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The Power of the Web-Contradictory Influences on Contemporary Art
As the art world is beginning to embrace technology, it is clear there has been a shift towards a greater comfort with viewing, evaluating and purchasing art online and on mobile devices, yet how is the presence of the web influencing our relationship with contemporary art? What changes when art is purchased yet not touched?

Published on Monday, July 25th, 2011

In recent years a number of websites have sprung up devoted to education, purchasing and moreover, for many gallerists, the web is becoming the predominant way of expanding globally. Young collectors are looking online for ways to streamline launching a collection. This trend is growing as online auction houses have begun to break record sales suggesting that more and more art lovers are willing to buy high-end art from the web. Yet it seems opposing forces are at play as the medium of the Internet draws a wider audience and at the same time creates a distance between the work of art and the spectator.

This July, a groundbreaking record for an online auction house was set when Andy Warhol’s 1978 "Flowers" piece sold for over $1.3 million. Artnet auction presented the 22 x 22 inch painting of brilliant tones of emerald and blue which was snapped up by a private American collector, securing its high position as the ruling online auction site. It seems that online retail is increasing its value to the audience. Another leading site is Saffronart that currently holds the title of the world’s largest online auction house and focuses on sales of contemporary Indian art, an emergent yet fast growing market corresponding to India’s international economical impact. Interesting to note is that despite the clear success of the online venture, the organization has decided to expand their number of physical exhibition spaces to three. Does the opening of their latest space in New Delhi point to the importance of physical contact with local art communities? It seems that the importance of the connection between the spectator and the work of art still survives.


While there was a time when phone bids were an odd and unfamiliar presence in the auction room now online auction houses are materializing rapidly. It seems anonymity is the main reason phone bids are made, so what do online collectors, museum curators and dealers add to the mix? Not only is privacy maintained but also bidders can make offers from anywhere in the world; even comfortably sitting in their pajamas. According to recent sales figures, nearly one-fifth of Christie’s clients now bid online as 19% of all clients are online bidders, growing up 2% year-on-year. The total value of lots purchased online has risen 24% to $59.9 million. Christie’s had a total turnover of $3.2 billion according to the first-half sales totals.

While online auction houses provide a certain distance from the art works to the buyer, the web also succeeds in connecting the contemporary art world from across the globe. With the Internet as a medium for distributing art, those who would not normally be able to travel or pay high museum fees can experience art and emerging artists have the opportunity to gain international attention. Away from the exclusive confines of galleries and auction houses, sites like Etsy, the world’s handmade marketplace, ambitiously aims to empower artists to change the way the global economy works., like an art genome project is devoted to education and buying. Moreover, Louis Vuitton has launched a one of a kind website to promote youth to become involved with contemporary art; visitors can upload work to share with the online community where leading artists and critics can select their favourite works for discussion. In the same vein, Google Art Projects is a website that makes available works of art from 17 acclaimed museums, allowing the site visitor to intimately interact with extraordinary high resolution photographs of art from across the globe. In mesmerizing detail, visitors can experience art in a new dimension.

google art

It is clear that art is now accessible to a wider audience, the size of the market is increasing with the presence of online auctions and yet a break is created between the buyer and the artist. Will this gap ultimately enrich the potential of the market? The powerful ability of the Internet to reach so many viewers is undeniable yet it seems that it cannot replace the experience of being in the physical presence of the artwork. Simultaneously, the web has opened a seemingly unrestricted gallery without walls for budding artists and indefinite possibilities for art lovers from all corners of the globe.  

selection curated by rachel betz


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