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Art world finds a new market online

Artist Works Catalogues from artnet.com

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: These days you can buy almost everything on the web: books, clothes, music, shoes.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports, you can also buy art -- like really, really expensive art.


JEFF TYLER: When it comes to art, Chip Tom is old-fashioned.

CHIP TOM: I like to see something. I want to see what the texture of the painting is, how the paint was actually applied.

But these days, he's feeling a little out of step. Tom is a partner and art curator at Heather James Fine Art. The gallery sells big names, like Monet and Picasso.

TOM: Amazingly, we do between 30-40 percent of our business on the Internet. We don't meet them. We don't even necessarily speak to them on the phone. It's all through e-mails.

TYLER: People are spending upwards of tens of thousands of dollars on stuff that they've never actually seen or touched?

TOM: Hundreds of thousands of dollars per piece on things they've never seen or touched.

Tom says that confidence is a product of the Internet age. Several websites now allow consumers to research works of art much like investors research stocks.

Brian McConville is with artnet.

BRIAN MCCONVILLE: We have a database that allows collectors or dealers to go in and find auction records that are illustrated that once upon a time was just not available to collectors.

He says artnet's four million auction records allow access to information that hadn't been widely available.

MCCONVILLE: Before this database, it was just dealer-to-dealer, and collectors were really, really in the dark.

As the art world grows more accessible online, it's attracting new collectors.

JOSETTE MEY: Open the art market to all users.

Josette Mey is with the website Art Price, based in France. She says, when people are educated through sites like hers, it helps the whole industry.

MEY: It is profitable for the galleries and the art dealers as well, because it will increase confidence from the buyers and naturally increase the market volume.

artnet's services include an online auction platform, so collectors can bypass more expensive brick-and-mortar auction houses. That is, assuming they don't need to see and touch the painting before they buy.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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