As the stream of new online art sales platforms converges into an Amazonian river of virtual commercial offerings during the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis, Sotheby’s is introducing Gallery Network, a buy-now marketplace for galleries.
Launching today, the platform features individual viewing rooms for each of the auction house's inaugural gallery partners, which include Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Lehmann Maupin, Luhring Augustine, Kasmin, Petzel, Sperone Westwater, Van Doren Waxter and Jack Shainman.
Users will not be redirected to the gallery to make a purchase and instead will buy the offered works directly through Sotheby’s. All prices are publicly listed, and purchases of works valued up to $150,000 can be completed as point-of-sale transactions—the same kind of credit-card-based purchases that can be made at retail sites like Amazon. Buyers will have the option to “enquire” regarding the sale of works listed in excess of $150,000.
“On a technical level the Gallery Network is distinguished among most platforms by our transactional technology,” says Saara Pritchard, Sotheby’s senior specialist of contemporary art, adding that she believes the primary benefit to the galleries is the exposure of their artists to the auction house’s clients. “Given the universe of objects we sell, from fine art to luxury goods, there is significant potential for crossover promotion and sales that I think is unique to our business.”
Unlike Artsy, another online sales platform that introduced a “buy now” function last year, there is no membership fee for participating galleries, although Sotheby’s receives a flat commission that is reflected in each purchase price listed online.
Works include White Roses 7 (2012) by Alex Katz, offered by Gavin Brown for $900,000; a 1983 photograph of Robert Mapplethorpe taken by Andy Warhol for $22,000 at Kasmin; and a 2019 painting by Angel Otero, Window Seat, offered for $100,000 by Lehmann Maupin.
"The digital world is so important these days. This was true long before Covid-19, but is ever more apparent to us now,” says Rachel Lehmann, the co-founder of the New York-based gallery. “One of Sotheby's strengths is its commitment to curatorial integrity, even when dealing with the marketplace. We trust they will provide rich curatorial context for our artists when showcasing artworks online.”
Though auction houses are generally focused on secondary market sales, the emphasis on the Gallery Network platform will be on primary sales, something Sotheby's has rather famously dabbled in before at the onset of a different economic crisis with its direct-to-consumer sale of artist Damien Hirst’s new works in the 2008 Beautiful Inside My Head Forever sale.
As the art world “continues to grapple with and acclimate to the circumstances of our current moment”, Pritchard says, “we believe this type of cooperative arrangement can be a model for success not only during the short-term, but also as a long-term reciprocal project to support all levels of the market."