ONLINE ART BUYING

Art Radar speaks to Alice Zhang, director of Mischmasch, the first Hong Kong art company to develop an online art buying platform, who sheds some light on the current online art selling movement and suggests some ways to make it work for you.

Ann-Kathrin Nikolov, 'Paradise dawn', 2010, acrylic on wood panel, 30 x 60 cm each (set of 2). Image courtesy Mischmasch Gallery.

One of the current challenges facing online art businesses is finding a way to present images online in a way that replicates or compares to the real experience of viewing an artwork.

I know that Saatchi [Gallery] have a website that’s very … similar to what we’re doing and they’re also really trying hard to figure out how to make images look good online. They came up with this like slideshow thing with all the images at the bottom. I think there are other ways to do that.

[Her work became popular] because people are [now] so used to using the Internet and this type of image looks good online…. Because they’re familiar with looking at those kind of images [online] they like them even more. Then when you go to an art fair you’re more likely to see [the] kind of work [you’ve been seeing online]. I think that’s so interesting and so powerful, the fact that people’s tastes are changing because of the Internet.

Emily Lau, 'Birdie', 2008. This work was purchased by a senior executive of a large New York banking firm. Image courtesy Mischmasch Gallery.

Emily Lau, 'Birdie', 2009, acylic on canvas, 35 x 35 cm. This work was purchased by a senior executive of a large New York banking firm. Image courtesy Mischmasch Gallery.

I think graphic images, [an illustrative work with two-dimensional visuals, striking imagery and urban themes like] Emily [Lau’s] works, are definitely going to rise in value. Because it’s not just pretty, it’s pretty and at the same time it [engages in] social commentary. The more you look at it and the more you interact with it, the more you feel attached to it.

Smart website layout is key

Mischmasch was originally developed as an online international artist community and because of this, social interaction between users has always been a key focus.

What other people think of an image [will] determine the way that it looks [to one person]. … I want to be able to throw the images around and see what other people think of [them].

The current layout of the website is essentially user-controlled – “social networking and the Web is so open and democratic,” says Zhang – with the images that are most popular, selected by users via the various voting and comment systems made available to them, appearing in prime viewing spots on the website, such as on the front page.

You really have to reinvent the users’ experience when viewing images online…. You could say that it’s a kind of ‘bubble up’ [experience]. [The content] bubbles to the top; the [highest ranked images] are the ones with more points and the [lowest-ranked] ones are the ones with less points, less clicks, less votes, less Tweets, and less Facebook [‘Likes’]….

Fhung Lie, 'Portal #008' from the "Dream Archives Series", 2009, altered KOLO Havana Box, acrylic on canvas, 32 x 7 x 25.5 cm. Image courtesy Mischmasch Gallery.

Emily Lau, 'Circus of Spring', 2011, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 68 cm. Image courtesy Mischmasch Gallery.

Breaking down art world elitism

You have this contradiction: social networking is open, anybody can make comments, and then you have the art industry, which is closed and hierarchical; it’s really elitist in a way. Artists who have completed a full year [at] art school or who have finished a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at a really prestigious school might not be happy that ‘kids’ are uploading their work online and selling it and getting [art] shows. There will always be people who are angry with what we’re doing.


The world is big enough now, I think, for everybody to play in. We have artists who have never gone to art school but we also have artists who have an MFA, who’ve held a dozen shows.


[In] the art world there are no rules; it’s the most irregulated market ever. Maybe it’s a good thing that there’s no formula [for how] to succeed and no formula [for how] to promote an artist. But whenever there’s a clash of fundamentals, this openness and closeness [of the art market], really interesting things start to happen.

Paintings hand inside Hong Kong's Mischmasch Gallery. Image from farm5.static.flickr.com.

Paintings hand inside Hong Kong's Mischmasch Gallery. Image from farm5.static.flickr.com.

Market value of art sold online

Past transactions conducted on Mischmasch Online fall somewhere in the range of HKD2,332 to 8,000 (about 300 to 1000 USD). But Zhang admits to the success of some websites where works go for thousands of dollars, or more, in the case of Saffronart’s summer art auction in June 2011 where Indian artist Tyeb Mehta‘s Untitled (Kali) sold for USD1,317,161.

There’s already half a dozen websites that are doing well selling art online, with different degrees of price…. UGALLERY sell paintings for 2000 US dollars. I’ve always thought, ‘Would you really buy a painting that’s worth 2000 dollars US on the Web? But apparently that happens. And Saatchi Gallery has always had an online platform, which they curate,… and most of [the works on that website] are worth at least a thousand dollars.

Scott Chan, 'Boy', 2011 (year of upload), mixed media, 60 x 50 cm. Image from mischmaschonline.com.

While the Internet provides an alternative way for the sale and auction of art, Zhang doesn’t think that it will ever replace the traditional art business model. “I don’t think the big auction houses and gallery companies are ever going to go away. I think they exist for each other, kind of feeding each other.”

Mischmasch is currently undergoing phase two of its development. Soon, it will put on a different skin and launch an online auction system. A simplified smart phone-friendly version of the website will also be launched:

What better way is there to promote an artists’ work than through something that people carry with them, an iPad, an iPhone… ?

CBKM/KN/HH

Related Topics: promoting art, market watch – auctions and galleriesart and the Internet

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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