Student Blog: TIAMSA Conference 2018 – Roundtable discussion – ‘The Art Market and the Internet’ by Lukas Fuchs

Following the inaugural TIAMSA conference in London in 2017, TIAMSA members met in Vienna, an equally rich city in art and culture, in late September 2018, for the second TIAMSA conference provocatively titled “ART FOR THE PEOPLE? QUESTIONING THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF THE ART MARKET”

The first of the three conference locations were the halls of Vienna’s annual contemporary art fair – viennacontemporary, which hosted TIAMSA’s opening public lecture “The Art Market and the Internet”. The Roundtable discussion featured five distinguished panellists: Marek Claassen (Founder and CEO, ArtFacts.Net), Kristina Kulakova (Head of Digital and PR, viennacontemporary), Sophie Neuendorf (Vice President – Strategic Partnerships, artnet Worldwide Corp.), Olav Velthuis (Professor of Sociology, University of Amsterdam/ TIAMSA President), and Johannes Nathan (Chair of TIAMSA / Co-founder of the Centre for Art Market Studies, TU Berlin).

Opening Roundtable discission from TIAMSA Confernce 2018 at viennacontemporary.
(L-R) Marek Claassen (Founder and CEO, ArtFacts.Net), Kristina Kulakova (Head of Digital and PR, viennacontemporary), Olav Velthuis (Professor of Sociology, University of Amsterdam), Sophie Neuendorf (Vice President – Strategic Partnerships, artnet Worldwide Corp.), and Johannes Nathan (Chair of TIAMSA / Co-founder of the Centre for Art Market Studies, TU Berlin).

Since the rise of the internet its impact on our society has grown to such an extent in recent years that it is hard to imagine a life without it. The music and film industries, for example, have been revolutionised by streaming services – so what is the situation in art, especially in the art market, and what changes are still ahead of us?

In his introduction, Johannes Nathan, Chairman of TIAMSA and moderator of the Roundtable, argued that despite technological advances, viewing galleries, art fairs, and auction houses is still an essential element of commerce that has not yet been replaced by the Internet.

The importance of personal contact and networking is reflected in particular in the still relatively low online sales of the art market. The market share of online sales currently stands at around 8%. Furthermore, although one might suspect the opposite, this number has dropped in recent years. Significantly, larger and more renowned auction houses are actually losing money with online auctions, while smaller businesses tend to sell more online.

Re-focussing on the positive disruptions which the internet has facilitated, Sophie Neuendorf, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at artnet, explained in more detail how the artnet platform, founded in 1985, was part of the online movement of the art market. Today, artnet is not just the leading auction price database, it also helps to connect smaller galleries and collectors via its online network. Commenting on the evolution of their own activities in line with the developments of different platforms, Sophie explained how social media in particular has become an important marketing tool in recent years, as well as a sales tool. Artists, galleries and auction houses use Instagram, for example, to reach a wider public, some even selling their works directly through it.

Seconding this, Kristina Kulakova mused that the greatest achievement of the internet, in terms of art, is the access and exposure it provides to people who might not otherwise have contact with it or to whom making contact may seem intimidating.  Although its influence is not significant just yet, it should not be underestimated. Millennials and ‘Generation Z’, have a very different relationship with the internet and social media, and as these are the collectors of the future, the art world might have drastic changes ahead of it yet.

Marek Claassen, founder and CEO of artfacts-website, presented a possible connection between the internet, the decline of gallery foundations and the simultaneous increase of art fairs. He also split the digitalisation of the art world into three stages: the desktop, the introduction of the internet, and the social media era. When comparing these different periods, Claassen wondered whether, strictly speaking, it was actually the computer that revolutionised the art market rather than the internet.

For Olav Velthuis, Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, the influence of the internet on the art market seems relatively small, too. Usually only consisting of building bridges and links to the offline market, where the actual sale takes place. A revolution similar to the ones in the film- and music industry, he suggests, is very unlikely, as it is not possible to consume art like one consumes music or movies.  Art, he posits, still has a lot to do with the uniqueness of the work and its ownership. These aspects cannot be compensated virtually.  However, the internet helps smaller players and also provides a little more transparency.

To this, all panellists agreed. In terms of marketing, social media can be useful, but may not necessarily grant bonafide legitimacy. Ultimately, users of platforms like Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook, will follow certain influencers but will not be the ones to determine an artist’s success. It is still the recognition of prestigious curators or institutions which artists seek and indeed still need for a successful promotion into top-tier echelons of the art world.

To come back to the title of the talk in conclusion; it can be said that the internets comparatively small influence on the top-end art markets does not allow for significant democratisation processes. On the other hand, it has become a platform and networking tool for new, young artists, and art lovers who may find it daunting to step into a gallery. However, the online market remains a point of sale for the lower price segment, while high-value artworks still predominantly change hands offline.

Considering the lack of drastic changes, there is still much room for possible development and innovation. However, it remains hard to predict how the next generation of artists, dealers and collectors will change the market.

Lukas Fuchs studied Art History at the Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität in Munich and the Venice International University in Venice, Italy.

He is currently in his third semester of his Art History Masters at the University of Vienna and in his third semester of his Art & Economy Masters at the Universität für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, where he will write his thesis about art by minorities on the German and Austrian art market.