The art world is only now beginning to address the questions raised by the pandemic, such as: Are personal art knives a thing of the past and virtual viewing rooms the future? Are museums going to maintain non-tickets and do auction houses continue to sell online worldwide?
One mega-gallery owner, David Zwirner, decided to double down on what he took away last year: the need for a click-to-buy market to sell original artwork. As a result, Zwirner created Platform, a website that launches Thursday and offers 100 works each month offered by about 12 independent galleries around the world, with prices ranging from $ 2,500 to $ 50,000.
“We have learned that there is a real place in the art world for e-commerce,” Zwirner said in a recent telephone interview. ‘There’s an audience we did not know. They do not necessarily go to galleries and do not really go to art fairs. They look at things online. He noted that the audience was ‘almost all millennials’, discovering art through Instagram and word of mouth. “The art world has never catered for them,” Zwirner added. “They can achieve a much wider participant.”
Zwirner hosted an earlier trial of Platform last year, and several of the participating galleries are returning for the new iteration, including Bridget Donahue and Night Gallery. The new partners include Bortolami, Charles Moffett and Jessica Silverman. The artists presenting Platform are initially Kenny Rivero, Jane Dickson and Jibade-Khalil Huffman.
To be sure, sites like Artsy and Artnet have been selling online for some time. And last year Sotheby’s started Gallery Network, an online buying market for works worth up to $ 150,000.
But for a blue chip like Zwirner, the platform business is a major departure from the traditional gallery model. The additional information about the artworks has been expanded, and in many cases, artists are making work for the site.
“Everyone is trying to invent this new landscape, which is so much dependent on digital content and the sale of material without seeing it in person,” Moffett said. ‘We tried a number of different platforms and were less than happy with the results. Clearly, the David Zwirner brand is highly respected, and my artists like the idea that they will present on the Zwirner platform. So we realized, why not give it a try? ‘
Skeptics will say that Zwirner is only trying to gain publicity and achieve goodwill with a paternalistic Robin Hood move that will eventually give his own gallery 20 percent of every sale on Platform. And some in the art world are concerned that Platform is merely a farm team for Zwirner – a way to develop emerging artists, seek them out from smaller galleries, and gather information about the galleries’ customers.
“I would not be interested in doing something like that – it’s a little wolf in sheep’s clothes,” Larry Gagosian said. “My advice to smaller galleries is to keep your own identity and brand – even if you can not do it at the level of a large gallery, work to the best of your ability and do not hand over your artists and client lists to someone who may be exploiting it at some point. ”
Zwirner said he wants to collaborate with smaller galleries, not repress or exploit, citing, for example, the recent addition of Romanian-born sculptor Andra Ursuta, who will continue to work with Ramiken crucible, and to Harold Ancart, who continues to work on a smaller gallery, Clearance.
Lucas Zwirner, the son of the retailer who led the creation of Platform, pointed out that the mega-gallery is investing in material on the site that gives the artists greater visibility, including interviews and videos.
“We don’t just take art and sell it,” he said. “We help grow careers and promote artists.”
Moffett said the click-to-buy aspect was a bit unsettling, and the replacement of the “query” button, which started a conversation with the gallery. “I’m very proud to place all of my artists ‘work carefully, and the idea that we can buy these artists’ work out there for everyone is a little stressful,” he said. ‘If I had a preference, it would be the’ query ‘button, but I think it’s worth it to make a leap of faith. ‘
Where traders usually put a lot of effort into placing artworks at prominent museums or reputable collectors, platform allows everyone except criminals to buy it. But democratization, David Zwirner said, as well as the transparency of posted prices, compared to the usual gallery opacity around the cost of doing business, is an integral part of the new venture.
“We are not sitting there saying, ‘You have to buy it and not,'” Zwirner said. “This is the first time, the first time.”
David Kusin, a Dallas economist who watches the art market, praised Platform’s ‘use of 21st century technology’ for buying and selling art and suggested that Zwirner could use the business to collect valuable art price data.
Mike Steib, the CEO of Artsy, said he welcomes Platform into the arena: “Everything we can do that makes buying art as accessible as buying cars, jewelry or luxury goods is amazing.”
Platform is staffed by a team of ten young gallery owners – in addition to his son, it includes Zwirner’s daughter, Marlene, who provides various backgrounds for the business. Bettina Huang, for example, the general manager of Platform, has held leadership roles in e-commerce businesses Fab.com and the Amazon subsidiary Quidsi.
Silverman, what not opened a new space in San Francisco, said the two artists she will be performing are Clare Rojas and Catherine Wagner. “I’m interested in experiments,” the trader said of Platform – “which may work what we do not know.”
James Fuentes, a gallery owner in Manhattan who took part in a launch of Platform during the pandemic, said the experience “was a big boost for us in a very difficult time” and that the online space was “less hierarchical”. is.
Several artists on Platform have said they are excited about the possibility of greater exposure. “It would have been unthinkable even a year ago for a trader like Zwirner to invite an artist like me to take part in this,” he said. Lily Stockman, showing with Moffett.
Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, who co-exhibits with the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, said Platform enabled someone like him, recently outside the art school, to access Zwirner’s network “without meeting the strict expectations of a gallery of that caliber. ”
While 72 percent of Platform’s first-round artwork is $ 10,000 and under, Zwirner said he expects the price point to rise. His gallery last June Jeff Koons sellss “Balloon Venus Lespugue (Red) (2013-19)” for $ 8 million, and has sold more than $ 100 million worth of art online over the past 12 months.
What particularly sparked the dealer’s interest in the business was his experience with the gallery’s fundraising, “Artists for Biden, ”In which more than $ 2.5 million worth of artwork by Koons, Kehinde Wiley and Carmen Herrera, among others, was sold through a ‘buy-now’ option.
He added that 40 Koons prints of an inflatable American flag, each costing $ 10,000, were sold out within seven minutes.
“These are new kinds of numbers for a gallery,” said Lucas Zwirner, adding that “more than 90 percent of the buyers were new to the gallery.”
The venture is meant to cultivate a new kind of art buyer, someone who can feel more comfortable making a decision for themselves, with less interest in the handle that dealers often offer.
“I do not have time to go to every young emerging gallery,” he said Dorian Grinspan, a collector in New York. “It’s exciting to have a place where you can be more composed about what’s around the market.”
(While the smaller galleries suggest artwork for Platform, Zwirner’s specialists may weigh it.)
The mechanics of the site were their own challenge. Zwirner Gallery collaborates with the art shipping company Dietl International, using a custom system that provides delivery quotes upon completion.
The client covers shipping costs and galleries are paid when the work is shipped, avoiding the invoices, packaging and transport bills that can be a burden.
David Zwirner said he has spent ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ to ensure the website is high quality, efficient and beautiful. His commitment to the new online venture inevitably raises questions about his plan for a new $ 50 million gallery in Chelsea, which has been delayed by the pandemic.
“It creates a golden opportunity for me to think about what I really want,” he said. “I’m not as sure as I was four years ago.
Zwirner said he also likes the idea that a company like Platform saves his gallery – and the smaller ones that work with him – the annual high cost of various art scholarships.
“We will never go back to the old way of working,” the trader said. ‘We have encountered a much larger art world than we thought existed. If it turns out to be a robust primary market, the air is the limit. ”