The Dealer Using Instagram as an Auction House
Courtesy of See you Next Thursday.
In the popular imagination, art auctions typically involve a room packed with people—nattily dressed and presumably rich—raising numbered paddles while a motor-mouthed auctioneer pushes prices into the stratosphere. While scenes like this certainly play out at major auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, a growing number of platforms are attempting to democratize the art auction experience. One of the newest is the cheekily named See You Next Thursday (SYNT), an Instagram-based initiative that makes collecting art as simple as commenting on an image.
“It’s the number-one social-media platform everyone is using—dealers, artists, curators,” said Calli Moore, the artist and independent curator who founded SYNT in 2018. “We’re all using this platform to share and connect in the art world, so it made perfect sense to also use it to sell work.”
The concept is simple: Every Thursday evening, at least one artwork launches on the account, having been teased in advance via preview images and Instagram stories; bidding kicks off at $85, and unfolds in the comment thread over the course of the following week.
One impetus for SYNT, Moore said, was hearing from artist peers who were slightly fed up with being “hustled on price” during studio visits with prospective collectors. “The selling process can be very delicate, and I feel like artists shouldn’t have to take it on by themselves,” she explained. “It can be uncomfortable. For me, I’m kind of all business, and I work in the art world. I know how these conversations should go.” (In addition to being a working artist, Moore has a day job as the inventory manager at Lehmann Maupin in New York.)
See You Next Thursday streamlines the art-buying process and cuts out its intimidating gatekeepers. Moore said she was inspired by similarly populist initiatives like Got It For Cheap, which sells original works for a mere $30; SYNT also has something in common with Drawer (formerly Flat File), which offers works on paper at manageable price points. But the immediacy of Instagram adds an interesting wrinkle, since bidding is temptingly easy; tellingly, the platform is in the midst of exploring its own potential as an e-commerce site.
“We live in a generation of ‘I want it now’—no one is patient these days,” Moore said. The $85 entry point for bidding also makes for a sticky, addictive user experience. “I think they see that number, and it’s not $100, [so] they jump a lot higher—from $85 to $200 or $250, immediately. If it started at $100, I think bidding would be a little bit slower. It’s this weird psychological thing: ‘It’s only $85! I’m going to put down $200.’”
So who exactly is selling—and buying—on See You Next Thursday? The programming is “very geared toward artists who have a very large outreach, but are not represented” by a brick-and-mortar gallery, Moore said. That includes rising talents like Lauren Whearty, Sophie Larrimore, and Sarah Slappey. Unsurprisingly (given the need to capture Instagram eyeballs), colorful, figurative paintings feature prominently, offset by the occasional photograph or sculpture. Bidding may begin at $85, but it quickly escalates, though many pieces have sold at modest price points. An oil-on-paper still life by Paul Gagner went for $210 in February 2018; a tiny scene of two figures in the ocean by Nicholas Cueva went for $335 last July. The highest price thus far has been $1,700 for a haunting watercolor-on-paper by Kim Dorland. (Artists receive 70 percent of the sale price, with SYNT taking a 30-percent commission; winning bidders pay shipping costs.)
Portrait of Calli Moore. Courtesy of See you Next Thursday.
“Better to have the work in the hands of a collector than sitting on a shelf in my studio,” said Andrew Prayzner, whose 8-by-10 inch Ed Ruscha–esque painting—a sunset overlaid with the word “ethos”—went for $300. “Having a third party facilitate that makes it much easier to do than directly contacting prospective buyers,” he continued.
Sculptor and painter Shona McAndrew had participated in an auction prior to See You Next Thursday, but found the experience “quite anonymous,” whereas SYNT “felt personal and much more intimate.” One of her works, an acrylic-and-gouache-on-paper depiction of a woman shaving her legs, went for $400, while a 10-square-inch acrylic-on-panel painting achieved $500 (with another prospective bidder jumping in via the comments—too late—with a counter offer of $700).
“I felt quite pleased with my prices,” McAndrew said. “Two wonderful women walked away with my paintings, which is exactly what I want for my work. Both reached out to me, which has led to new, great relationships, and I walked away with just as much money as if I had sold them through a gallery.”
The experience has not been a home run for every artist. “I would have liked a slightly higher price—I believe I would have been able to get more if I sold it out of my studio,” said Sophie Larrimore, whose acrylic-and-Roll-a-Tex painting of an abstracted poodle sold for $630. “But I was glad to be with several other artists being offered at the same time, and it was worth the lower final price.”
Other past participants noted that the prices their pieces achieved weren’t the only consideration. While painter Sarah Slappey said she was content with what her works earned—such as $390 for an oil-on-paper rendering of distended fingers poking through a window pane—“the exposure was probably more valuable,” she said.
Moore put me in touch with a few of SYNT’s recent successful bidders, including Jackie Goldstein, senior director of commerce at Vox Media, who said she’s been collecting art for around seven years via traditional channels. Her introduction to See You Next Thursday came through the artist Dan Schein, whose oil-on-paper painting of a skull with a halo she snagged for $275. Lexi Bishop, a New York–based specialist in Christie’s post-war and contemporary art department, was the winning bidder for the aforementioned work by Slappey.
“It is absolutely, wholly addicting,” Bishop said of SYNT’s format. “Bidding in the comments section on Instagram is so entertaining—it is transparent and collegial, everyone is cheering you on. My colleague and I are almost always bidding against each other.…To have an auction on this platform feels less institutional, less corporate, and more democratic, fresh, and just an overall new experience. There is no buyer’s premium, no hidden costs; you don’t have to create an account or forfeit your private information.”
Indeed, for all its flouting of convention, one of the things See You Next Thursday replicates surprisingly well is the camaraderie and competition of outbidding fellow art-lovers in a semi-public forum. Nevertheless, Moore is also interested in bringing her virtual community of artists and collectors together in the real world. This May, she’s opening a group show in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn; while the works will hang in a physical gallery space, bidding will still take place on Instagram. She’s also launching a partnership with Artsy’s online sales platform around the same time; See You Next Thursday will soon be staging online exhibitions on the site. But overall, Moore is excited to stay on the path she has helped pioneer.
“I want to keep it very simple,” she said. “This model works.”