Meet the entrepreneurs shaking up the art world

Another year, another record-breaking art auction. Just this month, Klimt’s Bauerngarten sold for £48m, making it the third most expensive painting ever to be sold in Europe. In 2016, a Picasso sold for £43.2m, the highest price ever paid for a Cubist work, and in 2015, Gerhart Richter’s Abstraktes Bild sold for £30.4m, a record for a living artist.

The global art industry, valued at $63.8bn (£51.6bn), is still dominated by bricks-and-mortar auction houses and private sales through galleries or dealers. But like many other industries it is diversifying, presenting a major opportunity for a new generation of “artrepreneurs”.

One company leading the charge is Rise Art. Set up in 2011 by Scott Phillips and Marcos Steverlynck, it is an online gallery offering new works largely from emerging artists. Unlike other industries, which have been overtaken by e-commerce, online purchases make up just 7% of private art sales. But for Rise Art business is booming. “I’d say over the past eight months, we have been growing at about 30% month on month,” says Phillips.

The business opens up the art world to people who might be limited by their location or the time they can spend looking for art. “It takes a lot of time, energy and research to immerse yourself in all the galleries to find something,” he says.

So why aren’t more collectors buying online? “Art always looks better in the flesh,” Phillips says. “People have issues online with sizing, and knowing whether it will be perfect, an important factor when we consider the high-ticket value of art.”

For this reason, Rise Art introduced an art rentals and flexible returns service, whereby you can live with art in your home before you purchase it. “If you love it, you can use the rental towards the purchase and if not, you can just return it,” he explains.

A report from insurer Hiscox, released in June last year, showed that online art sales reached a record high of $3.27 billion in 2015, which would put the market on track for sales of $9.58 billion by 2020.

Jeffrey Boloten, co-founder and managing director of ArtInsight Ltd and leader of the art and business semester programme at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, says the online art world is seen by both the auction and dealer sectors as providing a much welcomed expansion of the global collecting community.

Boloten notes that while the expansion of the art market can present “challenging shifts in how the traditional art market has historically operated”, it has, he says, “increased the growth of innovative and creative new business models and relationships”.

One of these new models is MyArtBroker, an online platform facilitating art dealer sales. Founded by Ian and Joey Syer, it focuses on the resale of art works, known as the secondary market. MyArtBroker connects owners of artworks directly with dealers actively looking to sell those pieces. It has sold work by Banksy, Picasso and Warhol.

The idea for the business came to Ian Syer while he was working in a gallery. “We would sell artwork from our artists, but then at some point, someone would come back in to resell,” he recalls. As traditional high street galleries need to make a certain margin, art owners faced reselling at a loss. “We would end up just pointing people towards the internet but there’s not really anything out there other than eBay.”

To help art owners avoid the drawbacks of selling on eBay and the steep fees of an auction house, Syer set up MyArtBroker. Sellers can upload their artwork to the platform and the company passes on the inquiries they get from interested buyers to a suitable broker. MyArtBroker works with a dedicated team of dealers who handle all aspects of the sale, including framing, authenticity checks and shipping. MyArtBroker takes an introduction fee of 12.5%, which alongside the broker’s fee of 12.5% brings the total deductions from the sale to 25%.

Along with individual buyers, many businesses are looking for new ways to purchase art work affordably. King & McGraw is an art prints company supplying artwork for offices, stores, healthcare, hospitality and interior design companies, including prints of iconic paintings and movie posters.

Prints can be seen as a ‘poor relation’ in the art world but the latest printing technology allows designs to be printed in smaller batches, meaning print sellers don’t have to stick to safe or inoffensive designs to ensure they sell them all and make a return. In this way, King & McGraw has been able to introduce the work of young, emerging print artists to market, much like a dealer in a gallery. The company even has its own artist-in-residence programme.

Social media is key to King & McGraw’s operation. “Social media has become absolutely crucial for how we sell our work. It is perfect for attracting the audience we want – often young people interested in getting their first bit of art,” says co-founder Gyr King.

Technology has brought the art world to a bigger and broader audience – but once you have found your perfect treasure, how do you get it delivered safely? Van Girls, an all-female removals company with a specialism in art transit, is among the companies springing up to service this expanding market.

Founder Emma Lanman first started moving art on her days off from her former job as a firefighter. “One of my earliest customers was a street art print gallery in North London, called Jealous Gallery. And I did, in a former life, do a history of art degree and work in galleries, so immediately I was excited by the idea of art moving,” she says.

In such a flourishing sector, Lanman says there is plenty of work to go around.

“You don’t have to have giant, expensive art collections to have art anymore,” she says. “The Affordable Art Fair and others like it are for normal people who might spend £1000 on something that’s going to be in their living room. And, there’s definitely a whole world of moving for that.”

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