Surge Art targets Chinese art market through “clicks and mortar” strategy



Beijing-based Surge Art is adding an online sales platform to its expanding chain of physical art fairs, making it the first to implement a “clicks and mortar” sales strategy.

Surge’s site, launching gradually over June 2013, will focus on marketing Chinese contemporary art to the country’s rising middle class. Built off the back of Surge’s fairs, the platform will be the first example of an art fair implementing in-house e-tailing, indicating confidence in the Chinese domestic market and online sales.

Screenshot from the newly launched Surge Art site, which markets art to China's aspirational middle class. Image courtesy Surge Art.

Screenshot from the newly launched Surge Art site, which markets art to China’s aspirational middle class. Image courtesy Surge Art.

The Surge Art site will link artists directly with buyers, with all works priced between USD30 and USD5000, in a concerted effort to woo China’s burgeoning economic and cultural middle class. The site will feature mainly Chinese contemporary artists and will cater to market trends, such as contemporary ink.

Building clicks and mortar sales

Surge Art, formerly known as the Affordable Art Fair Beijing, is also increasing its offline sales capacity by ratcheting up the number of art fairs held across China. The company has been a regular on the Beijing fair circuit since 2006, holding its most recent event in the city in May 2013. Shanghai and Hong Kong will host Surge fairs later in the year, with the company planning to expand to Taipei, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hangzhou by 2014, increasing its influence in China’s growing art market.

Surge Art Fair in Beijing 2013. The company plans to expand its fairs to four more Chinese cities by 2014.

Surge Art Fair in Beijing 2013. The company plans to expand its fairs to four more Chinese cities by 2014.

Surge co-founder Tom Pattinson sees the combination of physical and virtual sales platforms as one of the company’s main strengths. Talking to Art Radar, Pattinson said,

There are no other online sites anywhere in the world, not to my knowledge at least, that have a fair structure around them or vice versa [...] So having what we call a “clicks and mortar” strategy builds trust by going to people’s cities to show them a work, and then they can go online and find out what else is available. It’s a great marketing tool in terms of allowing people to come and see the works, and it’s something that really enables people to interact and learn and discover a lot more, rather than just browsing on a website.

According to Pattinson, the online platform also provides Surge with an opportunity to showcase artists who missed out on a place at Surge’s 2013 Beijing fair. The fair received 14,000 applicants, of which around five percent were successful. The move to online sales will enable Surge to market any number of works throughout the year, side-stepping the restrictions of space and time brought to bear on physical sales platforms.

China’s next generation of collectors

It is only in the last year or so, says Pattinson, that the mid-priced Chinese art market has been strong enough to warrant Surge Art’s expansion.

With the first shows that I was doing [in 2006], they were dominated by a western or international buying audience, but now in the last couple of years we’ve seen the Chinese audience starting to grow. This is why its becoming a lot more interesting in the last two years really. You’re seeing this younger domestic audience with a real interest for getting into the art market: they’re a lot younger, they’re in their 20s, early 30s, they have a decent disposable income but they’re not millionaires [...] they want art to show off a bit.

Although turned off by the ancient Chinese antiquities popular among the previous generation, mid-twenties to thirties professionals in China are, says Pattinson, keen to tap into the contemporary culture of rising China by buying into its art scene.

Qiu Zhijie, one of the artists in whom Chinese buyers have most confidence in 2013, according to ArtTactic's April report.

Qiu Zhijie, one of the artists in whom Chinese buyers have most confidence in 2013, according to ArtTactic’s April report.

The Chinese art market

The Chinese art market is one of the largest in the world, with much of its revenue directed domestically. A report by the Art Market Monitor of Artron (AMMA) and Artprice, The Art Market in 2012: A Dialogue Between East and West, shows that Chinese buyers overwhelmingly prefer fine Chinese art (pdf download). In her 2013 TEFAF report, quoted in The Art Newspaper, art economist Clare MacAndrew also claimed that “experts in the trade estimate that there are currently only around 30 large collectors of western art from mainland China.”

Based on Surge’s statistics, the strength of the Chinese market is borne out by sales at the 2013 Beijing fair, at which Chinese buyers made up more than 80 percent of the revenue.

Outside of the art market, China’s online retail sector is poised to become the largest in the world. North American marketers the Acquity Group expects much of that growth to be fuelled by the rising middle class, projected to increase from 200 million to 800 million over the next 20 years. Pattinson hopes that Surge Art’s online initiative will keep pace with the developing trend.

The online art market is developing and people are realising they can buy art online. And the next stage is the quality of the work, the value, the pricing structure, the treatment of the artists, the service to the buyers. The winners will be the ones who provide the best services, and the best quality work for the best prices.

Art sales – an online future?

While Surge is the first art fair to establish its own e-commerce site, several other international events have partnered with art e-tailers in attempts to tap into the virtual market. The 2013 Armory Show partnered with Artsy, allowing fair-goers to browse works online and contact exhibitors; auction site Paddle8 has also collaborated with a number of art fairs, including the Armory in 2012. Artshare, an online retailer focused on Modern and contemporary Asian art, also offers potential buyers physical viewings on request. VIP Art Fair, recently purchased by the rapidly expanding e-commerce site Artspace, offered virtual “events”, online themed exhibitions at which all the works were available for purchase.

 CN/JC

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Related Topics: Chinese artists, the business of art, art fairs, art and the internet   

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