The art market devolution – from central control to individual engagement

Rakha Patel

The art market is no different to other industries based on restricted access on information. In the past it was difficult to find out what was available and information was controlled and presented to an elite few. Buying art was reserved for the experienced art collector and those who were art educated. Individuals visited large galleries and famous auction houses to make purchases and the whole process intimidated people who were not linked to that world, didn’t know the rules, and found it financially and culturally inaccessible.


Today art buyers can sidestep the previous middlemen. The economic term for this phenomenon is disintermediation (giving individuals direct access to information that previously required an intermediary such as an estate agent for house sales or a doctor for symptoms analysis). The Internet gives users the technology to look up information and find product data directly. In many cases this removes the need for the mediator or changes the relationship between the user and the product or service provider.


The art market phenomenon can be compared to the music industry – musicians now generate their own following and sell to the public without necessarily needing a record label. Artists no longer need galleries and can engage art lovers online. Art access is increased, transparency is improved and costs are reduced for artists, dealers and buyers.


Increasingly, art buyers can be reached through various platforms: online galleries; social media networks; online auctions; and art dealer portals…. Such channels find a new generation of art buyers who are younger and buy differently to more traditional collectors who attend art events and buy through galleries and auction houses.


Before without Google it was only possible to buy Indian miniatures from a gallery or auction house, which restricted the audience size, and art selection, and therefore the price, as there was less competition.  Googling Indian miniature paintings now delivers all sorts of products from various sources and for a range of budgets.


For artists this democratisation has a big impact, allowing lesser known and more affordable artists to reach bigger audiences and conduct sales online to new generations of buyers. They can even promote themselves via personal websites and on Facebook and Twitter, obtaining direct feedback on their work.


However, this does not mean artists can represent themselves without the help of art dealers whose contacts and trust relationships still matter. As an example, last year in London, well-established artist Balraj Khanna had a 3D virtual exhibition organised by The Indian Art Centre (an online gallery offering a selection of antiques and contemporary pieces). This enabled people globally to access the show, resulting in a bigger audience. Similarly, Raksha Patel, another London-based artist with an established track record with institutions, non-commercial galleries and museums, is partnering with The Indian Art Centre to showcase her art online via videos, blog-posts, online catalogues and social media promotion. In both these cases the online platform has given potential buyers the opportunity to engage with the artist, meeting them in person and visiting their studios.


This new way of selling art is a growing trend and helps reduce cost for both sides of the market: seller and buyer.


This article was written by Lucie Marchelot, director of The Indian Art Centre for The June 2014 Indian issue of the Mayfair times at the occasion of Indian Art Week in London. Read the digital version of the issue here and find the full article page 71.

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