ONLINE ART PORTAL ART AUCTIONS AUSTRALASIA
Following the success of Saffronart and Artnet, Ocula Auctions is a new member in the online art sales club. Does Ocula’s practice shed some light on the art retail landscape of the future? To find out more, we talk to Simon Fisher, one of Ocula’s founders.
Crossing primary, secondary art market
Ocula is not just an online auction house. It actually consists of two separate online platforms, namely Ocula Auctions and Ocula.com, and is involved in both the secondary and primary art markets.
Ocula.com: Portal site for Australasian galleries
It is unusual for an auction house to have anything to do with the primary art market, and Ocula.com to juggle both by providing a platform for galleries on a subscription basis, but keeping their hands off the actual buying and selling of artworks.
We see Ocula.com as a marketing channel for galleries to be able to reach a much wider audience of people. The idea is to get top galleries from the Asia Pacific region into one space so users can access these galleries in a very transparent and open environment. We don’t get involved in the sale or enquiry process. Possible purchases are dealt with directly by the galleries. … What Ocula.com is, is an access point for the user to access these galleries, and then for the galleries, we are a portal.
Ocula Auctions: One day, one lot
Ocula Auctions is an independently operated sister site that runs one auction a day, five days a week, with all auctions generally previewed for at least five days. Each auction opens at 10 am and finishes the next day at 8pm (NZST).
With one artwork a day, I guess what we are doing at this stage is rolling it out and collecting feedback and testing that in the market. To date, it’s been a great success. … What we found about working with this model is that we are getting extra follow-through. Previously, we would run fifty lots per month to one sale per month. What we found is that you would offer the works and more than often, the work wouldn’t receive a bid until the final hours or days before the auction ended. So there was a period of time when nothing was happening. … The daily auction is a call to action and people are reacting, … and that results in a lot more bidding which turns into sales.
Ocula founders: Art sales know-how
With solid backgrounds in art consultancy in New Zealand, Simon Fisher and Christopher Taylor started discussing their ideas for Ocula around three years ago. They launched the platform in 2011.
As a sixth generation art dealer, Simon Fisher is the former manager of his family business, Fisher Galleries, a company that was established in Christchurch in 1870 by his ancestors who migrated to the city from London. He left Fisher Galleries in 2007 to start his own art consultancy.
Christopher Taylor was Director of the Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA) in Christchurch from 1986 to 1993, and after leaving this role, he continued to work in the New Zealand art scene, managing the art department of a prominent auction house in Auckland and establishing an art advisory company that sourced and curated private and corporate art collections and brokered many local and international sales. Since 2009, he has been focusing on online art ventures.
Why auction online?
Online auctions, says Fisher, have the advantages of lower cost and more efficiency over traditional auction houses. The time lapse between traditional auctions can be as long as three to five months without any guarantee to sell.
We are not faced with significant cataloguing costs and time to produce a catalogue. If a client comes to us and offers a work for sale, we can probably get it online [and] in front of a dedicated art audience within weeks, as opposed to potential months. So the turnaround between actually offering a work and potentially getting a cheque is lot quicker.
Developed by Exhibit, a New Zealand-based company, Ocula claims that its virtual gallery is “the only 3D viewing feature available for online auctions in the world“. Artwork can be viewed in a simulated gallery space and, by manoeuvring their mouse or using a touch pad, users can view the work in different perspectives and and from different distance ranges.
As Fisher points out, “It really allows a user at home to see an artwork in scale and actually feel like they are more involved with that work, and how it might look like in their own environment.” At present, not every artwork is displayed in a virtual gallery, but Fisher says that “that is very much an area we want to push forward on”.
Moreover, Ocula Auctions allow each user to keep track of the artists or artworks that they are interested in via an automatic email notification feature. “So what we are really trying to do is to create a platform where, whenever an artwork is added to the site, people are automatically notified, and sellers also know that they have offered an artwork and that there will be a big audience of collectors being automatically notified that the artwork is for sale,” says Fisher.
Online versus traditional
Fisher believes that the online auction house has every chance of being as successful as those businesses operating under the traditional model. As he states, Ocula has “had a lot of success with works under the NZD10,000 range”, but has also sold quite a number of art works above NZD30,000, to as high as just under NZD80,000.
The key to the success of an online auction, explains Fisher, “all comes down to the artwork, [and whether it is a] great artwork with excellent provenance by a very well-known artist. Online, you have the potential to reach a much wider audience: if they have a lot of access to information; if they have the time to make an informed decision…”. He quotes the example of the online sale of the Elizabeth Taylor collection at Christie’s in December 2011, an event which attracted bidding that tripled the high estimates.
Physical space necessary?
Most art dealers working online, such as Alice Zhang, director of Hong Kong-based art dealership Mischmasch, continue to hold the belief that a physical space is essential in gaining the trust of collectors. Fisher asserts that while having a gallery for people to view art works in is ideal – Ocula has an Auckland showroom for private viewings and an office in Sydney – it is not absolutely necessary with the technology that the company is working on.
[The collectors] know the artists’ work, they know what they are looking at, they don’t need to see it in person. A big percentage of the clients we deal with today, and a lot of consultants and galleries sort of agreed that, once they saw the artist’s work, they are very happy to buy from a photograph.
In an effort to guarantee buyer satisfaction, Ocula offers collectors a fourteen-day return policy.
Looking to Asia
Recent visits to Hong Kong and Beijing art fairs led to conversations with galleries from Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore and Seoul, and Ocula.com is in the process of adding another fifty galleries based in the Asian region next month.
“Australia and the Asia Pacific are very much on our radar. We see the Asia Pacific as an area of the market that’s very active right now, particularly Hong Kong. That’s the city we definitely would like to interact with more,” says Fisher. But he also admits that Ocula still “needs to be developed further to launch into the Asian region…. There is more work and development to go before we can have a presence in the Asia Pacific region.”
However, when reaching out to the Asia Pacific region, Ocula is not treating Asia merely as an emerging market to be tapped, but focusing more on “the whole of the Asia Pacific … bringing users to the platform to access the galleries from that region.”
Regarding accessibility, well this is what Ocula stands for, greater accessibility to primarily the Asia Pacific art market and those galleries that want to be a part of a high growth and exciting region of art. Through Ocula, users can reach the very top echelon of galleries in each major city, they can follow favourite galleries and artists to be kept up to date with what exhibitions are on and when new artworks are added by select artists. Ocula is a curated destination for people to get closer and become more educated on the contemporary art world, by giving informed access we hope to grow the art market and introduce new clients to member galleries.
Art for the masses, for the elite
Ocula.com will soon add two new features to its website, Shop and Private Views.
The ‘private view’ function would allow galleries to show certain art works that they don’t want to show publicly. They can invite selected clients to view them. It’s an environment where they can control who is viewing those pages and they can also draw on the Ocula database to be able to offer those works to certain users that might be interested in that art.
Private View is aimed at increasing the affordability of art sold online, with the majority of the art works available likely to be priced at below NZD5000. Shop View could help galleries to promote to and maintain their established collector base.
- Exhibition missed? National Art Gallery Singapore has solution – resource alert – August 2011 – museums begin to utilise developments in Web technology
- Online art business: Inspirations from Hong Kong gallery director Alice Zhang – July 2011 – director of first Hong Kong art company to develop an online art buying platform speaks about business model
- Art and the Internet: 3 top posts from 2010 to 2011 – July 2011 – a trend in review
- Online art auction houses get physical: Is Internet model failing? – April 2011 – online auction star Saffronart opens another real-world gallery
- Artnet chooses Hong Kong as debut venue for new venture – Art Radar scoop interview – October 2010 – leading art price database and online art auction company launches art dealing business in Hong Kong
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