Within the last two years, there has been a dramatic exodus from the well-trodden, traditional pathways of the commercial art market into the green pastures of the World Wide Web. More than three hundred online enterprises, ranging from auction platforms to social media communities, have launched the art world's colonisation of the Internet, according a report conducted by Deloitte and ArtTactic in April 2013.
The online incarnation of the art market is changing centuries-old habits of art consumption - 71% of collectors have purchased art through the Internet, which I think is quite a substantial figure thus demonstrating people feel more and more comfortable buying art online. Furthermore, they have done so based on digital images, without viewing the physical artwork itself, which again requires extra faith in this relatively new medium of bidding.
The movement has provided new territory for young startups to carve out their own niche in a domain overshadowed by established giants, such as Christie's and Sotheby's. Further to merely establishing themselves, these smaller, sleeker companies are speeding ahead, while their older counterparts are struggling to keep pace. Auctionata, a Berlin-based business launched in 2012, seeks to recreate every aspect of the auction house experience digitally, hosting live-stream auction sales. Within its brief existence, it has already stunned the art industry, smashing the online auction record in its €1.8 million sale of Egon Schiele's Reclining Woman. Sotheby's has now followed suit, having announced in July that it will be pursuing a partnership with EBay, which will be streaming live sales coverage from the auction house on its website. Now, in digital form, its saleroom doors will be open to EBay's 145 million users. Not sure I personally believe in this partnership I have to say, as in my view it is a lazy way for Sotheby's to enter into the online market. It isn't by getting more eyes to your website that you will sell more, it is by doing things differently and with a clear vision that online collectors will engage.
Partnering with 150 art galleries, Amazon has been enticed by the potential of a foray into art and has quickly claimed territory in this sector. Along with the latest paperback or low-price electronic good, customers can now "add to cart" an Andy Warhol print of Muhammed Ali for $60,000, should they wish to do so.
The 'EBay-ification' of the auction house appears to have had no deterring effect among traditional clientele, as high-end sales continue to take place across these various art platforms. Indeed, astounding records are still being set in art sales, remarkable for the lightning speed of their occurrence as much as for the soaring bids. Christie's November 2014 auctions of Post-War and Contemporary art achieved an astonishing combined total of over $900 million in New York. The Evening Sale alone brought approximately $853 million, the highest total for any auction in history.
The true impact of online startups, however, has been the profound democratisation of the art world. Technology has made art accessible to any person with a smartphone in their pocket. Many businesses are thus focused on promoting and selling more affordable art, which might appeal to this new area of buyers. Once they are used to buying the more affordable pieces, they will undoubtedly century into buying the more expensive and more sought after pieces.
It is not just in the commercial sector that the art industry is being revolutionised, but in the public sector also. Websites such as Vastari forge new pathways between art connoisseurs and public institutions, through which items from private collections may be sourced and loaned for museum exhibitions. The technology of this database makes works of art, which are usually inaccessible, available for curators around the world to access new works of art for their exhibitions in complete and strict confidence and privacy.
Owing to its new relationship with technology, the opportunities and possibilities within the art industries have expanded dramatically, both for entrepreneurs and for buyers. The distinction between these industries is increasingly blurred as they continue to grow together in symbiosis - tech experts now assume roles as curators and auctioneers, while gallery assistants venture into the world of coding.