ted Feder, president of the Artists Rights Society, says that Google, not the museums, is responsible for securing permission to use all images on its website. Such a plan is in place at this time for full legal compliance.
The newest entry to this e-commerce art market is Art.sy, an intriguing start-up launched by a computer engineer from Princeton University, Class of 2009, Carter Cleveland. He developed something he calls the “art genome” which is a program of 550 attributes of fine art which range from factual data on the medium and color palette of the work to subject matter, international art movements, and the lives of the artists. What Art.sy does is group this data in such a way that a search engine can match your favorite work of art to other works currently in galleries and museums worldwide. They can match your price range as well. By teasing out the traits in a work of art that a potential buyer enjoys, this search engine can potentially replace the art consultant or gallery specialist. Working with a $60 billion dollar world art market, Art.sy has attracted heavy duty investors such as Eric Schmidt of Google, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Larry Gagosian and Marc Glimcher – art gallery owners, Wendi Murdoch – wife of Rupert, and Dasha Shukova, Russia’s art “Czarina.” The business model is that the site will collect commissions on actual sales. The owners and investors are gambling on the connections that they can make that would not otherwise be available to potential buyers. The site won the “rookie award” for its engaging idea, and now is working with $1.25 million dollars of venture money to develop the web business.
Knowing that a virtual art experience can never replace the actual opportunity to view a work of art, there is however no doubt that these on-line ventures will add to our greater understanding of the many facets of the art market today. Buyers can be better informed to make balanced judgments and wise investments while building collections of art that inform and please us all.