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Art Market

5 Galleries Explain the Opportunities That Come with Selling Online

Ayanna Dozier
Jul 15, 2022 9:46PM
Maysaloun Faraj
HOME2 08, 2020
Flowers
Maysaloun Faraj
HOME2 11, 2020
Flowers

The 20th century introduced unprecedented avenues in democratizing art through new forms of technology and public outreach. Inventions like the television helped Andy Warhol popularize art with a general audience, whereas movements like Dada pioneered the idea that anyone could make art from readymade materials in their home.

Despite these populist developments, the traditional art market has severely lagged behind in the realms of accessibility and transparency despite technological and social change. For many novice collectors, the image of the exclusive antiquated art market—price list, pushback, and waitlists—makes buying in person seem inaccessible.

Installation view of Edward Burtynsky presentation by Flowers Gallery at Photo London, 2022. Photo by Antonio Parente. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London and Hong Kong.

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The internet, however, provides a much more welcoming space, democratizing the market through transparent sales and unbiased interactions between buyers and sellers. And while many galleries have long used the internet to sell, mostly through their own websites and to existing clientele, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated galleries’ use of a variety of online channels to engage with and sell to both new and established collectors.

Artsy spoke with Oly Durey, director of Jack Bell Gallery, based in London; Harry Dougall, director at Public Gallery, based in London; Natasha Woolliams, exhibition manager at Flowers, based in London and Hong Kong; Alexandre Roesler, director at Nara Roesler, based in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and New York; and Ana Paula de Haro, partner and director of OMR, based in Mexico City, about the online art market, its ability to make art accessible for collectors, and its overall benefits for clients and gallerists alike.

Which online channels are galleries using?

Richard Prince
Untitled (str8boycore), 2014
IKON Ltd. Contemporary Art

It’s not eBay anymore! Although eBay pioneered the hidden-gem narrative of finding a valuable collectible online, galleries are now opting to market, sell, and converse on well-established online channels related to the art world. For all of the aforementioned galleries, Artsy was listed as a key marketplace, but other platforms like Instagram and online viewing rooms emerged as equally vital sources for networking with potential collectors.

Durey from Jack Bell Gallery wrote, “We find that increasingly our collectors are engaging via multiple platforms and events; we use a combination of Artsy, Instagram, direct contact, and art fairs to raise awareness of our programs.” Similarly, OMR’s de Haro specifically noted that the gallery uses “Instagram to direct followers to our website, email, or WhatsApp.” In fact, social media appears to be a critical resource for novice collectors, as they use it to discover new artists as well as make contact with gallerists. Dougall noted that Public Gallery sees its “website and social media presence as key tools for reaching and engaging new clients.”

Installation view of Aida Tomescu presentation by Flowers Gallery at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2022. Photo by Asia Art Hopper. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London and Hong Kong.

Although largely regulated to in-person venues, art fairs have also increasingly expanded their outreach by providing online viewing rooms over the years, either by partnering with platforms like Artsy or by hosting them on their own websites. This trend accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic and remains a key channel that all the galleries noted as essential to selling their work. Both de Haro and Woolliams from Flowers emphasized how viewing rooms open new international opportunities for gallerists to reach collectors they would physically be unable to meet with otherwise.

The internet has made communication easier than ever

Santiago Mora
Imac, 2020
Yamil Hazouri
Loys Abraham
Back to the future, 2021
Le XVI Art Gallery

Online buying need not be an anonymous endeavor. All the gallerists we spoke with highlighted how they use online channels to make meaningful relationships with collectors about works of art. While starting a conversation cold at an art fair or exhibition opening in-person can be intimidating for a novice collector, online platforms make it easier for them to approach galleries. This desire to connect dispels the perceived antisocial nature that shrouds online buying versus in-person acquisition.

By stripping away the social pressures of in-person interactions, online channels emphasize the basics of simple conversations about art between collectors and gallerists, which is something all the gallerists noted increased during the outbreak of COVID-19.

“The pandemic seemed to give people more time, not only to discover artists and works online, but also to communicate,” Dougall wrote. This translated into not just more in-depth conversations with collectors that previously were expedited due to busy in-person activities, but also led the gallery to “expand its thinking around the ways we could use our online tools to provide a deeper insight into our physical exhibitions and the artists we work with.”

COVID-19 also led other gallerists to embrace and increase communication channels, like video chat, that were previously underutilized. Woolliams framed it as the following: “Because of the unsettling nature of the pandemic, particularly at the start, we found many clients were more keen than ever to communicate with us generally. There was a real sense of not wanting to feel isolated despite enforced isolation and an uptick in the amount of traffic on all of our online channels.”

Installation view of Ana Montiel, “INITIATION: Transfiguration,” at OMR, Mexico City, 2022. © Ana Montiel. Photo by Ramiro Chaves. Courtesy of the artist and OMR, Mexico City.

And while gallerists like de Haro like to meet clients in person, especially as the pandemic has waned, she takes care to make sure her digital interactions are as personal as possible. “Whenever I receive an online enquiry, I always try to make it a more personal approach; if our first point of contact is through email, Instagram, or Artsy, I try to jump onto a phone call with the client…or Zoom even better yet, to engage personally and put a face to the name.”

For Woolliams, meeting new collectors online has increased and broadened how Flowers communicates with its clients. “Generally we have found those who are exclusively online are not at all distant despite the relationship not being face to face,” she wrote. “They appreciate content, concise transactions, and love to share—what they’re interested in or buying, their homes, etc.. and it can become an ongoing, genuine connection.”

Galleries have developed new web-focused ways of selling

Virginia Mackenny
Zoom Meeting, 2020
Barnard

It wasn’t just your office that needed to learn how to use Zoom in March 2020. For many galleries, channels like Zoom helped revolutionize selling and gave collectors better access to works of fine art during and after the pandemic. And while not seeing a work in person provided its own set of challenges, the pandemic created an environment where galleries had to innovate in their approach to selling work online. De Haro, for example, explained that using telecommunications and Artsy has helped increase OMR’s ability to tell a story about a work of art. As all gallerists wrote, these innovations have helped them streamline their selling methods while also providing opportunities to make their work more accessible to audiences across platforms.

Roesler said that online platforms have allowed his gallery to provide more robust and engaging content for collectors to learn more about works of art. “COVID-19 accelerated our digital initiatives in terms of using OVRs for each show, producing more digital content like interviews, virtual studio visits, [and] higher quality visual and audio material,” he wrote. These new offerings, he said, led to clients “feeling more secure to acquire work online.”

Ajarb Bernard Ategwa
I love my dress code, 2020
Jack Bell Gallery

Woolliams expressed that using all digital channels has positioned Flowers to better attend to the various needs of collectors. Specifically, the pandemic opened an avenue by which the gallery could better cater to the specific needs of a collector that previously were handled by in-person conversation at the gallery during business hours. “It’s vital that our clients experience digital content that is current and expansive in terms of material, and that we communicate responsively and quickly with anyone who comes through online channels,” she wrote. “We know that they are doing their own research, and may have a lot of requests related to a work.”

And Woolliams still uses many of the methods she largely introduced during the pandemic: editing an image of a work into a photo of the potential collector’s home; using Zoom to provide an immersive visual of the work; getting access to the collector’s location to see if their gallery might be able to provide assistance with installation. Flowers is even happy to provide a simple cell-phone photo of a work. “Many clients relate to and trust the simplicity and visual familiarity of a plain, unprocessed image of a piece that they feel they could have taken themselves,” she wrote.

Cost and environmental benefits of online buying

Online buying greatly assists in making art more accessible to collectors by offering savings on the cost of transportation and increasing the ease of discovery. For Roesler, this has meant that lower priced artworks have sold more quickly than they would in in-person settings, as collectors are willing to take the risk because they are saving costs elsewhere, like transportation costs for collectors, or because they have quicker access to information about the work and artist online.

For Durey and Roesler, online buying has allowed their galleries to become more attentive to the environmental impact of the constant travel that is required for fairs and exhibition openings. “We are all conscious of the impact of air travel on the environment, [so] the ability to discover and collect works from afar is a real positive,” Durey wrote. And while both Durey and Roesler insist that there is never a substitute for the in-person experiences of seeing art, they recognize that the ecological upside might draw potential collectors into acquiring more art online.

Installation shot of Marc Padeu, Filles après le bapteme, 2022 by Jack Bell Gallery at Taipei Dangdai Art Fair, 2022. Courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery, London.

De Haro further commended the online market for its price transparency and easy access to information about works, which she believes empowers collectors. “Engaging in this way provides a certain transparency and democracy, in which artwork pricing (or a price range) is made publically visible, perhaps providing the collector with information they might not feel comfortable asking in a traditional, in-person meeting in the gallery or art fair,” she wrote.

For Durey, the benefits of online buying are not just limited to collectors—they’ve helped gallerists present to and interact with international markets in ways not available to them in person. Critically, it has revealed to him how younger collectors use these channels in their everyday lives and expect the same opportunities to exist when buying fine art. “We recently participated remotely in Taipei Dangdai,” he wrote. “The response on the ground from young local Taiwanese collectors was amazing; this reverberated globally via Instagram and was reflected through increased interest in our artists’ work via Artsy.”

What is apparent throughout these conversations is that gallerists are responding to the changes in online buying by embracing them. Gallerists who use and actively engage with the digital marketplace are making room for a new generation of collectors who have developed sophisticated, hybrid digital and in-person lifestyles and who are hungry to see the art world follow suit.

As Dougall wrote, “It also opens up the market to the next generation of collectors who are familiar with making purchases online and encourages us to find new ways to engage them.”

Ayanna Dozier
Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.