Service of Art Advisors: Artsy.net, Artspace.com, 20×200, Etsy & Amazon.com

December 19th, 2013

Categories: Art, E-Commerce

My Art 1

Art advisors–personal art shoppers–are nothing new. Bernard Berenson, who died in 1959, was one of the famous ones. He guided Isabella Stewart Gardner to make her picks of old masters. With the exception of a few that were stolen and never found, you can see them in her home, now a well known Boston museum [photo below, left].

Like a medical second opinion, when you’re spending $zillions or know nothing about art or have no time to look for it, or you’re buying merely for investment, such counsel makes sense. Corporations that invest in art hire their share. Like a stock broker or financial advisor there are no guarantees that the guidance of an art advisor means an investment is sound but then, where do guarantees exist?

My Art 2And while art advisors would no doubt feel insulted by being mentioned in the same breath, all over the country art shops and framing businesses are called on to fill the walls of new homes with work that complements the decor that decorators chose and put in place. According to the experience of a friend who had been in the framing business, in these selections homeowners seem to be largely out of the picture.

Richard Rothbard, my client and co-founder/director of the Contemporary Art Fair NYC that will again take place in March, mentioned an on-line art advisory–http://artsy.net.

According to its website in a memo signed by founder Carter Cleveland, son of art historian and collector David Cleveland: “Artsy’s mission is to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. We are an online platform for discovering and collecting art. Our growing collection comprises 75,000+ artworks by 15,000+ artists from leading galleries, museums, foundations, and artists’ estates. Artsy provides one of the largest collections of contemporary art available online.”

I don’t know if Artsy’s partners, such as museums, art fairs and galleries, pay for the privilege. They may not need to as this company, as are online art auction houses like Paddle8, has generous backing of big money and endorsement by the high-profile.

Isabella Stewart Gardner MuseumBack to Artsy.net, according to Wikipedia, which reports on 2012 information: “The business model is commission-based where gallery partners pay Artsy a sales commission that averages 3% of the sales price.  Artsy operates on an honor system, relying on the galleries to report the sale.”

And the website is well done. I imagine that some buyers would consider it added value if something they are about to buy is silently endorsed by inclusion in a bigger entity with partners as prestigious as the Guggenheim Museum.

The concept intrigues me. I’m a proponent of anything that encourages interest in art and artsy promotes prominent art fairs and encourages attendance.

In “Giving the Gift of Art,” Anna Russell writes in The Wall Street Journal about other e-commerce art resources such as Artspace.com, 20×200, Etsy and Amazon.com: “In the past, the online art market suffered from concerns over provenance and authenticity that kept online purchases mainly to lower-priced works, says Clare McAndrew, founder of Arts Economics, a research and consulting firm that studies the art economy.

“‘This ceiling is gradually shifting upwards as new generations of art buyers increasingly demand to transact in art in the same way they purchase elsewhere,’ Ms. McAndrew said. Online art sales are generally concentrated around midpriced artworks, ranging from a few hundred dollars up to about $100,000, she said. ‘Some buyers are graduating up from the lower end of the market, and others have moved down as prices in the high end become increasingly bizarre.’”

However, it’s one thing to admire an image on a screen and pin it on Pinterest and another to see it in person. Like an Oriental rug or a textile in an image, a watercolor, photograph, oil or mixed media picture can look quite different on your wall, up close, from across the room and in different lights. Does it still haunt you?  Perhaps if a print, poster or image is well known, some of these considerations don’t exist. And if merely for investment, who cares.

In addition, it’s tough to grasp the size of something in the real space of your home or apartment even if the dimensions are clearly stated. Once we bought a piece of Mexican folk art from a photograph where it appeared to be huge. We had just the vast place for it. When it arrived it was so small it fit nicely on the mantel.

Does buying on line save time? Unlike returning a cashmere sweater that disappoints because it feels more like cardboard than a warm and comforting garment, wrapping and shipping art is a pain. I’m being small-minded: A person who writes a check for an online purchase in the $100,000 to $1 million range has someone wrap up and ship the work for them.

I wonder if most clients of an online art advisory service buy art for investment rather than to enhance their home or office. If money were no object, would you enroll the assistance of an art advisor? Do you enjoy seeing art on line or do you prefer seeing it in person?  Have you bought art online and are you tempted to?

 My Art 3

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4 Responses to “Service of Art Advisors: Artsy.net, Artspace.com, 20×200, Etsy & Amazon.com”

  1. Horace Peabody Said:

    Colin Simpson in “Artful Partners, Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen” tells the story of the secret partnership between those two great titans and founding fathers of the modern art markets
    to take advantage of the growing appetites for “culture” of early 20th century, mostly American millionaires. The erudite Duveen was the art marketer. He lined up the buyers and closed the deals. The connoisseur and renowned art expert, Berenson, found the canvasses, had them “cleaned” and gussied up to look pretty, decided to whom they should be attributed, and certified as to their authenticity. After a sale the partners split the profits.

    Some of the pictures they sold were actually masterpieces. The publicity was good for business. However, a good many of them have had to go the painful and complicated process of reattribution over the past 50 years or so.

    Today’s modern art market is even tougher and far more complicated, since there is no art history to fall back upon. What sells well is not necessarily appealing to the experienced, conventional eye, success or failure in the art markets depends almost entirely upon how skilfully a given artist’s product is marketed.

    For the amateur, professional advice is essential. I don’t know Artsy-net, probably because I stopped collecting works by living artists years ago, but with older works I’ve found museum curators who don’t have an axe to grind can be extremely helpful, at least as to authenticity and quality. As to values, present and future, you are really on your own.

    A last thought: If you just want to decorate your walls, and don’t care about the value of what you own, buy what appeals to you. You may get lucky, or you may end up like me with what I collected when I was younger, a lot of interesting, attractive, worthless stuff.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Horace,

    You enjoy what you look at so you’re ahead of the game. Think of people with worthless art who bought only because they hoped that in future the stuff would be worth something and lived with ugly things for years.

    It must be infuriating being an artist today. They can’t just create, they have to promote themselves. This industry is different from most others where you can hire someone to promote your work. A gallery does this for an artist but there aren’t many of them compared to the number of artists.

    So these online options must be a big help for Joe and Jane Doe artist.

  3. Martha Takayama, Tepper Takayama Fine Arts Said:

    This post raises a number of issue. It is an indisputable fact that today all types and levels of art works are able to be viewed and purchased on line. There are also myriad websites, commercial services and academic archives all of which are available for viewing art. The issue of relying on a consultant is very subjective. Depending on education, background, and business model and the intentions and wishes of the buyer or collector the art advisor may serve as a taste maker and educator or as a decorator.

    Reproduction online is fraught with hazards for artists, in particular for photographers. To prevent unauthorised appropriation of images for reproduction in publications or as prints, size of reproductive files should be limited. The non-profit digital organization Art in Context, part of the Metropolitan New York Library Council and the Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association furnishes excellent guidelines and opportunities for sharing of visual and other information.

    Sometimes watermarks are employed on digital images to protect unauthorized reproduction, but they interfere with clear view of an image.

    Choosing to purchase or not purchase by Internet is a personal matter difficult to gauge. With respect to dimensions I suggest making a paper outline or holding up a tape measure to get a sense of available space and impact. The buyer who has a specific notion of his taste or income or purpose will be best able to determine what he feels he needs to see and or know and what his level of confidence is in the seller whom he chooses.

    Purchasing art for investment is a high risk proposition. The art market is capricious. In the digital age artistic fame and value is more than ever intertwined with manipulated publicity and social media. It’s best to purchase work that appeals and that will add to the pleasure of the environment in question. Even those collectors guided by knowledgeable advisers are often disappointed in the sums estimated or offered when considering resale.

    At the moment there seem to be a plethora of new digital venues with all kinds of promises. Once again I think that caution is in order both on the part of the buyer and the seller. Many of these cautions also can be applied to other areas of e-commerce.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    Your sage guidance is most welcome. I love the suggestion to make a template to guage the size of a picture.

    Caveat emptor seems to work for this as with any industry. Even the most honorable financial advisor can turn sour if his/her company changes the rules and their source of income is threatened unless they follow them, ignoring the financial health of clients. In a bad economy art advisors can similarly cut corners and exaggerate or invent the value of work so as to survive.

    If you watch Antiques Road Show notice the language of the experts regarding values. “At retail” is nice, but the person standing there with Grandma’s vase isn’t going to get that price. “For insurance purposes” doesn’t mean that you’ll get that amount either. You need to listen carefully to your advisor who may be speaking precisely and honorably while you hear what you want to hear.

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