Art Collecting at the higher end goes online
As the online art trade continues to rise in reputation and net worth, there are bound to be uncertainties around the validity of this relatively new market, trading large figures over works unseen. Confidence in art buying at the higher end has always been synonymous with the assurance of solid white walls or the neo-classical interiors of auction houses. There are however, many reasons to be more trustful of the online space, now more than ever.
According to the Hiscox online art trade report of 2017, the revenue of the online art space is growing at a rate of 15% annually; a figure that is ‘outpacing the traditional art market’, as quoted by Robert Read, Director of art and clients at Hiscox. He adds, ‘(the online space) is only just waking up’. The report’s figures include the major auction houses, most of which admit to trading a fair amount online. Adding to this trend (or some might say preempting it), is the decrease of the physical gallery. Therefore, there must be room for serious online operators to catch those who were once patrons. One such doyen of the fine art arena who is capitalizing on the online growth is Frédéric de Senarclens.
Originally a Swiss art dealer, Mr. de Senarclens has conducted fine art business in Asia, the US and Europe. He launched three online, high-end art businesses, making his marketing focus global. He sees the online world as a ‘natural progression’ after working in the physical art world for over 15 years. He adds ‘This is not a shift or a trend for the art market, but a radical and permanent improvement that has huge ramifications for the artist, their independence and freedom from the gallery and their work, which is liberated as a result. We can expect to see some extraordinary new global art’.
De Senarclens began working as an assistant art dealer and then as a respected dealer himself in Geneva. In 2008 he moved to Singapore on the back of some positive PR for the city. ‘Singapore was fast becoming a city of art and we were excited to be a part of that…they (the Tourism Council) were very helpful and overall, the move broadened our vision'. De Senarclens set up Art Plural Gallery, a four-storey, Manhattan-style building on Armenian street. Art Plural Gallery had a focus on contemporary Asian art as well as established contemporary Western artists such as Bernar Venet, Jedd Novatt and Fabienne Verdier. The gallery hosted workshops and artist talks and fast became an innovative space for ideas, design and art.
De Senarclens gained a loyal and diverse clientele, and, a few years later, after longing for the European lifestyle, de Senarclens came up with an even more enterprising idea.
After listening to the art world’s major buyers and collectors, he identified a need for more transparency and democratization of the art collecting and buying world. Buyers wanted greater access to the global art world. They also wanted the knowledge when it was convenient for them - without having to jump on a plane for half a day to view the art.
ArtAndOnly (artandonly.com), launched in 2015, was de Senarclens’ first answer to this problem.
‘Creating ArtAndOnly was a natural and obvious evolution for us. Once you look at the current marketplace you begin to see the limitations of a physical gallery space. By dematerializing the old brick-and-mortar model, we are able to give collectors a unique opportunity to access the global market directly’. ArtAndOnly has been growing at a solid rate and still remains a stronghold for collectable Asian art. Recently, ArtAndOnly has acquired the rights to the Guy and Myriam Ullens collection, acquisitioning limited editions of pieces by renowned Chinese artists.
A year and a half on, de Senarclens took his idea further with the creation of related sites, ArtAndCollect and ArtMarketGuru.
ArtAndCollect (artandcollect.com) is an online platform that allows art collectors to create a profile and be directly connected to buyers in every corner of the globe. Conceived as a worldwide network of art players, ArtAndCollect provide the framework for buyers and sellers to start their own conversations, and take sales into their own hands, interacting directly with other collectors. Launched in June 2017, the site is gaining much attention and has the potential to capture a growing number of international art collectors.
ArtMarketGuru (artmarket.guru) whilst only six months old, offers another layer of transparency to the economics of art buying by publishing art market reports on intercontinental art fairs, economies and trends.
Art collecting by nature, however, has often been a private pursuit and it will be interesting to see whether the transparency approach will appeal to those who prefer to trade in the traditional, physical realm.
Danny Goldberg, an Australian based collector, is a trustee of both the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington and MoMA PS1 in New York. He also sits on the Hirshhorn’s Acquisition Committee. He is reluctant to buy a work from a gallery (which doesn’t represent the artist) other than a major auction house because of concerns about whether the work is damaged or authentic. He adds that buying a work from a digital image without seeing it in person is outside most people’s comfort zone. Whilst Mr. Goldberg has probably acquired more than half of his collection from images, he admits to having made mistakes primarily in not properly understanding the scale or perhaps weight of a work.
These are the major issues the online art marketplace still need to address if it is to move to a level playing field with the bricks and mortar institutions. However, should there be a long-standing reputation and a trusting clientele like that of de Senarclens, then the business model makes a lot of sense; like all things online, the process of purchasing is expedited and you can remain anonymous. For ArtAndOnly and many other online operators, viewing of the works prior to purchase is made possible by their numerous office locations around the world, adding credibility to the market and allaying insecurities. As de Senarclens added, ‘It is an exciting time to be involved’.