The Observer's Guelda Voien gets a bit over-excited on her visit to Artsy recently. The thinking seems to be that the bankruptcy of Auctionata, retrenchment of Artspace and supposed Uberization of the art market positions Artsy to clean up in online art sales.
Voiena cites new board members Robert Pittman and Rich Barton, the savvy investors associated with the firm—Peter Thiel, Wendi Deng, Joshua Kushner, Dasha Zhukova and Jack Dorsey—and the list of job openings funded by the $51m in capital raised (and, though she doesn't say, a Series D round is inevitable) as proof that Artsy has the wind at its back. Then there's this:
While waiting to meet me in a conference room (with a totally uninhibited view of the Manhattan skyline), it happens that Artsy staffers decide they’d like to see what’s going on with a day sale of prints at Chicago-based auction house Wright that’s going on at the moment. As the bids dance around on the screen in real time, it becomes evident that there’s a bidding war at hand. The Kara Walker print had a high estimate of $3,000, but after a few minutes of watching the bidders wrestle for the top offer, the work ends up selling for more than twice that after heavy bidding both on the floor in Chicago and via Artsy. (It sold to someone on the floor in the end, which disappoints the Artsy staffers).
It’s an uncanny demonstration of just how easy it is to use the Artsy platform, and of the way it can produce something close to the excitement of a live auction, albeit on your laptop. I imagine a collector sitting on his toilet, buying Koons sculptures via iPhone before switching to Ameritrade to reallocate.
The problem with this kind of thinking, and with the whole idea of online art sales or the Uberization of the art market, is that it is built upon a mistaken premise best captured in that last unappealing image Voiena presents: buying Koons sculptures during a bathroom break.
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