• gerard van weyenbergh

Art experts develop new strategies for online galleries

While experts predict strong growth in the global internet art market, galleries are betting both on online art sales platforms and on their own structures. An additional investment in both cases for these market players.

The global online art market is expanding while showing signs of slowing down, as noted in the 2019 report by professional insurer Hiscox. In 2018, a record year for art sales would have grown by 9.8%, less than in 2017. In 2019, according to the Art Basel & UBS report, it stood at 5.9 billion dollars (out of a total sales of works of art of 64.1 billion), i.e., a decrease of around 2% compared to 2018 (6 billion €). However, by 2024, its potential is estimated at 9.32 billion. And its growth by then at 15% per year.

Artsy and Artnet main platforms

In this market, according to Hiscox, the American Artsy and the German Artnet are the two main platforms present only on the Internet, with a high score in terms of traffic and trust. These two competitors offer galleries monthly subscriptions with different options. Their presence on the Web is reinforced by the offer of editorial content around current art.

Private company founded in 2009 by Carter Cleveland, Artsy, the market leader, counts gallery owner Larry Gagosian and Russian collector Dasha Zhukova among its investors and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, and Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google. Halfway between the world of art and high-tech, the platform has raised more than 100 million dollars since its launch. It brings together virtually 3,200 galleries and has 2.2 million unique visitors per month.

Created in 1989 by German entrepreneur Hans Neuendorf, listed on the stock exchange, Artnet brings together 1,100 galleries. At the same time a selection of merchant brands, auction place, database and information site, it declared for 2018 a total turnover of 18.3 million euros, consisting of 4.5 million of revenues from the membership of galleries; for 6.5 million subscriptions to its database; for 3.8 million in advertising revenue; and finally for 3.5 million commissions on auctions. As for the net profit, it reached 1.04 million euros in 2018, which remains comfortable.

Among the players in online art sales working directly with galleries, we can also cite Artsper, founded in 2013 by Hugo Mulliez and François-Xavier Trancart, which claims to be the European leader for contemporary art, while 'Ocula, which is very qualitative, is distinguished by its selection committee made up of dealers - including the Simon Lee (London), Blum & Poe (Los Angeles), Xavier Hufkens (Brussels)… galleries - who co-opt the participating brands. Half of its visitors are based in the Asia-Pacific region, where the company has deployed its offices.

Galleries are reinventing themselves online

While competition rages between platforms, mega-galleries have invested heavily in their virtual auction rooms. Pioneer, David Zwirner, launched his first showroom online in January 2017, followed by Gagosian in June 2018. In recent months, their offer has grown thanks to confinement considerably, with an increase in podcasts, studio visits, digital exhibitions, and even, for the gallery Zwirner, virtual mini-fairs bringing together colleagues in New York, Los Angeles and Brussels. Alongside the unprecedented program of original videos, content, exhibitions and digital experiences, Hauser and Wirth have bet on developing a technology that enabled it to organize its first exhibition in late April. Virtual reality, "Beside Itself," live from the future gallery space, "Hauser & Wirth Menorca", scheduled to open in 2021.

Should this be seen as a sign of a new strategic direction? At Perrotin, which favors the "viewing salon" spirit, the person in charge of relations with online sales platforms left the gallery at the end of 2019. Since then, it has been slowly supplying the platforms where it remains present. As for dealer David Zwirner, he hired Elena Soboleva, an Artsy alumnus known for her influencer skills and network, to lead his digital sales department and the team behind the scenes. "Behind every project, there is research, articles, photographs, marketing, press releases, videos and an online sales space created by synchronized digital teams", recalls the young woman. These efforts would pay off if we believe Zwirner, who claims to have sold from the preview of the Art Basel Online fair (which took place from June 19 to 26), two-thirds of the works presented in "Basel Online: 15 rooms ". This device, accessible from the gallery's website, brought together unpublished works by fifteen artists for a total value of $ 28 million. The online sale, for 8 million dollars, of the Balloon Venus Lespugue (Red), 2013-2019, by Jeff Koons, is also his new self-proclaimed record.

Added value of platforms: medium-sized reserved galleries

"The digital experience will never replace the physical and emotional one felt in front of a work of art, assures Almine Rech (Paris), but we are now investing time and energy in our online presence. "This down payment remains the preserve of larger retailers, allowing them to free themselves of existing structures. Smaller galleries invest less in digital while focusing on platforms. According to the UBS Art Basel 2020 report, "online sales represent 12% of sales for galleries with less than $ 1 million in turnover and 1% for those with more than $ 10 million".

On average, highlights the Artsy Gallery Insights Report 2020, a gallery's annual marketing budget is $ 43,000 for fairs and nearly ten times less ($ 4,500) for online platforms. According to the same study, a third of gallery buyers come directly from their client files, while only 6% come from online platforms. But the latter are, on average, 3,500 miles away from merchants, according to Artsy. "We sold to clients that we did not know in the United States and the United Arab Emirates," confirms Antoine Laurent, director of the In Situ-Fabienne Leclerc Gallery (Paris). Managing the presence on these platforms is however a time consuming activity. For lack of entertainment, a location on Artsy or Artnet is not profitable. "I retired a year ago. It didn't bring me anything, says Jérôme Poggi (Paris). No doubt, I have to devote energy to it, but it was not my priority. "Indeed," responding to request emails, preparing packages, renewing images, it takes time and only large galleries can afford to have dedicated staff ", explains Pernille Grane, administrative manager of the Jeanne Bucher Gallery. Jaeger (Paris). Especially since an event like the disappearance of an artist can trigger sudden interest. The death of the Indian artist Zarina, on April 20, thus sparked an influx of requests. "On this occasion, the gallery sold works at never-before-seen online prices, up to $ 50,000. "

Present on Art Basel Online with a daily updated program, gallery owner Jocelyn Wolff (Paris) deplores "the fact that works on the Internet expire" and promises to analyze his experience at the online fair afterward. "Why does a young artist like Santiago de Paoli have almost as many clicks as another, more recognized? Is there a magic recipe for selling online? I do not believe. "But there are methods. "To keep things dynamic, the works must be renewed ," says Nathalie Berghege, at Lelong & Co (Paris). She also notes it, on Artsy "David Hockney's 'iPad Drawings' are selling well. Besides the notoriety of Hockney, the medium is very suitable, the format, the price too, since it is about editions. It's the perfect equation". During the confinement, Lelong & Co. also developed the exhibitions on its site, "scenographed as real exhibitions in the gallery. The first, by Etel Adnan, worked very well. It is an additional space where one can propose small monographs. It allows artists to work. Fabienne Verdier has just created a series for us," says Nathalie Berghege. "We are starting to see our artists take over this virtual space in an inventive way, which is what I find most fascinating," says Elena Soboleva at Zwirner.Some people ask us when their next online exhibition will take place, and we are supporting them in that direction. »

At the risk of formatting the works? "We don't want to switch to "viewing rooms" which will influence the artist's practice, says Daniele Balice [Balice Hertling, Paris]. The exhibition in the gallery space must remain the starting point. I hope online art is not the future of art. "

"There is much talk of the migration of the art market to digital, reports Jocelyn Wolff.If you do not follow, if you are not present on all platforms, you sound out of date. As far as I'm concerned, I pulled out of Artsy at the start of the lockdown, when the company announced it wanted to take commissions on the works. And I ask to see. After the migration phase, I believe there will be saturation. And maybe even a post-digital era. "

When buying art is a good deed

A new platform is about to shake up the online art market at the start of the school year. If its name, like its financial package and the list of participating galleries, are still kept secret, its slogan, "buy art for good", shows the color: committed. The purchase of a work on this French marketplace with an international vocation will in fact make it possible to donate a significant share to partner NGOs, by opting for one of the UN's sustainable development goals (SDGs) chosen by the 'artist. The idea is to put "contemporary art back at the heart of our social issues" while ridding it of its flashy image. Real added value in a formatted environment, which could appeal to millennials, sensitive to ethical discourse and quicker than their elders to buy online.

Article from Le Journal des Arts 08/12/20