The role of the ever present computer has now become a historic relic. Sotheby’s sold one of the the original hand built computers created by Steve Jobs and Stephan Wozniak. For the fine art world, the auction is interesting with estimates beginning at $180,000 to 300,000 and ending at $374,500. While a Warhol painting can command more, the fate of the contemporary gallery model comes to mind. With 20 years of professional Internet experience and 16 involved in the gallery business, the question seems to be: can fine art be bought and sold online to a point where formal galleries will cease to exist?
In the boom boom years of the dot com heyday, veterans will remember the failed attempts of Onview.com and their list of major auction house defectors running the shop, the Sotheby’s-Ebay fiasco and Butterfields being acquired as a result. New galleries opened touting the latest and greatest in contemporary works while the software running those galleries were hardly networkable – let alone being able to accurately sync a “web portfolio.” Auction sites became the rage as Ebay simplified the matching of buyer with seller for the smorgasbord of junk found in attics or drawers. As far back as 2006, Ebay was averaging only $52 in average fine art sales.
Today’s cloud thrust has collectors seeking bargains through perceived online savings by going direct to the artists. Major galleries from stalwarts on Madison Avenue to Basel have founded virtual art fairs that top net worth collectors clamor over – despite their hardly stunning online experiences. Fairs have become a dime a dozen. And the child prodigies of hedge fund fathers or socialite mothers, have founded a new wave of online concepts that will go so far as to predict your full collection.
While the outcome of start-ups like Paddle 8, Artstar, Art.sy and IAX have yet to be decided, it’s likely that the buying – selling experience will remain in the hands of the galleries and their specialists. Knowing what you are looking at, what you are about to own or what you might have just acquired requires the knowledgeable and experienced. Technology will unquestionably simplify the search – but the search will need to first start from the real experience. As a co-founder of one of the oldest online galleries, gallerym.com, seeing the work is always going to be the core to the equation. The comfort zone for the seller as well as the buyer will be the vital role that the intermediary plays – financially, legally and perhaps most important, specialty wise. Fine art is a luxury good that has distinct investment qualities – those without a gallery are typically not falling in that category. Art specific sites that do not provide legitimate service will likely be short term successes at best. Just a minute – let me ask SIRI.