and notes from the trenches
Written by Leanne Goebel
DENVER, June 2 Art is a business. On websites like 20×200 art aficionados can purchase limited editions for as little as $20. Between 2004 and 2005 Duane Keiser’s Painting a Day blog garnered huge media attention for the artists daily postcard size paintings that he sold via eBay auction. Etsy.com is a marketplace for all things made by hand, from clothing to sculpture. And sites from Artist Register to Saatchi online have proliferated over the years making it easier for designers, consultants, curators and collectors to view a lot of art quickly. But are people really buying art sight unseen?
Former banker Alan Kircher is selling art online. He founded Artwork Network in Denver in 2004. Artwork Network is a coop gallery, art rotation, art consulting firm that provides web-based marketing service for artists and art related businesses.
“We’re growing into our name,” Mr. Kircher said in a recent interview. “We are at a point where we are becoming a trusted advisor in the industry.”
A few hours trolling for art on the Internet and one needs more than a trusted advisor—more like a bottle of Patron and some lime wedges to wade through the millions of images of bad, mediocre and occasionally intriguing art. It’s no wonder Artwork Network has developed interactive software for viewing of art. An interior designer can upload the floor plan of a project, digitally select artwork, place it to scale in a 3-D model, which can then be shown to a client, saving time and money. They can see that the scale of a painting is wrong or try differing arrangements without actually having to haul art back and forth. And since hotels and hospitals are primarily the ones buying art in bulk, the more cost effective, the better.
Artwork Network appeals to artists with a catchy slogan. “You do the artwork. We’ll be your Network.”
“It’s Marketing 101,” Mr. Kircher said. “You can mail out a postcard and get 1% return or you can become a member and we’ll bring more eyeballs to your work.”
The service seems to be working for Daniel Bahn an abstract expressionist painter. A click on his Artwork Network gallery page reveals twelve thumbnails of paintings priced from $590 to $4,800.The website tells me how many times each painting has been viewed and shows me what it would look like hanging above a leather chair. I even learn that Bahn has sold 29 works from $430-$3,225, that his abstract works are drawn from nature, and that he studies under Dale Chisman.
Artwork Network helped make Bahn visible to Mike Alcott, Senior Vice President of Colorado Capital Bank. Four years ago Mr. Alcott worked with Bank of Choice and helped them open a new location on 17th Street in Denver. He hired Lynda Schroer of Bechta Graphics Ltd. to plan the space and furnish it. When it came time to discuss art for the walls Ms. Schroer referred Mr. Alcott to Artwork Network and the bank became an art rotation client. For two years Artwork Network rotated art at the bank. With each rotation the bank purchased items for their permanent collection, 24 pieces in all, spending $25,000. Mr. Alcott became an avid collector and owns several of Mr. Bahn’s paintings.
“I spent a lot of time on the Internet before the economy changed and I stopped spending money,” Mr. Alcott said.
He would view the art online and then go to the Artwork Network studio and often take the work home and live with it for awhile.
“I never brought it back,” Mr. Alcott admitted.
Mr. Alcott thinks Artwork Network is creating a more efficient sort of market for art. Where before he had to go to a gallery to purchase art, the Internet provides a more universal marketplace. But he confesses that it also requires a relationship.
“You have to have someone you trust in these things, someone you can talk to about the work and a place to go and look at it. If you’re an expert it might be different,” he said.
But it isn’t different for the experienced collector. Nancy Tucker has an extensive art collection. She confesses that she doesn’t normally buy art online, but recently wanted to change something out from her collection with something compatible to fill the spot. She ended up on the Artwork Network website after a Google search and saw a number of pieces she liked by Dimitri Kourouniotis. She contacted Artwork Network because she wanted to be sure the color was indeed a blue-red and not an orange-red. She got a quick response and even received an email from the artist. Ms. Tucker picked up the painting at Artwork Network studios in Denver.
“It was exactly what I thought I was buying and looked good color wise,” Ms. Tucker said. “It was a good experience. I wouldn’t be afraid to buy that way again.”
Ms. Tucker said she felt comfortable because she knew she was under no obligation to keep the piece if it hadn’t met her expectations. But she also says she knows her own taste and has a fair amount of art. Yet, she’s not sure she would have looked online for a signature piece for her living room.
Consultants often begin their search for new artwork on websites like Artist File and Artist Register. Curators search for emerging artists on White Columns because of it’s rigid selection process. Having work on sites like Artwork Network or Art Rent and Lease are ways for artist to get their work hung on a wall somewhere and out of their studio. Along with individual artist websites the Internet does allow more eyes to see an artist’s work. But for Greg Cortopassi, that wasn’t enough. He listed his work with Artwork Network and they placed his art in rotation at three luxury hotels and a winery, but he never sold anything.
“They placed my art, but nobody has to do anything, nobody has to invest in the art, there’s no reason for them to buy because they can rent it,” Cortopassi said. And while Artwork Network charges for the service of placing art, that rental fee doesn’t go to the artist and not every client will buy like Bank of Choice.
Cortopassi felt that he was competing for attention on the Internet asking: “How do you look at hundreds of pieces online and get excited about it?”
More importantly, who will buy all of this art?
“There seems to be a new paradigm,” Mr. Alcott said. “I think people, unless they absolutely need it are not buying. They are scaling down how they eat and dress.”
The primary buyers of art seem to be hotels, hospital and blue-chip billionaires hedging their funds in Warhols and Picasso’s. Collectors like Ms. Tucker and Mr. Alcott are not spending their discretionary income because their walls are already filled. Artwork Network doesn’t claim to be an art expert and they are not representing artists. For them, art is a product and they are a tool to help sell that product. Perhaps websites like Artwork Network can build their brand around a new kind of art buyer, one that doesn’t have to know the difference between acrylic and oil, whose willing to spend $500 for something because they like it and it matches the furniture, and for whom art is not a luxury but a necessity.