Using the Internet and Social Media Strategies

To Penetrate the International Art Market

An essay, forecast and brief history by

Mark Bloch

April 2013



"Everything has changed, and the art market is a big part of that. Back in my day, people used to fight for their views. Now people look for the auction prices, and the prices are their argument…. Part of the challenge I see in trying to focus attention away from market-oriented art is figuring out how art that behaves like a commodity can be counteracted by artists. One way to do this is to create communities."


--Irving Sandler[1] (Important New York art critic beginning in the 1950s)


The objective of this paper is to summarize the unique history of the Art Market in order to analyze and assess the current state of that market. Internet and social media strategies will be utilized to compile information, investigate where opportunities exist to enter the market as a player, and to change this unique market in fundamental ways that have hitherto been difficult but not impossible.


I.        Introduction


The Art Market, as it is known today, is a subset of a larger Art World, a fluid collection of artists, art professionals, scholars, other art enthusiasts and related persons and their commerce related and non-commerce related activities. Within the Art World, and partially overlapping the Market, lies Art History, a rich written chronicle of both the Art Market and the activities and output of the Art World that is continually mined and re-evaluated in an attempt to understand the unique, unwritten rules, procedures and traditions of this unique praxis as it has moved from century to century. In fact it is precisely to that history that the players have always gone to take their cues in constructing their own respective eras from within and without the Art World and/or the Art Market.


II.         Pre-History of the Art Market


While part of the substance of the goods changing hands then was created in prior civilizations, stretching from the earliest pre-historic artifacts to the creations of known predecessors like the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the origins of today’s Art Market can be found in the Renaissance but with vivid threads reaching back prior to that time.


Today coins are the only art object of the ancient Greek world which can still be bought and owned by collectors of modest means today.  The rest were swooped up by private and institutional entities centuries ago.


Furthermore, Roman writers[2] tell us that Polykleitos and Phidias were Greek sculptors with schools of followers. Polykleitos' school lasted for three generations, peaking in the late 4th century BCE, making him, not only a recognized master of three dimensional balance and definition, but the world’s first Art Star.

The arts of ancient Greece established an enormous influence on the culture of many countries all over the world. But the Ancient Greeks made pottery for day to day use, not display, with trophies won in athletic events the exception.  So this was not yet really an art market per se.


Antiquities is a term for objects from the ancient world, especially Classical Greece and Rome, that were traded on the art market that emerged during the Renaissance. Greek artifacts were also highly desirable during the Roman Empire, which is a bridge in the creation of a market for art as we know it today, from the classical Greek culture to the Renaissance.  Today the Antiquities market refers to these treasures as well as remnants from the civilizations of the Mediterranean, Ancient Egypt and the other Ancient Near Eastern cultures, Asia, including China, the Pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica and artifacts from the Mesolithic period.

III.       History of the Art Market to WWI



The prosperity of the expanding ancient Roman Empire[3] brought the beginnings of a collecting fever that today we can identify as the existence of an Art Market. F.H. Taylor in his book Taste of Angels describes Rome in ways that remind us of what we read about in our own century:  “A whole quarter of Rome…was devoted to art dealers, book sellers and antiquarians…rife with falsification and forgery… and rigged auction sales.” It tells us that a dynamic “has always existed (that)…a large band of …gullible amateurs follows in the wake of true connoisseurs.”  The Empire’s private palaces filled with art are indicative of the concept that “to the victor go the spoils” that has been repeated in history including during the regimes of Napolean and Hitler.


Italian renaissance

The art market in Rome created a fashion for works of the past but did not stimulate an interest in contemporary art. Corinthian bronzes were “the most highly valued of all art treasures.” But after the Middle Ages, when the artist was reduced to an anonymous craftsman and decorator, Cimbaue and Giotto in Florence and Duccio in Siena became the first Renaissance art stars as their individual vision was financed by bankers in Tuscany, the late 13th and 14th centuries cradle of both capitalism and “the modern concept of a personal art.” But when Edward III of England defaulted on loans sending Florence into a tailspin, becoming the first economic crisis on record, social unrest followed.


In 1430 the Medici family restored the peace.[4] Florence, Rome and Venice all had prosperous patrons. The Renaissance honored the past as well as the present artists. Agents gathered collections of classics for princes, providing inspiration to the artists. The biggest accomplishments of the Medici family, which dominated the era for several generations, were in the sponsorship of early and High Renaissance art and architecture.


Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici, the first patron of the arts in the family, aided Masaccio and commissioned Brunelleschi for the reconstruction of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence in 1419. Cosimo the Elder brought us Donatello and Fra Angelico.


The most significant addition to the list over the years was Michelangelo (1475–1564), who produced work for a number of Medici, beginning with Lorenzo the Magnificent, who also served as patron to Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) for seven years. Next, the Medici produced four Popes of the Catholic Church.


Later, the Medici Popes continued in the family tradition of patronizing artists in Rome. Pope Leo X would chiefly commission works from Raphael. Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to paint the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel just before the pontiff's death in 1534, Cosimo in turn patronized Vasari who erected the Uffizi Gallery in 1560 where many of these Medici-financed works still reside today.


Northern Europe

In the 16th and 17th century, Flanders and Holland saw the rise of the middle class collector as Antwerp and Amsterdam became key cities, trading in works of art among other things. Farmers and middle class families invested in art with as many as hundreds of paintings being hung in each house. Painting was in demand. There are still a lot of Dutch paintings on the market today. Artists belonged to the Guild of St. Luke and earned a decent living with one painter for every 2 or 3 thousand inhabitants. “As mass markets emerged, so too did specialist dealers. … There were tensions as to whether only artists might sell, but demand mostly overrode guild reluctance to relinquish control of distribution. Widespread distribution came to require efficient sales mechanisms, hence public sales and auctions.”[5]


With Spain awash in gold from the new world, prosperity spread throughout Europe and speculation began, most notably in 17th century Holland in the form of tulip bulbs, creating the world’s first economic bubble.[6]A contemporary observer named Van der Saan compared the late 17th-century trade in paintings with that in tulips. As a result of the economic decline, he said, ‘many no longer desired to buy paintings or to plant flowers. Then many scarcely earned in one year what in former times they had recklessly spent in one hour.’”[7]


France and England

By the18th century in France, the artist was again reduced to a decorator while nobility traded in extravagance admiring craftsmanship. Goldsmiths and makers of porcelain thrived.


 “The Paris Salon exhibitions beginning in 1673… were mostly academic reviews. .. (in) 1737, …these Salon exhibitions became a public event, … In 1748 a jury was introduced (much like many art fairs today …) to award prizes to the most distinguished works.  These Salons were crowded affairs, exhibiting paintings floor-to-ceiling and on every available inch of space. By extension, today’s attendant smaller art fairs… are essentially based on the ‘salon des refuses’ began in the 1830’s, when Paris art galleries mounted small-scale, private exhibitions of works rejected by the main Salon jurors.”[8]


 In the 18th century Revolutionary France sent many of their treasures to England to satisfy the collecting fever of the British noblemen as the industrial revolution took hold there. Portrait painters were the only British painters rewarded well. Italian and Dutch painters were sought after and encouraged to visit. 19th century bourgeois Dutch taste had much appeal to British collectors.

But Victorian England was also a golden age for the contemporary as British painters of landscapes, historical and religious pictures were sought after and a British school developed. But it is worth noting that this work from period has not retained its value compared to periods of similar prosperity for the Dutch and the Italian renaissance bankers. It was a failure of those British aristocrats.

“The defining historical characteristics of the modern art dealer also arose in the 19th century. It is worth noting that dealers of that time heavily relied on critical appraisal to support an artist’s market – what we would call a ‘dealer-critic’ system as termed by White and White in 1965. “[9]


Durand Ruel originated the artist-dealer relationship adopted in Paris as a way of handling the Impressionists, which was later exported to London. One important London dealer worth mentioning that still exists today is Marlborough Fine Art who did much to encourage London-based trade in contemporary painting after the Hanover Gallery and Gimpel Fils brought the Parisian model, in which “an artist contracts to sell his works only through the agency of one dealer, in return for which the artist receives an annual allowance, or simply a share of the higher prices for his work resulting from the dealer’s promotional activities.”


“The art market knows no frontiers…but any market needs a market place as the center of operations and since war WWII, London has undisputably become the center of the art market…the turnover of the great London auction houses has rapidly expanded.” [10]


But by the end of 19th century, American collecting began to have an impact on the market. The Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts were both founded in 1870. Limited to the past, like British collectors, the possessors of newfound wealth did not appreciate what was happening at the time. However to their credit, the Americans did appreciate the French Impressionists well before the British discovery decades later. The Impressionists signaled the first dismantling of the “academy” style of working that had dominated in Europe for centuries. They worked outside from nature. They eschewed the “finished” look of the academy in favor of a looseness that foreshadowed the coming century and perhaps the coming dominance of the New World.


American became the richest country in the world and the art treasures of Europe in all styles began to flow here. Lord Joseph Duveen in the 1920s and 30s famously sold work of the past to American millionaires at huge prices. Bernard Berenson was an American art historian specializing in the Renaissance. He is known today for art attribution and establishing the market for paintings by the Old Masters and was the pre-eminent authority on Renaissance art.


IV.        History of the Art Market WWI to the 1960s


Between the Armory Show and the end of the Second World War, the power in the art world shifted to the United States. In the 1920s, The Armory Show, the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art that was organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors was the first large exhibition of modern art in America. The three-city exhibition started in New York City's 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Avenue and 25th Street in Manhattan, and brought the European Modern painters to the attention of the American public for the first time. Dada, an international art movement art based on chance and inspired by the insanity of WWI, surprised audiences here as it had in Europe. Abstraction, Cubism and collage were discussed, leading to a period when some of the great collections of European art were created in the United States.  Alfred Barr acquired works for what became the Museum of Modern Art. Marcel Duchamp, whose “Nude Descending A Staircase” painting caused a stir at the Armory Show, fell in love with America as some of its art wealthy patrons fell in love with him. Hailed as a genius, later he helped gather the expatriate artists escaping from Europe and eventually built the Arensberg Collection that is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Katherine Drier Collection that ended up at Yale and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and he was an advisor to Peggy Guggenheim, who later opened the Art of This Century gallery in Manhattan and then returned to Europe with her important collection after WWII. Another Duchamp friend, Julien Levy was a gallerist in New York at that time and these and other people brought the French Surrealists and other important artists to the USA before, during, and after WWII, paving the way for the game-changing Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s and 1950s and the subsequent move of world art capital status from Paris to New York. [11]


France had been the leader in the field in Impressionism, Cubism and other modern painting movements but much of their important work was ending up in America, which embraced the new styles. England remained the art capital at this time, dominated by the auction powerhouses Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which established the prices for the secondary art market. The Great Depression of the 1930s and the six years of WWII subdued the art market and prices slumped below their 1920s levels until prices did start to recover in ‘42 and ‘43.


“Art prices have been on a long-term upward trend since the second world war, resulting in returns that are comparable with shares and other investments… Art prices develop completely or largely independently of the stock markets or other investments such as bonds or commodities. Further evidence of the long term stability of the art market was revealed in an exhaustive study by NYU professors Jianping Mei and Michael Moses using figures from the 27 recessions dating all the way back to 1875 which showed that the fine art holds up very well in bad times and is a good store of value.[12]


Since WWII, as American collectors became interested in contemporary art, New York became the center for living artists, many attracted from abroad. If work was recognized by American connoisseurs, it was considered a break through.[13]


"There are professional art consultants whose job is to provide immediate enlightenment of the mysteries of art collecting and professional assistance in dealing with objects of art...for centuries it has not been uncommon for collectors to engage the help of connoisseurs in forming collections."[14]

“From 1929-1962 there was hyperinflation in Europe so the market moved to America. The French market imploded in 1962 and the British market picked up, but the French never recovered. In 1973, oil prices soared, hyperinflation occurred, alongside enormous debt the British economy crashed.”[15]


All artists seek fame and fortune preferably as soon as possible and hopefully before they are 40… have your work exhibited in a clean elegant space that is populated by rich, intelligent collectors, enlightened art critics and museum officials and presided over by a brilliant and generous art dealer. To have your work exhibited under these superlative conditions you should have some evidence....


“‘Evidence’ implies that a majority of the ‘informed’ have acclaimed your work and have included it in professional exhibitions, or referred to it in the press, or purchased it for a significant collection or awarded it a meaningful prize in a rated competition to qualify as one informed to make judgments of works of aesthetic merit. One would also have to have been adjudged to be so qualified. This is a rather mysterious process, since there is no known instrument that can measure a person’s visual perception or for that matter, what constitutes a work of art. There is no state law that requires art dealers to take a test to prove their expertise.”[16]


About art dealers, James Corcoran of Los Angeles said, " The best of them ... know the predilections of every important collector in New York and perhaps a half dozen other cities... should be able to tell you the whereabouts of seeming every modern work in private hands.


"The dealer provides a perspective of the art market... collections, collectors, transactions and the finances involved... (and) must reflect a consummate day to day awareness not only of the art world but of the international business world as well."


“The fundamental qualities of art itself do not change. It is the art business, in reflecting economic pressures and intense internal competition that has become increasingly more intricate as an industry.  Galleries...set up shows, handle clients and inquiries; and process, filter and organize miscellaneous data relevant to the art they sell and the business of selling it." [17]



“The art market flourished as never before in the 1960s. There were more people collecting than at any other period of history… over a wider spectrum. Buyers and sellers were continually asking themselves... what is this worth?... values in the art market are never clearly defined… the answer lies in our present day society and its values. Here the springboard…  is the Times Sotheby's Index of Fine Arts Prices… based on the prices realized by… art works at international auctions… it is even possible to derive great pleasure and interest in art without spending a penny. With luck you can even be paid for the interest you take. Art historians, restorers, auctioneers dealers, agents and even art journalists all contribute to the smooth exchange of works of art between collector and collector or collector and museum… the fascination of the art market however lies in its relationship between art and society… a link between immeasurable human aspirations and down to earth economics… Art is a luxury. Artistic activity seldom flourishes in periods of war, plague or material shortage.”[18]

But “fine art experienced a 256% rise in the last great bear market during the Vietnam War (1966-1975) while stocks fell 27%.”[19]


“The Times Sotheby Index shows art prices have multiplied 10 or 11 times since early 50s. Values in fashionable fields more like 30 or 40 times. In 1958, the volume of trade in the art world in broad sense, including antiques and antiquities, was about 100 million British pounds (about $300 million) which passed through the hands of 5000 dealers, agents and their clients. Prices have doubled if not tripled since then (1971). The 60s were a golden era for the art market, which began in the second half of the 1950s. By ‘67 and ‘68 hardly an auction sale went by without new price records being established for the work of individual artists. The press and television threw themselves enthusiastically into recording the drama of the exchange of great art for great sums of money…Articles…proliferated… the art market itself gathered new momentum…and fed the press.”


“In 1961 one of the last Rembrandts came on the market, ‘Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer,’ and sold at Parke Bernet in NYC for 821,428 pounds ($2.3 million). Monet and Renoir works were sold in ‘67 and ‘68 for $1.4 and $1.5 million.”[20] The volume for art sales was also up by this time. High prices were also asked for junk as everyone tried to get in on the act creating a kind of “Antique Roadshow syndrome” that we see continued to this day on the popular PBS program.


It is beyond the scope of this paper to look at the regulations in various countries regarding taxes, sales tax, regulations, import and export rules regarding art. Suffice to say that “in America…the financial side of patronage is mixed up with the idealistic… tax laws allow donations made to public museums… to be set against the donors tax liabilities…to 30% of his gross income in any one year… Until 1965 a collector could set the bequest of his paintings to a museum against tax and still keep them in his home until his death… it has spread the religion of art within America. “[21]


Within the art world, the religion of Pop Art that dominated the 1960s got its start. "'New Media - New Forms: In Painting and Sculpture' was a two part group exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery that included work by Dada artists… as well as artists who, at the time, were sometimes referred to as 'neo' Dadaists... Part one of the show took place from June 6 to 24, 1960 and part two from September 28 to October 22, 1960... " Then the "'International Exhibition of the New Realists' ... took place at the Sidney Janis Gallery from November 1 to December 1, 1962. "[22]


V.         Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus and Mail Art

It seems important to digress for a moment to the Italian Futurists at the turn of the century. They experimented with sound and using letters and writing in their painting and used the mail as an artistic device. They sent letters back and forth from World War I praising the beauty of technology and even war and used the mail imaginatively, creating innovative stationary, letterheads, logos, postcards and rubber stamps.


The previously mentioned Dada movement protested against the perceived insanity of the First World War by embracing chance. Dadaists constructed poems by picking words out of a hat and created sound poetry using meaningless sounds. They made 2 and 3 dimensional art out of abstract shapes. This began in Zurich, Switzerland but had several other bases of operation in Europe from Paris to Berlin. Marcel Duchamp wasn't exactly Dada because he didn't like to join groups. But he helped spread the Dada idea when he moved to New York by creating little magazines and committing iconoclastic acts and saying they were art.


I mention this because it is important to note that outside of the Art Market there was a tradition in “avant garde” art that spread to the United States that held experimentation as its highest ideal.


Surrealism was an offshoot of Dada that had started in Paris that spread to the USA during the World War II. An American art student named Ray Johnson was embellishing envelopes in Detroit. In France, the Nouveau Realists was heavily using Conceptual Art (not yet called that), rubber stamps and even a plain blue stamp to mail letters in the mid-1950s, a time that the social changes of the 1960s began to take shape. A big part of a revolution in Communication Art was not only Ray Johnson, who saw the mail as a performance piece that fused with his collage-making activities, but an art activity and/or movement called Fluxus got started. And some of the Noveau Realists, correctly cited as precursors to Pop Art, which celebrated commercialism, were also associated with Fluxus, with which was more difficult. One of the Fluxus artists, Nam June Paik, was also interested in electronic communication.


Like Ray Johnson and his mail art communications, Fluxus is complex with roots that are conceptual and even rule-based assimilating the composer John Cage's 1957 to 1959 Experimental Composition classes at the New School for Social Research in New York City the way Johnson had assimilated the Cage influence earlier at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Furthermore, like Dada, Fluxus was a movement that took shape in several countries at once. So the artists needed to communicate and as the Futurists had, they did it by mail. People they corresponded with in Japan and Germany were also corresponding with other people in Eastern Europe. An Eastern European art network grew more out of necessity than out of an idea to make art.[23]


In the 1960s, Ray Johnson started his New York Correspondence School and all the networks grew together and much art was traveling the world by mail. I mention this because it foreshadowed what was to happen on the Internet. [24]


“Mail art was a predictor of the kind of networking that now makes so much sense, what social media has made possible all over the world: ad hoc networking-making that had to do with artists knowing something was happening, but not yet knowing what it was going to be… Nam June Paik predicted it in 1973. 'How long will it be before every artist has his own TV channel?' It was an amazing idea, linking to the Fluxus idea of an integration between art and life that had been happening since the beginning of the 20th century to blur the line between art and life, to question the difference between those activities… I would place social media in that category.”[25]


VI.      The 1970s and 80s


America dominated as the 1970s opened. Europeans had the same number many auctions in Italy and Germany.  Japan was a newcomer. In 1969, for the first time, both Sotheby’s and Christie’s held sales in Tokyo.


"The market for contemporary art at auction has a relatively short history... a few important Abstract Expressionist paintings had appeared at auction but always in company with earlier nineteenth and twentieth century European paintings. The highest price by this time was $45,000 paid in 1965 for a Jackson Pollock painting of 1946, and very few works by living artists appeared for sale."


"The first sale devoted exclusively to postwar and contemporary paintings was held at Sotheby Parke Bernet in New York in 1970. ...The results were mixed... Common wisdom was that this was too experimental a market to hold regular and successful sales... a mixed selection... by American and European artists, most of whom where living at the time... the total of the sale was $450,000.


Nevertheless, Sotheby's remained committed to achieving success in this field.. It was felt that the market for an artists work had to be promoted and cultivated by the dealer who represents him and that prices at public auction were unlikely to match up to these carefully maintained levels. Two more sales were held in 1971 and 1972 with varying degrees of success. But in October ‘73 the public market was firmly established by the courageous decision of Robert Scull and his wife to auction 50 paintings and sculpture from their renowned collection..."


"...This sale had a profound impact on... the structure of the contemporary art market." The total was $2.2 million. The highest prices were paid for a Johns from 1965 for $240K and a DeKooning from 1955 for $180K compared to 1970, the first one which yielded Warhol for $60k and a 1964 Lichtenstein which failed to sell at $35K which ironically was titled "No Thank You."


“No longer did it seem dangerous to put contemporary art up for sale at auction...Collectors...could resell their paintings on the open market.... enormous potential profits could be made by an astute collector... Dealers too, could point to the resale potential of their artists' works...The public market for contemporary art had finally matured.” [26]


In New York, Minimalism, which had grown out of the pre-Fluxus movement, became the dominant style. Ray Johnson’s New York Correspondence School grew into the new activity of mail art and connected artists all over the world in an “Eternal Network.” Artists moved into lofts in Soho district of Manhattan led by George Maciunas, the founder of Fluxus. Artists began to perform, as the “Happenings” art of the 1960s became Performance Art. Alternative Spaces run by artists popped up all over downtown New York. Many artists rejected the market but for collectors and gallerists it continued to thrive. Easel painting was declared “dead” or uninteresting (Ironically, today painting is the single highest paid activity in the world.) The art magazines generated ideas and debate. Andy Warhol became famous for promoting the art and the business of the art business.



In 1982, East Village locales such as Nature Morte, Guerilla Warfare, and an alternative space, ABC No Rio, led to the eventual commercial success of the Fun Gallery, which represented graffiti artists. The owner Patti Astor said, "many of these small galleries moved to Broadway in Soho" while others closed. ABC No Rio was founded by Collab, an artists cooperative that also worked with the burgeoning rap scene in the South Bronx and put on “The Times Square Show” the summer of 1980 in midtown during a time of economic hardship for New York.


Many alternatives to commercial ventures had sprung up in New York and elsewhere in the country and the world when “the first work by a truly contemporary artist... “Notre Dame” by Julian Schnabel (was) offered at Sotheby's in May 1983…. The painting fetched an unprecedented price of $93,500. The ramifications ...were enormous. It validated contemporary painting as a sound financial investment.... (and) raised the possibility of speculating in the field."[27]


With “no precedent at auction, the initial estimate for the painting had been in the region of $50,000... there was fierce competition” to purchase work by the next up and coming artist. “May 1983 marked the ...the most startling increase in dollar volume of contemporary art sold at auction.” By the “...end of 1987, sales at auction were to increase 427 percent...” Rothko fetched $1.8 million, Johns fetched $3.6 million, DeKooning’s 1944 Pink Lady reached $3.6 million. "Milllion dollar price tags were now commonplace: the May 1988 sale ...six works over $1 million and a Pollock from 1955… 4.8 million.”[28]


“There are a great many more galleries in the city than there were in 1970. There are people coming out of art school who are far more interested in so-called commercial success than the realm of ideas and need for exploration initially afforded by alternative spaces. There are more people collecting art and paying more for it. Many more artists are being given major museum retrospectives before the age of 40. While the alternative space as and arts have functioned as cost effective ways to develop neighborhoods Soho, Tribeca and the East Village, rent escalation causes them to leave the areas they defined.... in Brooklyn where Minor Injury is located, one finds a community where many artists have moved because prior artists neighborhoods are no longer affordable.”[29]


"Several economic demographic and cultural trends began to converge in the late 1970s to change the art world almost beyond recognition"...coming of age of the boom...thousands of young professional people who had studied art history in college... popularization of art museums." American society was becoming Europeanized, more conscious of fine cuisine, fashion and fine art. However, it was the inflation panic of the late 1979s and early 1980s that was the real economic fuel behind the new vitality of the art market... cash eroding in value and (collectors) rushed to put their money into tangible assets such as art… business magazines began to promote the booming art market, auction houses began their remarkably successful marketing blitz…. a fundamental change took hold in the art market. Buying art was not longer perceived as a pure luxury. It actually made business sense. A whole new generation of collectors emerged, who perceived of buying art as buying solid assets, not merely an indulgence."[30]


“During 1980 –1990 (the Thatcher and Reagan years), prices were high, high priced luxury goods were hot, and the buying trend continued until the 1987 NYC stock market crash. 1989 saw the London market bust as well. Hard times.”[31]


"Certain artists and certain dealers were hit very hard in the '80s. The Japanese got pummeled and mostly didn't come back, but they have been replaced many times over by people in Wall Street, the Middle East, Russia, etc.”[32]


“An article I read this week gave me flashbacks to the 1980s. Remember the speculative run in the art market and the subsequent bust in the 1990s due to the downturn in the Japanese economy?  Many would recall the apogee of these times was when one weekend Ryoei Saito bought Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait du Dr. Gachet for $82.5 million from Christie’s NY and Auguste Renoir’s Au Moulin de la Galette for $78.1 million from Sotheby’s NY and then he and his paper company went bankrupt and he was charged with criminal activities.”[33]


“Afterwards, consumers wanted to put their money into something safe. They thought that art was an endlessly inflatable entity, but it will burst, just like any other market (i.e. Real estate). The 1990s saw the Japanese yen soar, like their real estate market, and about 45% of art and antiques were being imported to Japan. One year later, it crashed due to major corporate lending scandals. Big businesses were borrowing money to buy art, but the works had no resale value because of the inflated prices. Again, the market collapsed. 1991 saw the rise of Hong Kong, Basel and Zurich. Hong Kong was now pan-Asian and a VAT free port. Basel and Zurich were outside of the European tax ramifications so large collections in Switzerland formed a nucleus to support the market there.”[34]


VII.      The 1990s


“Those that doubt that power in the art world is now held by collectors should consider that whenever the art market has faltered in my lifetime, it has been due to a drop in demand.  The most drastic contraction I have experienced, in the late 1980’s, was caused by two factors: Japanese corporate buyers, who were revealed to have used their purchases to hide assets and avoid taxes, and other buyer-rich east Asian countries who suffered an economic downturn. Japanese art exports fell 5,000 percent in less than two years, from $607 million in the year proceeding July 1990, to $12 million in the year proceeding March 1992. During the same period average prices for individual work of art at auction decreased 44%.  Looking back to the time of that collapse and into the Whitney Biennale catalogue text from 1989 we read ‘...capitalism has overtaken contemporary art, quantifying and reducing it to the status of a commodity. Ours is a system adrift in mortgaged goods and obsessed with accumulation...”


“Between 1969 and 1994 (a quarter century!) there were only two major contemporary art fairs in the world – Basel in Europe, and Chicago in the USA.  In 1994, things changed dramatically with the addition of the first Gramercy Hotel Art Fair, the uber-postmodern ‘salon des refuses,’ and this was the art fair that would launch a thousand ships, including Damien Hirst's career in the U.S., where the first spot paintings were priced at $5,000.  The next major addition was Miami Basel in 2002, and, well, you know the rest.  From one major fair in 1969, to two major fairs in 1980, to three fairs (one being a small hotel fair) in 1995, to four art fairs in 2002, to approximately 150 art fairs annually in 2008 with at last over 20 art fairs alone during the week of Miami Basel 2006. One must logically ask the question “what was responsible for this exponential growth curve?”


“Certainly, what drove this surging market was not supply. Nor was it the sheer availability of more contemporary art than ever before that sustained the infinitely expanding number of art fairs around Miami Basel and seemingly everywhere else.  Nor was it quality.  The art itself is no better or worse, the number of historically important artists in any given decade or generation is no larger or smaller, and gallerists and collectors no smarter or dumber, than they were a decade ago, or for that matter, two decades ago, at the top of the last art market cycle. The force behind it all was, quite simply, increased demand.”


“It was the existence of surplus capital, followed by the need of investors to find assets that were going to appreciate in price that created this art market bubble.[35]


“The art market correction of the early 1990s that followed the great art market boom of the late 1980s sparked a fear of art investment that still…” prevails.[36]


VIII.     2000-2008


How did photography prices get to be so high? “Pre-1997 to present: Trends have included size increases in prints – high-gloss, wall-sized prints have replaced delicate prints in tiny frames. 

1999: The Photography Market begins with a sale of 19th Century French photographs fetching Ř6.2 million or $8,325,885.


“2005: After a drought, a rebound in photography as Edward S. Curtis, North American Indian fetched $1.2 million at Christie’s (twice the high estimate). Then in 2006, an Andreas Gursky, went for $2 million at Sotheby’s New York, and an Richard Prince for over $1 million, followed by Contemporary at October by Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips combined turnover of $28.9 million, with 80% sold to Americans. 2 vintage Stieglitz went for $2.5 million. Finally in 2007, Sotheby’s realized $15.9 million in its three sales; Christie’s, $16.7 million in five sales; and Phillips $10.4 million in two sales.”[37]


2008: “The publishers of The International Art Markets… covers the markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, France Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Middles East, North Africa, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, The Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, North Korea (just kidding), Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA and Venezuela. “[38]


“Christie’s, for example, was able to sell Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” in 2010 after it found a third party willing to put up an undisclosed guarantee. When the painting, with a low estimate of $70 million, sold for $106.5 million — at the time, the highest price ever for a work sold at auction — the unnamed guarantor presumably walked off with a good bit of money… Art sales in New York, at galleries or at auction, are estimated at $8 billion a year.”[39]

“Last year global sales of art were estimated at more than $64bn (£40bn; 49bn Euros) and traders watching the market say art has consistently outperformed equities in the years between 2001 and 2011. ”


But regulation of the art market in the world, in the United States and in New York City has always been hard to come by. “The last significant change in the city’s auction regulations took effect more than two decades ago, when the value of transactions was less than half of what it is today… But nine bills submitted in Albany over the years… failed.”[40]


“The art boom has led to good times for institutions known as "free ports": bonded warehouses in which all sorts of commodities, from grain, to gold, to fine art, can be stored, and remain, while they are in storage, exempt from tax and customs duties.”[41]


China has become a powerhouse in the world art market but most of its sales are of Chinese artists. Collectors of Western artists are few. “China has overtaken the UK as a global art market for the first time…The UK was knocked from second spot to third place as a global market for antiques and arts, according to The European Fine Art Foundation. The US continued to dominate the market in 2010, with a global share of 37%. China's share is 23%. The UK's is 22%. …The UK remains Europe's biggest market, followed by France...” [42]


Finally, in addition to the explosion of the photography market and the rapid of advance of China and other emerging nations on the international scene, the long overdue rise of prices for female artists is a recent development. “After a record Morisot sale in London… Berthe Morisot's portrait sold for $10.9 million in February…a record as the most expensive work ever sold by a female artist at auction. It also helped power a wave of interest among collectors and dealers looking to identify undervalued female artists.


“In 2011, Cindy Sherman was the auction world's highest-priced photographer, male or female, with a $3.9 million sale…The records are toppling. Nine of the top 10 auction sales of work by women occurred within the last five years. The last two years marked record-high prices at auction for artists including Joan Mitchell, Tamara de Lempicka, Louise Bourgeois, Irma Stern, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Helen Frankenthaler, Rosemarie Trockel and Louise Lawler.”[43]


That brings us to the present.


Information access

The amount of information available to me to write this paper was eye opening in itself. Not just the high quality of information and content itself but just the sheer volume of information was awe-inspiring.


The Art Market is one of the most unique business markets in existence. It has functioned continuously “since the Renaissance,” or before, based on unique, often unwritten rules, procedures and traditions.  When compared to other markets, it is very tiny (though called a “world”) and yet when it is most visible, it deals with objects carrying price tags that dwarf those in virtually any other market. Because of its lack of regulation, the big amounts of money that change hands and a history of appealing to a population of well-heeled “elites”, access to information has been challenging at best.


However, the advent of the Internet and more recently social media, provide new opportunities to penetrate the workings and understanding of, as well as entry to, this unique, previously exclusionary market. Though the history was always present and expanding, it was the carefully controlled “unwritten” information between the lines of that history that created a barrier to entry. A unique opportunity now exists whereby that information is available to “the unwashed masses” at a moment in time when the tiny, tight-lipped Euro-centric art world that has existed for at least 600 years and probably longer, is becoming an immense international market characterized by a free flow of information and rapidly expanding boundaries. It is sure to provide an interesting clash.


I spoke to David Ross, the former Director of the Whitney Museum who said, “…The art market is an antique thing, a hilarious old-fashioned structure. It is the second largest unregulated market. The third largest if you include illegal drugs…. It is about rarity and commodification and super-salesmanship. The art market is a sideshow. There is also a private invisible art market. There is enormous activity taking place that you don’t see…. It doesn’t interest me. It’s a luxury goods market…. The art market must be kept in perspective. They are more interested in the name of the thing than the thing itself…. It is not to be feared or worshipped. It exists as a necessary thing for people who want to engage in the buying and selling of art…. but it is an unregulated market filled with scoundrels and even thieves that would be impossible to displace. There are two unregulated markets: currency can’t be regulated because every country has their own so there is going to be fraud and theft. And you can’t regulate art, how it is valued or sold... ”


I suspect such things would not get discussed so openly “in mixed company” in centuries, if not decades, past. Today they do as a break down of the old system is in full swing. A magazine called Coagula frequently spoke truth to power in the art world. By now that type of irreverent approach is almost old hat. Still I cannot help but think that the combination of this kind of breaking down of Old School rules combined with the unlimited access of the Internet is creating new paradigm.


Two series of offerings on YouTube come to mind. One is an interview program by Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel with art professionals. The Video Archive features interviews with prominent artists, musicians, architects, designers, photographers, directors, actors, writers, and art collectors, documenting the arts world during the nineteen seventies and the nineteen eighties. Anyone who wants to understand the workings of the Art World of the past can sit down and view these interviews and come away with a large amount of “insider” information in amounts previously unheard of. There is something about all these videos being gathered together in one place in the Duke University Libraries[44] and viewable online that is really astounding.


Still, Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel and others have always published revealing information in books that anyone could purchase stretching back to Classical times. However the second series of videos made me feel more like a fly on the wall in a room of art world insiders arguing candidly amongst themselves in front of a small audience that I suspect was of a caliber hitherto not previously available. And I am sure that while there are others, a thirteen part series called “The Art Market is less Ethical than the Stock Market”[45] made me feel I had gotten privileged access and I recommend it to anyone interested in straight talk about the art world by critics, auction professionals, dealers and other art professionals.




Online businesses


A growing comfort with the online experience for all things by consumers, combined with the increasing popularity of the pursuit of contemporary art as an investment have undoubtedly created opportunities on the Internet. A desire to replace the auction houses traditional ways of functioning has lead to the entry online of Sotheby’s and Christie’s as well as new “houses” designed to replace them by operating exclusively on the Internet. Meanwhile there are niche markets for limited edition prints and photographs thriving online, as a demand has developed for objects that are less than fine art but more than a poster. But such affordable art must attract high volume sales to survive. What the high-end luxury goods customer and the “collector” of modest means share is a desire for what the Art Market and the Art World have both always provided: tasteful, curated navigation through an infinite sea of unknowns. A digital version of that is what is necessary for survival in the online Art Market.


The success of marketing art online thus depends on who can guide users humbly and professionally through the art market’s overwhelming opportunities, characterized by “good taste” overlaid on an international oversupply and information glut. Imagine all the search results available in a typical Google query but with the added danger of any click potentially leading to an “incorrect” expensive purchase. David Ross told me that he used to tell his curators, “You can make all the mistakes you want. This is not Emergency Room medicine, ” emphasizing that “the art world is not life or death” but the gambit edges closer to that precipice if the purchaser is without expert guidance of some kind, either real or virtual.


The challenge to an online Art Market is to make sense of the beyond-enormous possibilities in selections, categories, and even choices in presentation to ease the transition for large purchases from brick-and-mortar to virtual entities. In a PDF available online[46] called “The Art Market’s Presence Online: A Curated Survey”, a “Joseph F. Del Vecchio, Esquire” of Montage Finance in New York sums up the problem of “users often left on their own to navigate the e-plethora.”


He points out that leads are not sales and that searching online is not the same as purchasing online but predicts that eventually the Internet “will subtly blur those lines.” Most importantly he does not jettison the importance of the old school expectation of “maintaining a curated manner.”


While Del Vecchio is encouraged by the fact that the “marketplace for unique objects has not yet hit its ceiling” he cautions that such a ceiling is created by the necessity of high volume for “a niche market for limited edition prints.” He thus concludes that online activities “will not replace traditional methods of buying and selling - it can only accompany them.”


Over a decade ago, both artnet and Sotheby’s poured lots of money into pioneering the online auction marketplace and failed. Today Sotheby’s is online again but using their presence only to assist in physical sales. Del Vecchio’s “formal survey of … Fine Art’s relationship with e-commerce” calls Christie’s and Sotheby approaches nearly identical. Creating an account on either website is free and once registered, users can easily program in their pet concerns and receive email or texts alerting them of relevant sales. They can navigate auction calendars, click through catalogues, register to bid live online or as an absentee online via Christie’s Live™ and Sotheby’s BidNow respectively which stream live auction video of real-time bidding to any personal computer with an IP address. However for both major auction houses, clients cannot participate by smartphone unless they use it to make a telephone call, the “old fashioned” way. Payments and shipping are also handled the “old fashioned” way, even for those that participate via IP.


So, even though they are still governed by physical sales to not alter their well-established business models, 28 per cent of Christie’s buyers are bidding online. But the average price of a sale there is only $8,123, far short of the current global lot average of $48,900.


Michael O’Neal, senior vice-president and head of digital media for Christie’s, told the Financial Times, “It is all about how the online experience can be as close as possible to the in-room experience.”


A company called Live Auctioneers was founded in 2002 in Manhattan and now stands in for 800 auction houses, thousands of auctions, and millions of lots.  Unlike Christies and Sotheby’s, they also offer a mobile app, which allows for real-time bidding via mobile phone, which seems to work just fine. The major Modern and Contemporary Art specialists, Phillips outsources its online bidding platform to them.  Phillips users can sign up for email notices, e-catalogs and schedules and their blog maintains their real world presence as the quirky but reliable third place also-ran. Live Auctioneers is called a “less streamlined experience than either Christie’s or Sotheby’s” but it appears to be holding its own.


The question for the Art Market that is already being answered is, will there be an entirely online auction platform that is a serious contender?


Saffronart combines “narrowly-tailored subject matter (Indian Art) and marketing… efficiently (online)” to create “its own niche while establishing itself as a leader in it.”  It was founded in 2000 in Mumbai but clients can view works at their London or Mumbai before a sale. Entirely online, there are four auctions a year, two days each with a buyer’s premium at a competitive 15%.  Their first auction sold $125,000 in art; six years later one sold $17 million. In 2011 a mobile sale topped $1 million and their June 2010 auction sold 10 of the top 15 lots sight unseen, and 10 of 73 lots via mobile.


artnet has been called “the Bloomberg terminal of the Art Market” with their database of millions of auction results. After a false start, they returned in late 2007, still believing art sales below a certain price level will eventually operate online only.


They offer hundreds of lots for sale, with each carrying unparalleled access to encyclopedic information about the artist, the object’s condition report, and prices for comparable works. They target dealer-to-dealer print transactions in Modern and Contemporary masters. Buyers pay a 15% commission and sellers pay 10%.


While they were not yet profitable in     due to development costs, in 2010 they did $12 million in sales and an average price $6,800. In July they sold an Andy Warhol “Flower” painting for $1.322.500.


For 16 years the artist and writer Walter Robinson served as the editor of artnet magazine, which shuttered its online magazine last summer. [47]


Now there is increased competition.


This morning The Wall Street Journal reported that the art start-up Artspace has raised $8.5 million in new funding, and has signed on the 27-year-old Russian heiress and art patron Maria Baibakova to help the company expand overseas… they’ve hired Mr. Robinson to be a bi-monthly columnist. He … will “take on issues in the art world, filtered through his perspective as a market veteran and artist.”


“Before this new funding, Artspace had raised $3.7 million, bringing their new grand total to $12.2 million. This puts it ahead of Artsy, the perceived leader in this space, which, …has raised only $7.25 million. … investors include Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Wendi Murdoch, Jack Dorsey (of Twitter) and Dasha Zhukova. Both Larry Gagosian and Marc Glimcher (of Pace Gallery)  on-board as advisors with plans to build an “Art Genome” algorithm similar to the music website Pandora by breaking down artworks into 500+dimensions (e.g., art historical movement, subject matter, formal qualities), to recommend more art users might like. The business model is commission-based where gallery partners pay Artsy a sales commission that averages 3% of the sales price.[48]


Artinfo is the main online product, launched in 2005 by Louise Blouin Media, publisher of Art and Auction. It covers contemporary art and market news.


Here is a list of other online art market endeavors:


1stdibs is an online marketplace is an aggregation of thousands of art and antique dealers offering a list of first-tier gallery exhibitions sortable by city with light editorial content.


20x200’s aim is to provide “art for everyone” with limited-edition prints from $20 to $5,000 for the entry-level collector comfortable in an online marketplace.


Artlog is an online travel guide for new collectors founded by a banker with multimedia content, email newsletters, and events listed for 4,000 galleries and museums.


Similarly, Los Angeles based ForYourArt cleverly utilizes Google Maps to recommend gallery exhibitions, events and highlights local artists.


Artspace sells low cost entry to the art world via limited edition prints from recognized artists at affordable sums with pedigreed museums as partners. Scalability.


Blacklots is a well-designed site founded by a Chairman of Phillips, London, a Gagosian Director, entrepreneurs in the Entertainment and Internet industries. They auction a single object every 24 hours. Users list a piece to sell and it is on the website in less than a week unlike traditional auction houses, with no listing fee, and a 7% sellers commission. Specialists curate print sales from $1,000 - $25,000 in minimalist online auction experiences with scalability an issue, due to their “one a day” approach.


Exhibition A’s has two sales per week of limited edition prints by contemporary artists at entry-level prices by working with artists internationally.


KiptonART guides emerging artists with exposure to dealers, galleries, and financiers.  They upload work, and if a buyer is interested, they handle everything from payment to shipping, charging 20% to 30% commission. Bad navigation of too much information is their only drawback.


Paddle 8 features a monthly curator of 20 works available for sale to members of modern and contemporary art centered around a theme with related artist dossiers, gallery listings and inventory offerings. This supplements their invitation and registration system, a networking and vetting device which insures a certain amount of brick-and-mortar-like exclusivity.


VIP (“Viewing in Private”) Art Fair offers a virtual art fair experience but not online sales, with back room inventory, chat rooms and online introductions to gallery representatives that are free from geographic constraints. A booth at Art Basel Miami Beach rents from $10,500 to $65,000, here they are $5,000 to $20,000.  January 2011 technical difficulties with the chat function’s failure necessitated telephone calls, not chats and confused customers.


More venues are on their way. Amazon recently sent an email announcement to art galleries offering them the opportunity to sell their artist’s work on Amazon. “We would love the opportunity to offer your gallery’s selection,” they gush in an email invite. Hilary Day on Alan Bamberger’s page writes, “they are writing to individual gallery owners to specifically pick and chose who they are wanting to partake.” They are planning the opening of a Fine Art Gallery and surround it with all the glamour that is accorded to a normal New York art event:  “You are cordially invited to a special event in New York” but by the end of it they refer to it as both “the platform” and an “Amazon Art store," whatever that might turn out to be. The jury is still out.


"This summer Amazon is planning to launch a Fine Art Gallery where customers will be able to purchase original artwork offered by a select group of invited galleries via …We will introduce the Amazon Art marketplace to New York galleries. We have received overwhelming support from the galleries that have already joined the platform…”


Alan Bamberger who runs an art blog out of San Francisco says, “How did I know this would happen?.. Seems like everyone's hopping on the juggernaut these days” and asks, “whether the platform you'll be paying for will yield profitable results, either in terms of exposure, $$ or in other ways?“ on his Facebook page.



Appendix 1: Artworld media phenomena


Jerry Saltz’s Facebook Page


Jerry Saltz, who used to write about art for the Village Voice and now does so for New York Magazine, decided to start interacting with artists online via Facebook a few years ago after doing so in his occasional teaching experiences. Today he has become quite the art world (B list) celeb for this. Artists have done artwork about it and there is quite a bit of buzz in the art world about many of the things that are said there.


“Five years ago, we were all amazed that Jerry Saltz had 5,000 followers on Facebook, which doesn’t seem like a very large number now,” said the dealer Gavin Brown.[49]


However recently, an anonymous artist said, “I believe that Jerry's page has leveled off.... there's not a lot of friction or fresh discourse happening there. … It’s a shame Jerry is restricted from writing about fresher & further-afield art… I think I've put in my time on Jerry's wall and it has helped me out in many direct ways.”


Saltz himself said[50], “A great thing about galleries…is that they’re social spaces, collective séances, campfires where anyone can gather…” so we can see that he is moving from the gallery as social space to Facebook as social space. “…The role of the critic is diminishing. …  enter the arena of spectacle, becoming something of a spectacle yourself. (Believe me; I know.) ……”


And finally, Kenny Schachter, a London-based art dealer, curator and writer, wrote this in an insider art column,[51] “…Jerry Saltz was the early adopter and form pusher …His New York magazine column and two-season stint on an art reality TV series have grown him an audience of more than 35,000. Just over 5,000 of these are “friends” …For art criticism, a form of writing that is regularly declared dying or dead, that is like filling an Olympic stadium…. There are the fame-seekers, … the do-gooders raising their hands over and over in the digital classroom. They don’t have much to say, they just want to contribute … then there are… trench-coated flashers. … …there are “those who leave a conversation, taking their comments with them …


“Put your foot in your mouth on Facebook and you’ll quickly be called on it…


“Jerry Saltz should be included in the Facebook owner’s manual on how to engage a crowd on the subject of art. … commissioning a fake Gerhard Richter painting to lambasting the art market . (See his recent campaign to have all art cost the same amount.)… There is no shortage of people, including myself, who shamelessly suck up to Mr. Saltz in every thread…. the big crowd came because they like jerry and want his attention. But many stay because there wind up being some real GOOD debates about art, art-making, the art market, and the role of art. About 20% percent of the banter there –amid piles of joking, politics, and locker-room humor– is excellent aesthetics debate. Some voices from the great unwashed masses get to be heard –sometimes by major players. Retired museum directors, print-world art critics, art bloggers, recent mfa grads, teachers, collectors, curators glom together there and are heard –the top powers of the art world and the beginners and the outsiders in one place. That happens in no other gallery or classroom…


“… There can be an almost dictatorial ruthlessness to Uncle Jerry,…the unspoken rules of the game on his playing field apparently must be strictly adhered to or you are unceremoniously given the boot. … He periodically prunes his friends (there is a limit, after all) to make way for those waitlisted and drops only those who attack others…. ‘the art world is a very small place’—it’s just someone typing mean words as they sit alone brushing the crumbs off themselves.”



 Jerry Saltz on what’s online


Saltz’s New York Magazine column recently reflected on the death of the gallery in light of so many online phenomena springing up. [52]


“These days, the art world is large and spread out…  Selling happens year-round, at art fairs, auctions, biennials, and big exhibitions, as well as online via JPEG files and even via collector apps. …


Websites for high-end sales and auctions are burgeoning. We read of sites with technology that allows collectors “to visualize artwork in 3-D space without ever leaving your desk,” an “animated gif display,” an “online sales platform,” “sortable JPEG images.” We hear of an “online collector profile and gallery … to list your preferences and to view our art selections tailored to you.”


When so much art is sold online or at art fairs, it’s great for the lucky artists who make money, but it leaves out everyone else who isn’t already a brand. …sales platforms are proliferating, too. Paddle8 advertises that it provides two types of online auctions. 


Another, called Artspace, recently raised $8.5 … Still another site, Artsy… says it will “make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.”


 … The auction houses are in on the new game as well. Christie’s, in partnership with a company called Y&S, now provides “a venue for emerging artists not yet represented by galleries” and “creates a bridge between young artists and a young audience.” Translation: “We’re cutting out dealers. ….”


Thus, unrepresented artists go straight to auction. Work that is sold this way exists only in collector circles. No other artist gets to see it, engage with it, think about it. The public functions of the gallery space and its proprietors—curation, juxtaposition, ­development—are bypassed and eliminated. All these people supposedly want to help artists, and they probably think they are doing so…Too many of the buyers keep their purchases in storage, in crates, awaiting resale. Mediocre Chinese photorealism has become a tradeable packaged good….


I’ll admit that there’s something democratizing about all this. …I love that young broke artists who can’t travel to New York or Berlin can look at art online, think about what it means, and use this information in their own work…



The Artworld on Instagram


Excepts from a recent article:[53]


“An Instagram art dealer was inescapable. With the rise of e-commerce sites like Artsy and Artspace, buying and selling art online has become not only accepted but normal.


Social media has become a big concern for the art world, and more recently, in the art market. …Instagram is now the social media network of choice for the art world, …

Instagram is uniquely suited to the art world because… “Everyone is looking at what everyone else is looking at.  


For dealers, it’s quite possibly the easiest way of selling art—several sources mentioned stirring up interest from collectors accidentally through casually posting images of their back rooms…


“It’s not as annoying as Facebook—it doesn’t have all that stuff I don’t care about on it,” said the dealer Zach Feuer, whose gallery’s account, like those of most galleries, is public. “It’s all visual. It’s the network where the gallery has the least number of followers. I can be more casual there, unlike on Facebook or Twitter. It’s 300 people and I know all of them. It feels like pretty direct communication.” …


Museums have caught on, though. The Museum of Modern Art’s account, which has almost 150,000 followers, does several posts a week, each of a different artwork in the museum’s permanent collection …Art in America magazine… recently started doing an Instagram post a day to promote its art reviews …


If nothing else, it’s proof that the art world is very different than it was even five years ago.  ….

Ms. Westreich Wagner said, “I can’t imagine anybody buying anything that way. It’s a good tool for gathering information—but I don’t know how anybody could buy something that way, particularly on the secondary market, where there are issues of condition and provenance. I don’t know how anybody could do it with any degree of appreciation for what an artwork is.” 


Appendix 2: Opinions by art professionals



Finally, what do art professionals think the online world does or does not offer them? I spoke to some colleagues on and offline[54] and inquired about what the Internet does differently from the traditional art world.


Dm Simons (artist)


When work crosses the threshold of their studio it is a shared thing, not solely theirs any more. … The homology and subtext is atmosphere and this is where social media lurks. As a manipulative and propaganda tool it only goes so far, it will not build sales, or get gallery representation. What it will provide a disenfranchised artist …with a disenfranchised gallery show including hundreds of others in the same boat where their work is compromised …Another side effect is the collapse and exhaustion of the media bubble, which no one is expecting but it will surely come. … Does one buy a picture or statue because they love it?… Work is bought for status to prop up said buyer's social acumen … In a sense the 'like' is similar to buying work for the liker, it becomes a form of collecting. …As soon as something is made or before it is made or shown it is history. …Even in this ad nauseam virtual world, work is still recommended by word-of-mouth of other artists to dealers, curators etc. … Unless we have online galleries who give online shows, sell online works of online artists who would get paid in real $$$, social media is pure masturbation …The recent auctions for the contemporary market sold close to a billion dollars of trophy art. It makes the second tier —work from $100,000-$1,000,000 look shabby …Which leaves the rest of us those who sell from $5,000-$99,000 look like the dregs…the economic model rules right now and this trending damages everything below it. There is virtually no market at this time for works selling for four or five figures. And that market used to be what was valued by savvy collectors.


Sean Capone (artist)


… Facebook has been instrumental in me getting in touch with my writing. Both the punchy single postings, but also some longer form reviews & critical writing. I've never sold a piece because of Facebook or received any definitive opportunity, but the networking has been really nice and I feel like it's given me a 'public personality' that's outside of my private life & studio life. …I'd rather be interacting & connecting directly with people like curators, collectors, and other plugged-in folks …but those people (largely) aren't wasting their time on Facebook, … Online networks…only facilitate real world connections …    


Bibbe Hansen (second generation artist)


My experience tends more towards social media enabling intellectual collaborations and introduction to new media and new ideas…There is an interesting divide between the contemporary art world and art world market … Banks, Hotels, Corporations, design houses. I guess those are the customers.


Kenny Schachter (dealer, curator and collector)


 (It’s) just an easier way to express one's self and democratize criticism. Despite bubbles about instagram and the like effecting markets, it’s yet to come in a meaningful way, yet (it’s) a significant factor. artnet is probably among the most mature and rounded in the sector with growing sales and price info but no one is really in their rear view mirror and they are hardly more than a fly on the butt of the market. Sooner or later the paradigm will shift but it hasn't yet and i see nothing in next 8 to 12 months that suggests it might change anytime soon…. No art internet company nears artnet in services and model-shifting progress.



Todd Levin (art advisor)


I have a company website that's strictly a 'place holder' that I haven't touched in over six or seven years, and I write what I'm eating on facebook every morning. That and normal email are the extent of my Internet involvement. I really do not use it as a 'strategy' vis a vis the portion of the Art world I circulate in in, or even understand it as such. Art, to a certain extent, has always been about community in some ways, and is nice to be able to engage that community when one is inclined to do so.




Kristine Stiles (art scholar, writer)


In certain artist's work - Ai Weiwei, Dan Perjovschi, Walid Reed, come immediately to mind it has been fundamental. As far as FB is concerned, we all use it regularly for contact with artists, critics, curators throughout the world. I don't even carry a calling card any more, I just tell them to "contact me on FB." So social networking is a part of the art market in so far as artists depend on it for communication, which inevitably goes into the market, and those of us in the institutions of art from art history to curating, are part of that imbricated system, like it or not.




AA Bronson (artist, former director of Printed Matter, a non-profit book art institution)


I have very mixed feelings about the art market. One thing I like about social media is that they engage the art world in a different way, neither avoiding the marketplace, nor enhancing it.


Vicki DaSilva (artist)


My personal experience as an artist using social media exploded with my win of Art Takes Times Square. Artists Wanted, which is now See.Me, is a social media platform for artists that enabled me to take… that win and push it through social media to my advantage. Because the competition was featured in an article on the cover of the New York Times Arts section on June 18, 2012, with my photograph 1/2 page, that single event catapulted my potential to further my art career more than any other factor due to the prestige of the NYT.


Social media allowed me … to advertise my… work for free simply by sharing. This is the fundamental change for artists: … A daily show & tell on steroids.


Social media also allowed me the ability to claim my historical importance in regards to my specific medium of light graffiti & light painting photography. … Since anyone can say anything online, false claims of artistic 'firsts' are rampant. Now that topic has been solidified by my achievements and verified by curators and gallerists as well as the existing proof of the chronological dates of my work since 1980. That was extremely important to me. Youtube also plays a very important role for me as it allows the documentation of my process to be understood and shared.


Using my phone and Drobbox, I can now approach anyone and say, 'May I please show you my NY Times cover?' … which leads to a yes or no interest. … if I was not working as hard as I am at doing business in person, I don't think I would have the level of growing interest in my work. I am working harder than ever to make the face to face connections. I believe social media and in person networking are a 50/50 endeavor for art career development.


P Elaine Sharpe just recently had a direct social media FB art endorsement from a drawing she made that was seen by a gallerist who put a series of those drawings in the Paris-Photo LA show. i will let her explain, as other artists were a catalyst of the same's a GREAT FB STORY!!



PE Sharpe (Canadian artist)


The LA Times Story (“The Paris Photo art fair comes to Los Angeles: Photography's new aim” Los Angeles Times, by Jori Finkel,,  April 26, 2013) begins “The photograph is almost famous: a shot by Kevin Winter of actress Jennifer Lawrence that caught her just as she stumbled on her way to receive an Oscar this year. The small drawings hanging beneath are less familiar: delicate images by P.E. Sharpe of a sparse figure, stripped of the voluminous Dior dress, in different positions as she recovers from her fall.”

The gallerist James Danziger’s blog, The Year in Pictures, <, The Fall (and Rise) of Jennifer Lawrence, February 28, 2013> stated “This was the visual that stuck with me … after checking in on Facebook I see I was not the only one. … artist P.E. Sharpe challenged other artists to do their own interpretation of the fall of Jennifer Lawrence”


After a month of challenging herself with a body of work which she called “fantastic enough on its own merits”,  artist PE Sharpe declared on Facebook “SOLD!!! Yup! All sold. The four drawings, the paint on paper, and the photo. To a prominent collector” and added later “now I have some breathing space to go in and paint without sweating every tube of paint” and “ I'm paying my studio rent!”


A dealer in NY saw a “quick little painting I did” of Jennifer Lawrence’s famous fall on the stairs to pick up her Oscar. "He saw it through a mutual friend's wall on FB in the days following Oscar night. I don't know the dealer other than through his (excellent) reputation ” she said of James Danzinger the New York photo dealer, “an amazing dealer who went out on a limb with this because it spoke to him in the same way to spoke to me, …and the rest (her Facebook friends) …who watched me enjoy my entire unfolding of the figura from that of a celebrity falling to a metaphor about being human, vulnerable, and resilient. We were all in this together!...  I wrote more specifically as it was happening. …”


She called the dealer as requested. “He had a project in mind, which was spectacularly exciting for me. Soooo, continuing my explorations as I had planned - that little figura had really grabbed my heart for a lot of reasons - I spent these past couple of weeks working away and enjoying the process of development of an unexpected idea, infected toe and all.”


She then shipped the work off and Sharpe reported to her facebook friends a day later the dealer had called and “he loved it all, he has a release from Getty Images for the (original) photo (of the celebritiy’s fall) and my paintings and drawings will be the entirety of a long wall in his booth at Paris Photo LA in April. They are going to the framer in NY tomorrow. “


After musing on some of the disappointments that can come out of nowhere in the art world she adds, “I could never have willed this into being, a year ago I couldn't have even imagined this outcome for anything, I had been hit repeatedly by events around me and I barely knew which end was up. It really is fantastic, unexpected, wonder-filled, and you all have been part of that process by sharing your own work and supporting mine”. 


She eventually added, “this dealer has never shown work like this before, and I am a reformed photo-based artist: we are doing this complete crapshoot of a shifted paradigm together AT A PHOTO FAIR. … I had already done the undressing of the figure and painted another by the time this happened, it made a world of difference because the gallerist trusted my work ethic and vision enough to leave it to me. The only thing he asked was whether I had thought of making any bigger versions and I answered truthfully that I was already on it! The upsizing maquette was the only other image I shared with him until he got the package yesterday, and I had also completely changed the nudes from unshod innocents to what you see above.”


Her friend Rody Douzoglou added “As an ex-dealer I…cannot ignore the fb component throughout the creative process in this body of work. Booths and white spaces are not the only way to expose. I find them too unilateral and confining.....


It was a few days later that she  shared the dealers report: “….THEY ALL FUCKING SOLD!!!...FIRST DAY OF THE FAIR!!!!... All sold. The four drawings, the paint on paper, and the photo. To a prominent [redacted] collector. I had to give a 25% discount but figured you would be cool with that. The installation worked!...The L.A. Times might even write about it….one hopes there will be more enquiries!...”


The artist was happy with the outcome and her dealer when she reported “James was already working the press angle - he is brilliant… it was barely two weeks ago and yet it seems like light years. I sure did get press, and work sold. How amazing it seems, as if it happened to someone else….”


Susan Shulman and Bill Evertson (artists)


Susan Shulman and Bill Evertson are mid-career artists who met at a live event that was largely organized online, the A Book About Death exhibition in New York City in 2009 that subsequently traveled to  cities around the world since then. After their initial meeting, the pair, one from the US and the other from Canada, also joined forces with a woman from Belgium to form an international art-making trio called Seeking Kali. They discussed in person in New York how social networking has impacted their work:


Susan: It never would have happened, this social and artistic interaction unless we happened to bump into each other.

Bill: Forty years ago you’d have to be at the Cedar Tavern…

Susan: Or Club Med! But because of being involved in an online show as an artist, I was able to look at other artists and see what resonated with me and bond with like-minded people. A dialogue happens. You tend to communicate better and deeper and work together.

Bill: If the bond is tenuous it might fall apart but if it’s a fairly strong bond it can go on for years. You get excited. Someone puts something up…

Susan: …and you want to react to it.

Bill: It causes a reaction. Its almost like a chess game.

Susan: You wait for the other person to move. But it’s in a visual way.

Bill: It has that aspect of play that Fluxus had.

Susan: But it is serious. Our collaboration causes me to create more art.

Bill: Photoshop is like what sketchbooks used to be. You just put up unfinished ideas and share them and get an instant reaction.

Susan: By creating art so often it becomes part of your life. You end up being better. And you get better and better. You try new things.

Karen (Bill’s wife, a non-artist who frequently observes their collaboration): Social media allows collaboration to get out of the solitary art-making of the past.

Susan: You have an instant audience.

Bill: You act more like a musician acts. It allows you to jam. To do an artistic jam.

Susan: You get feedback quicker. From people you know who like your stuff. So you move from a solo performer to a broader audience.


David Ross (former director, Whitney Museum)


When social media is used in the service of art, it is not a big deal.  It fits cleanly into a way for individuals to pursue that kind of activity… just like people who use the social space for politics. Crowd sourcing is one of the most extraordinary experiences in the last 25 years. Its extraordinary and we don’t remotely understand the full implications of minds linked together in parallel all over the world. It is absolutely unprecedented in the history of humankind. It’s an activists dream.


But this has become transformative on a global level so quickly. How deeply and broadly they’ve affected social behavior. It turns class distinctions upside down. It eliminated economic distinctions, national distinctions. There are fewer and fewer things that are left outside of it. It is even in developing nations where previously we had no way of  understanding each other….Information can flow in a two way pattern. It is not longer passive with information flowing in one direction from a place of authority…. We are no longer just receivers. It is now equalized. Readers and writers are on an equal level. There is no authority. Anyone is capable of being a writer. What does that do to our assumptions about how art and literature function? …There is a lot of anxiety. There are huge amounts of change. People think they can stop the change with anxiety but there is no stopping it. This boat has sailed. We’ll spend the rest of our lives dealing with the reordering of social relationships…. They can deny it exists. It is transformative. It threatens the established order….That’s the state we are in.


Does it affect the art world? What hasn’t been affected by social media? The sunrise is still the same but everything else has changed. Our political life, our aesthetics, our learning, our writing, our reading, our creating and sharing of knowledge. How can the art world not change?

Its like the Beaux Arts tradition, the last dying gasps in a former art world. It believed it was in a bubble…it spoke only to itself. It has had no impact on the 20th century. It was dismantled . It exists only for people that want to fool themselves….


The art market has nothing to do with aesthetics. But marketing has everything to do with the art world sensibility. It’s like aluminum siding. Damien Hirst created and sold the diamond skull. It was one of the most brilliant things that was done in many years. It was something beautiful. I went to see it twice. It was gorgeous….everything about it was theater. You had to wait in line to see it. There were armed guards watching you as you looked at it. It was theater…creative genius, entrepreneurial…. But taste is different from aesthetics.


[1] How Uptown Money Kills Downtown Art by Christian Viveros-Faune, Feb. 6 2013

[2] The Invention of Art History in Ancient Greece: Religion, Society and Artistic Rationalisation by Jeremy Tanner, Cambridge University Press, 2006


[3] Money and Art: A Study Based on the Times-Sotheby Index, by Geraldine Keen, Putnam, 1971

[4] Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-century Florence by Tim Parks, Profile Books Limited, 2006

[5] “Art Fair Points” by Todd Levin, unpublished, received by email, February 2013

[6], How to Cite or Link Using DOI

[7] Patronage, Competition and Diversification


[8] “Art Fair Points” by Todd Levin, unpublished, received by email, February 2013

[9] ibid

[10] Keen.

[11] Duchamp: A Biography, by Calvin Tomkins, Henry Holt and Company, 1996

[12] Art Market History – Looking at the Big Picture by artforprofits, September 11, 2007

[13] Keen

[14] Barbara Guggenheim, a partner in an art consultancy firm who holds a doctorate in Art History from Columbia University and worked at both Sotheby's and Christie's.

[15]  History of art market written by Lauren Gentile,

[16] New York Dealer Ivan Karp from The Business of Art by Lee Caplin, New York, Prentice Hall, 1989

[17] Ibid 242-244

[18] Keen. (Grace Glueck in the New York Times called this book a cumbersome advertisement for Sotheby’s and pointed out that soonafter the Index was not widely used.)

[19] Art Market History – Looking at the Big Picture by artforprofits, September 11, 2007

[20] Keen.

[21] Ibid

[22], Andy Warhol Pre-Pop by Gary Comenas

[23] “A Brief History of Postal Art” by Mark Bloch,

[24] “Communities Collaged: Mail Art and The Internet” by Mark Bloch (originally appeared in New Observations) NEW YORK, 2000

[25] Telephone interview with David Ross, former Director of the Whitney Museum, by the author, May 23, 2013

[26] Caplin. “Contemporary art at auction” by David J. Nash


[27] Caplin

[28] ibid pg 306

[29] ibid pg 284-5

[30] ibid

[31] History of art market written by Lauren Gentile,

[32]Robert Storr  quote How Uptown Money Kills Downtown Art” by Christian Viveros-Faune , Feb 6 ,2013,

[33] Perfect NY Armory Week Cocktail Party Topic,, March 7, 2009

[34] History of art market written by Lauren Gentile,

[35] “Art Fair Points” by Todd Levin, unpublished, received by email, February 2013


[37] Contemporary Photography Market Ties to Washington, DC

[38] ibid The International Art Markets. September 25, 2008

[39], “As Art Values Rise, So Do Concerns About Market’s Oversight” by Robin Pogrebin And Kevin Flynn, January 27, 2013

[40] ibid

[41],1 January 2013, “Geneva's art storage boom in uncertain times” by Imogen Foulkes BBC News, Geneva

[42], “China overtakes UK in art market league”, March 2011

[43] “Women on the Verge” by Ellen Gamerman and Mary M. Lane, April 18, 2013,



[45] The Art Market is less Ethical than the Stock Market”  from February 3, 2009>


“The Art Market’s Presence Online: A Curated Survey” by Joseph F. Del Vecchio, Esq., Montage Finance




[48]Assessing The Art World's Pandora Goes Beta” by Brian Boucher, July 2012,


[49], “The Gallery, Unfiltered: On the Art World’s Instagram Obsession” by Michael H. Miller April 2013


[50] , “The Death of the Gallery Show” by Jerry Saltz, March 2013

[51], “Status Anxiety: Kenny Schachter Dives into Facebook’s Art-World Trenches” by Kenny Schachter, January 2013

[52] , “The Death of the Gallery Show” by Jerry Saltz, March 2013

[53] The Gallery, Unfiltered: On the Art World’s Instagram Obsession” by Michael H. Miller, April 2013


[54] All interviews were conducted by the author during the month of May, 2013 via Facebook messaging with the exception of David Ross, who was interviewed by telephone, May 23, 2013 and Susan Shulman and Bill Evertson, who were interviewed in person on May 26, 2013.