December 7, 2022

The art world is only just beginning to grapple with the questions raised by the pandemic: Are personal art fairs a thing of the past and virtual viewing spaces the future? Will museums operate contactless ticketing and auction houses continue to operate global online sales rooms?

A mega gallery owner, David Zwirner, has decided to double what he took with him from last year: the need for a click-to-buy marketplace for selling original artwork. That’s why Zwirner created Platform, a website that launches on Thursday and features 100 works from around 12 independent galleries around the world each month at prices between $ 2,500 and $ 50,000.

“We have learned that there is a real place for e-commerce in the art world,” Zwirner said in a recent telephone interview. “There’s an audience out there that we didn’t know existed. They don’t necessarily go to galleries and they don’t really go to art fairs. You look at things online. “He noted that the audience was” almost all millennials “discovering art through Instagram and word of mouth. “The art world never bothered about them,” added Zwirner. “You can become a much broader participant.”

Zwirner unveiled an earlier pilot of Platform last year, and some 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 Platform will initially showcase include Kenny Rivero, Jane Dickson and Jibade-Khalil Huffman.

Of course, sites like Artsy and Artnet have been selling art online for a while. And last year, Sotheby’s Gallery Network launched an online buy-it-now market for works worth up to $ 150,000.

For a blue-chip giant like Zwirner, however, the platform company means a significant departure from the traditional model of the personal gallery. The additional information about the artworks is more extensive and in many cases artists work for the site.

“Everyone is trying to figure out this new landscape that relies so much on digital content and selling material without actually seeing it in person,” said Moffett. “We tried different platforms and were less than satisfied with the results. Obviously the David Zwirner brand is a very well respected brand and my artists liked the idea of ​​having them featured on the Zwirner platform. So we wondered why we shouldn’t try this. “

Skeptics will say that Zwirner is only trying to advertise with a paternalistic Robin Hood move and generate goodwill that ultimately brings his own gallery 20 percent of every sale on Platform. And some in the art world fear that for Zwirner, Platform is just a farm team – a way to develop aspiring artists, promote them from smaller galleries, and gather information about those galleries’ clientele.

“I wouldn’t be interested in doing anything like that – it’s a bit like a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said trader Larry Gagosian. “My advice to smaller galleries would be to keep your own identity and brand – even if you can’t do this at the large gallery level, do what you can and don’t give your lists of artists and clients to someone who this could use it someday. “

Zwirner said he wanted to work with smaller galleries, not replace or exploit them, and referred, for example, to the recent recording of Romanian-born sculptor Andra Ursuta, who will continue to show with Ramiken Crucible, and to Harold Ancart. who continues to work with a smaller gallery, clearing.

Lucas Zwirner, the son of the trader who oversaw the creation of Platform, pointed out that the mega gallery is investing in material on the website that gives artists greater visibility, including interviews and videos.

“We don’t just take art and sell it,” he said. “We help to make a career and promote artists.”

Moffett said the click-to-buy aspect was a little worrying and was replacing the “inquire” button that initiates a conversation with the gallery. “I take great pride in carefully placing all of my artists ‘work and the idea that we are bringing these artists’ work into the world for everyone to buy is a bit stressful,” he said. “If I had a preference it would be the ‘ask me’ button, but I think a leap in confidence is worth it.”

Indeed, where dealers usually go to great lengths to get works of art placed with major museums or respected collectors, Platform enables purchases by individuals other than criminals. But that democratization, said David Zwirner – as well as the transparency of published prices versus the gallery’s usual opacity in terms of cost – is an integral part of new business.

“We don’t sit there and say,” You can buy it and you can’t, “said Zwirner.” It’s first come, first served. “

David Kusin, a Dallas economist who monitors the art market, praised Platforms “using 21st century technology” to buy and sell art and suggested that Zwirner could use the company to gather valuable art price data.

Mike Steib, the executive director of Artsy, said he welcomed Platform to the arena: “Anything we can do to make buying art as accessible as buying cars, jewelry or luxury goods is great.”

The platform is occupied by a team of 10 young gallery owners – in addition to his son, Zwirner’s daughter Marlene – who bring different backgrounds to the company. Bettina Huang, for example General Manager of Platform, has held management positions at e-commerce companies such as Fab.com and the Amazon subsidiary Quidsi.

Silverman, who has just opened a new space in San Francisco, said the two artists she will feature are Clare Rojas and Catherine Wagner. “I’m interested in experiments,” said the dealer about Platform, “who could come to the work that we don’t know.”

James Fuentes, a Manhattan gallery owner who participated in a Platform pilot during the pandemic, said the experience turned out to be “a huge boost for us at a very difficult time” and that the online space was “less hierarchical ” be.

Several artists on Platform said they were excited about the possibility of greater exposure. “A year ago it would have been inconceivable for a dealer like Zwirner to invite an artist like me to take part,” said Lily Stockman, who shows with Moffett.

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, who shows with the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, said Platform enabled someone like him, who recently dropped out of art school, to gain access to Zwirner’s network “without meeting the strict, intense expectations of a gallery of this caliber to have to. ”

While 72 percent of Platform’s first works of art cost $ 10,000 or less, Zwirner expects the price to rise. His gallery sold Jeff Koons’ Balloon Venus Lespugue (Red) (2013-19) for $ 8 million last June and has sold over $ 100 million online in the past 12 months.

What really sparked the dealer’s interest in the company was his experience with the gallery’s “Artists for Biden” fundraiser, which sold over $ 2.5 million worth of works of art by Koons, Kehinde Wiley and Carmen Herrera, among others via a “Buy Now” option.

He added that 40 Koons prints of an inflatable American flag, priced at $ 10,000 each, sold out in seven minutes.

“These are new types of numbers for a gallery,” said Lucas Zwirner, adding, “over 90 percent of buyers were new to the gallery.”

The company aims to promote a new generation of art buyers who may be more comfortable making a decision for themselves and less interested in the hand that dealers often provide.

“I don’t have the time to go to every young emerging gallery,” said Dorian Grinspan, a New York collector. “It’s exciting to have a place where you can show what’s out there in a more curated way.”

(While the smaller galleries suggest the artworks for Platform, the Zwirner specialists can weigh up.)

The mechanics of the website were their own challenge. The Zwirner Gallery works with the art shipping company Dietl International and uses a tailor-made system that provides shipping offers at the checkout.

The customer pays shipping costs and galleries are paid for when the work is shipped, avoiding bills, packaging, and shipping bills that can be a burden.

David Zwirner said he spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” making sure the website was high quality, effective, and engaging. 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 gives me a unique opportunity 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 is saving its gallery – and the smaller ones who work with it – the high cost of multiple art fairs per year.

“We will never go back to the old way of working,” said the dealer. “We came across a much larger art world than we thought. If it turns out to be a resilient primary market, the sky’s the limit. “