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Web or gallery: What is art's new go-to place?

eBay and Sotheby’s recently announced a collaboration to develop a platform to make it easier for people to browse and acquire art, online. With more people indulging in online art purchases and with the emergence of platforms to facilitate it, Ruchika Kher spoke to gallery owners and artists on how this development will affect India’s art canvas

A few facts to shake things up:
a) The number of artworks purchased online from Sotheby’s website increased 36% in 2013, as compared to 2012, b) The number of visitors to sothebys.com on mobile devices (tablet + smartphone) doubled in 2013 from 2012. These are the statistics sourced from just one art supplier.

This painting of the Mona Lisa is not an original but a representative image
This painting of the Mona Lisa is not an original but a Representative image

An increasing number of art enthusiasts are procuring art from online platforms, drawing attention towards digital spaces for such purchases. The recent collaboration of eBay and Sotheby’s to develop an online space to make art available appears to be another step in that direction.

“The growth of the art market, new generation technology and our shared strengths make this the right time for this new online opportunity. We believe this is a great opportunity, to make art more accessible to exponentially more collectors,” asserts Bruno Vinciguerra, Sotheby’s Chief Operating Officer.

At the other end, Devin Wenig, President of eBay Marketplaces, adds that with this partnership they “can give people access to the world’s finest, most inspiring items anytime, anywhere and from any device”.

The online surge
In India, art is being sold on the Internet for over 12 years and got an impetus with the launch of websites that auction art online, like Saffronart in early 2000s. But it’s only in the last couple of years that the online art movement has been experiencing a surge.

Artist Reena Kallat. Pic courtesy/Abhinit Khanna Ashwin Thadani, Owner, Galerie Isa
Artist Reena Kallat. Pic courtesy/Abhinit Khanna and Ashwin Thadani, Owner, Galerie Isa

While consumers aren’t complaining, most artists are in compliance with this trend. Artist Reena Kallat, whose oeuvre spans painting, photography, video, sculpture and installation, considers the online platform as a welcome development. “Not only does it provide easy access to a wider collector base but it also makes it possible to offer a larger range of collectibles that perhaps can’t all be physically made available under one roof.”

Artist Brinda Miller Hena Kapadia, Director, Tarq
Artist Brinda Miller and Hena Kapadia, Director, Tarq

However, she feels that the experience of being in the presence of the work is irreplaceable. “Reproductions don’t always do justice to the work; so while some things can look better in photographs than in reality, others may seem misleadingly unimpressive when viewed online,” adds Kallat.

Renowned abstract artist Brinda Miller explains that in most cases, art that sells through the Internet is sold mostly to those who cannot get to see it. “For example, an NRI would find it difficult to visit an art gallery at a time when he or she would like to buy the work of a particular artist. Online availability helps in that case.”

Fate of the physical gallery
The original spaces for art appreciation, selling and buying play a much more important role, clarifies Kallat, “Rather than treating artworks as isolated objects or commodities, they work towards building a holistic understanding of an artist’s oeuvre. Those galleries who work with a certain set of artists over the years, become an integral part of the development of the artist’s work,” she says.

Echoing a similar stance, Hena Kapadia, Gallery Director, Tarq, puts forth, “Galleries, museums and other physical spaces will always be relevant as primary sites of discussion, appreciation, documentation, artistic growth and experience.”

Ashwin Thadani of Galerie Isa feels that art connoisseurs might follow the online aspect of acquisition but will continue to patronise the galleries they’ve been dealing with. “There is appreciation that one feels by viewing an artwork for real rather than just an image.

Also, most clients would not usually acquire high value works online unless they are extremely seasoned, the online market is broader for the younger collectors for lower values of purchase,” he elaborates.

Faux art
A major issue that plagues the art world is fakes that have grown to be a major concern. Hence, experts say that while procuring art, the collector should be sure about the authenticity of the works. “The best way to protect yourself from buying a fake is to buy from a trusted source, verify the provenance of the artwork, and educate yourself about the artist’s work and practice,” advices Kapadia.

While some say that one should be more careful while acquiring art online, Miller is of the opinion that one should be extra vigilant during physical sales as well. “Fakes can be sold unknowingly or knowingly by art dealers in any case...even authentication certificates can be faked.”

Modern art rules
“The art market in India is strong for mainly the moderns. After 2009, the contemporary art scene witnessed a downfall, and collectors felt more secure with the modern masters. While the moderns is what is being acquired by most of the seasoned collectors in India, as compared to contemporary art, when that changes, the online concept will also increase the market.”
Ashwin Thadani, Owner, Galerie Isa

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