Art, art, art

imgresChristies grossed $1.726 billion this past week in the art auctions.  The first fine art auction started at Christies in 1766.  The majority of art auctions, essentially a bidding frenzy that takes place in the secondary art world, has been taking place for around 250 years.  Christies commissions range from 12% and 35%. The beneficiaries of this was the auction houses and the owners of the art, period.

I am thinking about the weekend of art.  I am also thinking about how technology is changing the art world.  Years ago if you were interested in something you would be given information and small photos of the work.  Today each gallery has an iPad with photos of work from each individual artist in their gallery.  You can scroll through the the iPad to see past work and the gallery will send you a jpeg while you think about the piece.  That was a big move for galleries.  Now it is business as usual.

Then sites starting cropping up.  As Jen Bekman of 20×200 says, “art should be available to everyone”.  That has always stuck with me.  You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to have art on the wall from artists.  No doubt that buying art can be walking into a mine field.  It is important to educate yourself.  I have been watching Kollecto where for a small fee you can educate yourself, connect with an online art advisor and begin to collect.

We are collectors and have been since graduating college.  The first piece we own is one of the first things I see when I come home every day.  I still love it.  Surrounded by books and art is a privilege that is available to everyone.  Artists are creators.  A little bit like entrepreneurs who create companies and can’t stop thinking about new ideas but artists think imaginatively about what they want to create.  It is an extension of what is going through their own head.

When I see those prices are Christies I am blown away but I also believe that technology has to invade that space.  The artists should be benefitting from those transactions too and sadly they are not.  That is why I am such a fan of Artlist.  There are pieces on the site that are in the million dollar range and the few thousand dollar range.  When each piece is sold (and you can make an offer vs just paying full price) 5% of the proceeds goes to Artlist and 5% goes to the artist.  So if the Andy Warhol up for sale on Artlist goes for the $1,250,000 then $62,500 will go to the Andy Warhol foundation.  If the Danh Vo sells at the listed price from the seller at $480,000 then $24,000 goes to Danh Vo.  He continues to be paid for his brilliance.  That is powerful.

Globalization has also changed the art world.  People get on a plane and travel to ends of the world at a drop of a hat.  They also can use the same art sites that are in London and the US when they are in Brazil.  If you are a collector you can collect from your kitchen.  You can educate yourself on artists that you are following.  People who are purchasing pieces at Christies for $680m are obviously not your typical collector but decades ago the changes were that the majority of people at the auctions were not as international as they are today.

I have written about this before but seeing that Christies number just made me think more about how powerful the art world is and how important it is to continue to pay back our artists who give all of us the ability to experience their work.  They should benefit from their success just as other artists do such as actors with residuals or entrepreneurs who build companies that sell or go public.

Change is afoot everywhere.  There are a few places where technology hasn’t changed much but the art world is just starting to see more change and I for one think that is a very good thing.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Eric Woods

    Thanks for this. After a whirlwind weekend at the various art fairs around NYC, I’m always amazed at the machinations of the primary market. That said, Artlist sounds very interesting, like how participants in film, television & music continue to receive residuals & royalties in perpetuity. I could be a game changer.

    1. Kenneth Schlenker

      Thanks Eric, really appreciate it.. That’s exactly what I think we are doing at ArtList, changing the game in the secondary art market. Kenneth (biased ArtList CEO)

  2. daryn

    Big problem in my mind is how terrible most individual gallery websites are: non-purpose-built templates, bad navigation and user experience, less than transparent, etc. I know very little about the art world, but it seems the representation model has got to be changing – either artists going direct with their online presence or to more models like artlist.I get that people want to create online immersive experiences to complement their real world spaces, especially in sensory industries like food and art, but few actually pull it off. I’d be a lot more likely to buy some of the art I see if I could do it without jumping through 101 hoops.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Gallery sites are usually not the greatest. Artsy has changed that

    2. Tara Reed

      I completely agree with this.In fact, this is one of my favorite quotes from a Kollecto user: “When I look for art myself, I get overwhelmed and then I don’t buy anything”In a lot of other industries, the concept of targeted marketing is commonplace. But in art, it’s almost non-existent.An online gallery might sell black & white photography & also abstract expressionist paintings. The gallery assumes that people who like the photography will find the black & white photography & people who like the abstract paintings will find those paintings. The result is a customer experience that requires you to scroll & scroll forever- until you find the right piece.I’m really interested in the idea of targeted art recommendations. It’s something we focus on at Kollecto. Most of our users come to us b/c they got tired of scrolling & eventually just gave up! (

  3. awaldstein

    Art is very important to me. My apt is covered in images and icons that shape my life.I’m a big fan of Jen Beckman but the other sites are new to me.You might really enjoy this older post of mine:Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work. below is one of my first pieces of art that I bought. From one of my heroes and a women that crashed the ceiling a long time ago.Been over my desk in different countries and states and cities for over 20 years.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Chuck Close. Very nice

      1. awaldstein much a hero of mine.honestly when i list my heros as a marketing guy outside of steve jobs they are almost all artists like close, like bourke white, like haring. and–no surprise–almost all new yorkers.

  4. Justin Fyles

    I read an interesting article about how auction houses are cutting into their margins with Hollywood-style guarantees:…When there is that amount of flux in a market (around pricing for example), it could be a great opportunity for a new player to enter.

    1. Kenneth Schlenker

      That is true. The big auction prices hide a rigged marketplace where it is impossible to know who is paying what. Christie’s and Sotheby’s don’t make money on the $50m+ sales, they use it as marketing. At ArtList, we don’t need this. Kenneth (biased ArtList CEO)

    2. Yinka!

      The issue of guarantees brings up another aspect of opacity: In auctions, unidentified bidders can conveniently bid (without intention of buying) just to help push prices up. Naturally, this would happen more when there are reserves to be met or guarantee pricing is involved.

  5. Matt Kruza

    Curious if I have any takers to respond here. I mean none of this with disrespect (trying to be super clear). I come from a firmly middle class background with white collar parents, blue collar grandparents. Few in my family, friends, etc. have a big interest in art, but generally I know a ton of people who earn in the $50k-150k realm and I can’t think of even 1 person out of dozens who might even own one piece of art over $1,000 and perhaps even over $100. My question is do you view art as an essentially elitist interest? I think many wealthy individuals fascination with art is simply a disconnect with how 95% of people live, and view it as a distinct (one of many) that the average person is skeptical of wealthy individuals. And frankly I am slightly disturbed that tech world seems to be a little bit more like finance and “old money” from aristocrats who have just lost touch with reality. I guess any perspective or rebuttal from gothamgal or any of the commenters here who are supporters of art would be interesting. To reiterate, I have commented here and in many tech forums for months and months, so I think and hope it is obvious not trying to troll or being insulting, but really feel this huge divide around high end art alienates the VAST majority (95-99%) of society, and curious how you view it.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I am echoing Jen Bekman. Art should be for everyone. 20×200 has affordable editions. Kollecto is helping collectors who mostly have middle incomes.Some of the most amazing collections that have been donated to museums and universities came from people who had very little cash but a sharp eye

    2. Yinka!

      That’s the media effect: A big reason why fewer people have art in their daily lives is because of how the media reports it. By focusing most on the multimillion sales staged mainly by Sotheby’s and Christie’s and supported by their elite gallery brethren, art is essentially communicated as a pastime for the rich and privileged only. Of course, the reality differs; there is beautiful, original art available at several price points. Art is by and for all (artists and consumers at all levels of society).

      1. Matt Kruza

        Yeah, agreed. I do think the media is the major factor. I can say 100% it is for me, as well as the fact of the local “bourgeouis” here constantly donating to arts just to get the name in the paper. I guess I resent people thinking of art as real charity, particularly donating million dollar type pieces. Whatever floats your boat, but don’t act like that actually makes society a better place. You can see I am on a soap box here.. lol But true, I think art, just like sports etc. is more relatable when you can get past the media bubble.

        1. Yinka!

          “Visible philanthropy” is often ego driven and there is no guarantee as to presence or amount of benefit that a community may get from it, so I get your point. But ultimately, I think art is akin to music; soo many styles and genres that everyone likes *some* type of it. I am somewhat biased though, because my startup Suede Lane also lies in the art & design realm

          1. Matt Kruza

            Checked out suede lane and like the concept! Two things. One, can a business do it? (I know a few who maybe would be interested. Not sure about individuals, but a few SMB’s in my area, so I mean I figured they could, but just was asking). Two, just had a few quick examples / sugggestions on the website. Could you show an example of some of the art pieces you would be sending? That would make it a little easier to get an idea for the customer of what to expect. And second, could you include a pricing page that explains the options? Perhaps I missed it, but I have no clue what price range we are talking. Could be $100 every three months or $1,000 each three months. And frankly either could be right, and even both could fit on a pricing page that customizees it further, but with no info my thought / fear is “wow this is going to be super expensive, and I am not sure if I even should investigate further”. Take the advice with a grain of salt considering how much you paid for it.. 😉 but always like to try and give fellow entrepreneurs feedback if it might be able to help

          2. Yinka!

            Thanks for checking it out. Clientele is mostly individuals, but businesses are too. Pricing (150/qtr) is on the subscribe page. The images cycling thru are meant to represent examples of what’s in the box. Quite a few changes (including more explicit visual cues) are being implemented but on a newer version of the site, set to replace the current one soon.

    3. Tara Reed

      Hey Matt. I’ve got a similar background- so I completely understand where you’re coming from. When I started collecting art, I was the only one I knew doing it. The first piece I bought was under $1000, but I negotiated the price & then I negotiated a payment plan with the gallery. I built Kollecto because I found that most middle class folks don’t know how to navigate the affordable art world. I’m excited to see that slowly changing though! (

      1. Matt Kruza

        Hey Tara. Thanks for the response. I think what you are starting is cool, and I do hope it democratizes it. To be honest, I may be too much of a brute (huge sports fan here, playing and watching). I like to think I am a little higher cultured in terms of discussing politics, social issues, global affairs etc. but have never got the art bug. Nonetheless, no doubt the primary cause is most people from my upbringing either don’t value it or view it as a high society semi-snobbish activity.. which obviously doesn’t have to be. I think the biggest issue is just that the perception is out there of art basically being the wealthy’s playground. But your site and the 20×200 one Joanne linked to well may go far to change that. Best of luck!

  6. Cecelia Feld

    I hope I am not the only artist who responds to your post. Your readers may not know that not only do artists not receive royalties or residuals when their art is resold, they can only deduct as expenses the cost of materials used in the making of the art if they donate art to a charitable event (unlike collectors who can deduct the fair market value). Most artists (myself included) are generous and donate selectively. We get asked all the time. Maybe one day both of these things will change in significant ways.

    1. Gotham Gal

      They should change. Time is now

      1. Kenneth Schlenker


      2. Cecelia Feld

        It has been a non issue for Congress so far.

  7. Kenneth Schlenker

    Thanks Joanne! Last week’s auction results show how urgent it is to change the market. Christie’s and Sotheby’s are 250 year old companies, and they rely on their brand to control the market in duopoly (roughly 2/3 of the market is controlled by these two companies). They set the rules, and are unchallenged. Those rules are rigged, so prices have little to do with real offer/demand (notably through garanties). Pricing is opaque (often 20-35% in fees), nothing goes back to the artist. In contrasts, collectors have started to organize to bipass the auction system, and connect directly. You see this through email sales, instagram, and increasingly with ArtList. What technology is doing is making the art market faster, more secure and also more fair. We’re helping the world get there faster. Kenneth (Biased ArtList CEO).

  8. Yinka!

    Here’s to hoping that the biggest issue in this market will be tackled soon: transparency. It is amazing that in 2015, the industry remains vastly under-regulated. Opacity within operations internally, intermurally (between firms) and between firms and their clients is rife, especially with the bigger companies/market makers. This results in a dysfunctional value chain within a global oligopoly helmed by Sotheby’s & Christie’s.Due to this, even stats are inevitably flawed – factors like opacity, price distortion/manipulation and double-counting mean that even the most comprehensive industry reports are built with high margins of error baked in.Currently, the most lucrative section for tech-enabled operators is the emerging segment of the primary art market (new work, newer artist) as you mostly deal directly with the artist and set pricing. Secondary art market (previously sold existing art, pricier) is less profitable because the online reseller is squeezing in or adding a new layer to a crowded transaction chain (creditcard fees, offline dealer/gallery/auction house, private owner, etc).

  9. Conrad Ross Schulman

    GothamGalArt! Just signed up for Kollecto, looks really cool.

    1. Gotham Gal