Amazon to launch virtual art gallery
Internet retail giant is targeting smaller dealers with a plan to offer more than 1,000 objects online—and it will take a commission
By Julia Halperin. Web only
Published online: 27 June 2013
Amazon.com is expected to launch an online art gallery later this year. The online retailer of books, electronics and apparel aims to offer over 1,000 art objects from at least 125 galleries, according to dealers who have been approached by the website’s business development group. Amazon executives told one dealer that 109 galleries have already agreed to participate.
The retail giant’s interest in launching an art gallery first came to light in May, when it organised an information session for New York dealers. Since then, the Seattle-based company has approached dozens, if not hundreds, of galleries from across the US about participating in the programme. A representative for Amazon declined to comment on its plans, saying, “We have not made any announcements about art”.
At least one dealer was told his gallery could offer art under a pseudonym until the website became successful. Amazon representatives told dealers the site would resemble Amazon Wine, which launched last fall and works directly with 450 different vineyards and winemakers across the country.
The art platform will take a commission from all sales conducted through the site rather than charge galleries a monthly fee to present their wares, according to dealers familiar with the venture. Commissions will range from 5% to 15% based on the work’s sale price, dealers say. (For comparison, the online sales site Artspace charges commissions ranging from 10% to 20%.)
Rather than focus on international, blue-chip businesses, Amazon appears to have targeted smaller dealers, including Eleven Rivington, On Stellar Rays, Vogt Gallery and Zach Feuer. Most have not followed up. “I didn’t really have to think much about it and said it wasn’t for me,” says Augusto Arbizo, the founder of the New York-based gallery Eleven Rivington. “I have said no to most e-commerce opportunities for the simple reason that I just do not have that much inventory. And we work with very few artists who do editions or prints.”
Feuer says he will reserve judgement until the site launches. His decision to participate depends on “how much control we get over presentation”. His artists would also have to approve any work he placed on Amazon, he says. He is more likely to offer prints than original paintings or sculptures.
Costco launched a similar art platform last year, and currently offers prints by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall as well as original works by Johnny Botts and Hilary Williams. (The most expensive work on Costco’s site is a lithograph by Jean-Michel Basquiat priced at $5,999.99.)
Some doubt that Amazon’s scheme will be successful. “This is a stunning idea and I find it hard to believe they can pull it off in fine art,” says James Hedges, the president of the art-oriented investment firm Montage Finance. “Prints, multiples and editions may be the low end of the market but there is still a low end of the low end.”
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