This is probably the question I have been hearing the most often from friends, keen to acquire art, but without the time to go to galleries and auctions, and quite confused by the abundance of places online selling art.
There are a lot of ways to address this question, but I usually start by asking them this simple question:
Do you want to resell it?
It may seem a bit premature to think about reselling when you have not bought it yet though think about it this way: you are just a the beginning of your collector’s journey, you have everything to learn and chances are your taste will evolve. You are not listening the same music you were listening at15, and you surely do not wear the same clothes (thank God!). Same with art. You will buy something you love, then you will fall out of love, and if you have spent a couple of thousands pounds on it, you may be happy to be able to resell it. Even (especially) the world’s greatest collectors do have that in mind when buying art.
You may also decide that you don’t care about reselling, and that you would prefer find the perfect piece, and keep it forever, or just move it to storage when you don’t like it anymore. Also not uncommon among the world’s greatest collectors. Actually most collectors don’t really ask themselves this question, just buy what they love, and realize after the fact that their collection is roughly divided in two categories:
“Commercial” artworks: artworks by artists who are well established and have a strong secondary market and a substantial auction record. Think Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons.
“Decorative” artworks: artworks by artists who do not have a secondary market, and whose works are not frequently sold at auctions. There are many excellent artists in this category, but they are just not part of the “commercial” art world, for a lot of reasons.
Again most collectors buy both “commercial” and “decorative” works. I do have in my collection works that I know I could resell if I wanted to, say Rauschenberg or Richard Serra prints, and others that I love just as much, if not more, but have zero commercial value and that I will never be able to resell.
Of course price points are very different between these two categories. You are probably not able to afford a unique Warhol or Damien Hirst, which sell for millions, but most “commercial” artists are also doing limited edition signed prints that can be very affordable. But if you really want a unique painting on canvas, you may only be able to afford a “decorative” artwork whose long term value is very hypothetical.
Artists and artworks can move between the two categories. Artists do fall out of fashion, and works that were once frequently sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s can be today absolutely impossible to sell. Looking at a Sotheby’s contemporary art catalogue from the mid-90’s, you would find many artists who have now little commercial value. The contrary is less frequent, though artists do some time make a come back or get discovered late in their life (think Carmen Herrerra, who was recently rediscovered at age 102)
So to go back to the original question: where to buy art online?
If you would rather buy “commercial” artworks, you will preferably to go to a secondary market platform selling “second-hand” (or “pre-loved”) works. ArtSnap is one such platform. Auction houses are also a good place for that. Sotheby’s and Christie’s do online auctions. Paddle8 is an online only auction house, focusing strictly on contemporary art.
If you would rather buy “decorative” artworks, it is best to go to primary market platforms selling directly from the artists. Artfinder and Saatchiart are two platforms selling directly from the artists and they have thousands of artists. There are also more curatorially focused platforms offering a tighter selection of artists and are more akin to the traditional gallery model. There are many, many of them. You will just have to find those that correspond most to your taste. My personal favorites are Artuner, New Blood Art, ExhibitionA and Singulart.
This is of course very simplified, but a good first point of entry. There are also aggregators, such as Artsy, and ArtSpace, that have a lot of both commercial and decorative works, there are publishers and museum shop websites that can have amazing “commercial’ works straight from the artists, and new models are emerging every week.
But this will be the subject of another post. Stay tuned :)