‘You don’t have to be a squillionaire to buy art’ – BBC News
You don’t have to expend millions of pounds to buy an original piece of art.
It’s no longer simply famous names who are selling their works. A growing number of art carnivals and online marketplaces mean new artists starting out are also able to reach buyers well beyond their home marketplaces.
“It’s just a crazy time at the moment, ” tells Alex Rotter, chairman of post-war and contemporary art at auction house Christie’s, apologising for his late bellow.
We manage to speak just days before he kicks off the auction house’s New York sale of 26 contemporary art works from husband-and-wife property development duo Jerry and Emily Spiegel.
This kind of single-owner collection “gathered with one breath”, as Mr Rotter describes it, is rare.
The sale includes famous works by Christopher Wool and Sigmar Polke. With these two pieces valued at $20 m( 15.5 m) each, the 26 works are expected to raise $100 m in total.
While the collect is being sold in New York, the top pieces have already been on a mini-world tour – travelling to Hong Kong, London and Los Angeles in a bid to drum up international interest.
“If you commit to buying a painting worth thousands of dollars then you want to see it first, ” tells Mr Rotter.
Global art and antique sales totalled $57 bn last year, down 11% on 2015, with the US dominating the marketplace, closely followed by the UK and China.
On a practical level, this means that delicate and often precious paints have to travel thousands of miles without being damaged.
The value of Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with Ermine painting was considered absolutely amazing that when it was sent from its Polish home to the US, it was reportedly dedicated its own first-class aircraft seat, as well as an armed guard to make sure it reached its destination intact.
While this kind of treatment is exceptional, valuable paints are typically transported in expensive protective crates complete with detectors to monitor humidity and temperature levels.
British artist Paul West says that when he procured his first sale through online marketplace Artfinder to a buyer in Australia, his initial reaction was a joyous “yes”, followed by a sink realisation that he now had to get the piece there safely.
In the three years since he joined the website, Mr West has sold around 47 paintings, with almost a one-third of these to buyers in the US and Australia.
He recommends lots of bubble wrap and masking tape, and to tape sponge onto the corners.
So far his worst mishap has been a hold-up at customs, which meant a paint took a month rather than a week to reach its destination.
For the 52 -year-old, selling outside the UK has broadened his opportunities.
“Access to the global market is a massive plus. I was producing work I was pleased with, but apart from art carnivals, it was quite hard to be seen, ” he says.
Artfinder founder and chief executive Jonas Almgren put in the service in 2013. He wanted to provide independent artists such as Mr West, who weren’t already represented by a gallery, with a place to sell their work.
The online marketplace now features artists from 108 countries, with customers similarly global.
Originally a Silicon Valley software engineer, Mr Almgren subsequently expended a decade working in high-end galleries in New York, where a painting under $10,000 was considered affordable.
He says his experience taught him that most artists “just didn’t have a chance” to succeed, and he wanted to change this.
The firm charges a 30% commission on all sales, and to address the obvious issue that it’s hard to buy something so visual online, monies free returns.
Last year the firm sold 5m worth of paintings.
The company has given him an insight into how global savours differ.
While landscape and abstract paints are popular everywhere, the UK especially likes paintings of cats and puppies, he says. In contrast, US purchasers prefer portraits and typically buy bigger paintings, probably because they tend to have bigger homes.
The pound’s current weakness against the dollar also means that US purchasers can afford to expend more on UK art.
But the most important thing, tells Mr Almgren, is that his firm tries to cater for all tastes.
“A gallery always has a very strong taste. We’ve taken that model and turned it upside down, ” he says.
Rise Art had similar aspirations to shake up the existing marketplace. Set up in 2011, the start-up focuses on online marketings, with costs from 200 to 30,000.
While online sales remain a small part of the overall global art marketplace – less than 10% – reports indicate it’s a growing region.
But founder and chief executive Scott Phillips admits that no matter how good the virtual images are, an artwork “always looks better in the flesh”. To help buyers’ confidence, the site enables them to rent artworks and live with a piece before committing.
The firm is much more selective than Artfinder, accepting only 1% to 5% of the artists who apply to sell via the site. Rise Art also charges a higher commission of 40 %.
Mr Phillips says websites like his are part of a new, more sensitive wave of disruptive firms. Unlike eBay and Amazon, which, he tells, have commoditised products and been “a destructive power in some ways”, Rise Art “celebrates creativity, dedicating artists a new vehicle for selling and showcasing their work”.
While he’s cagey on precise numbers, the firm now ships to 40 countries and revenue for the first three months of this year was 110% higher than a year ago.
The Affordable Art Fair( AAF) has experienced similarly rapid growth. Since starting out in London’s Battersea Park in 1999, it now holds carnivals in more than 10 cities around the world.
Founder Will Ramsay tells the motivation behind the business was to prove that “you don’t need to be a squillionaire to buy art”.
While costs can be as high as 5,000 for a single painting, the AAF’s median selling price in the UK is 600.
The firm makes its money by charging the galleries for the space they rent at its carnivals, as well as through ticket prices and sponsors.
Recently, the firm has started online sales, an area Mr Ramsay sees as complementing the art carnival.
He owns two televisions – one to watch the video art he has accumulated and the other to watch normal Tv. He tells the 130 pieces of art he has collected are “memories through my life”.
“Don’t buy because you think it may go up in value, ” he advises would-be collectors, “but because you love it and want it on your wall at home.”