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How to buy art online like a pro
Because coronavirus won't stop us to buy art
Art Girls Jungle 19 Nov 2020

The gallery experience is not exactly “normal” right now. While some galleries are open in person, many are closed or are operating in a different way. The art fairs that we have all come to know and love are an even bigger scarcity, so what does this mean for those of us wanting to buy art? Despite the pandemic, the art market has not come to a halt this year, with online sales fast becoming normal procedure. But how do we actually go about buying artwork that we haven’t seen in the flesh? Like buying in person, some things will be the same when buying online. The usual points to consider like researching where an artist is in their career and whether they have any exhibitions lined up are all factors to take into account, but they’re not everything. (Especially when you’re buying over Zoom as opposed to inside a gallery.) So, we spoke to some of our favourite art advisors to get their tips on buying online! 

Don’t Just Ask For Images, Get Videos Too 

Don’t be scared to ask for images, you want to see the work close-up for finish and texture, and also from different angles. Videos are also a good idea. “Always ask for high resolution videos to be transferred by WeTransfer or Dropbox”, adds art advisor Daniel Malarkey, “iMessage and Whatsapp compress files and you lose clarity.” And make sure to use that zoom function. “Nothing beats seeing an artwork up close in all its glory. There’s a particular connection that takes over when you fall in love with an artwork in the flesh”, says Nikki Meftah of Emergeast, “That’s not to say that said feeling is lost when purchasing art online – with an uncompressed image file you’re able to get up close and personal with an artwork through your screen before seeing it in real life.”

Speak To Someone Who’s Seen The Work In Person

“Have a conversation with someone at the gallery who has seen it in person and talk through the details of the work”, adds Daniel, “Question any areas that you do not understand. For example it may look like there is a light splotch but in fact that is simply light bouncing off of a metallic colour.”

If You Love It Digitally, You’ll Probably Love It More IRL

“For me the same rule applies, if I cannot forget about the work I have to have it”, says Natasha Arselan, founder of Auc.Art, “In my experience, 9.9 out of 10 the work is better in real life, thus if I’m really drawn to a pdf I’ll be in love when the work arrives in the flesh.”

Think About How The Work Will Look In Your Space

Many of us buy art to put it on our walls, so it’s worth considering how it will look in our homes. “Photoshop the work in the space you would like to put it to scale so you have a full sense of the size”, says Daniel, “This exercise can be helpful for the collector in terms of the visual effect and the footprint of the work.”

Do Your Research

As with buying in person, make sure you know what you’re investing in. “Do research on the art platforms such as Artsy, Artland, Artfinder and the fair online viewing sites”, says curator, dealer and auction specialist Janet Rady. “The benefits of seeing an artwork online is having access to all its information, getting to know the artist and being able to do your due diligence before going ahead at your own pace”, adds Nikki, “It’s a bit like falling in love at first sight vs online dating, you must be able to see past the initial attraction and discover what’s beneath the surface before making your decision”

Don’t Forget The Paperwork

“You should ask for all the details of the work if you don’t have them already”, says Janet, “As well as a certificate of authenticity.” “Read condition reports”, adds Daniel, “Always!”

Check VAT And Payment Terms 

“Ask the gallery/artist for a shipping quote and check if they insure the work or if you will need to”, says Janet, “Be aware of any VAT or import duties you may be liable for.” It’s also important to ask about payment terms and to be aware of your legal right to refund if you return the artwork within 14 days if you are unhappy with it. If this happens, you should ask whether the artist or gallery will cover the return shipping costs.  

Be Polite

“From an artist/gallery’s point of view, I would remind the collector that they should always let the person know if they don’t want to buy a work they have been offered”, says Janet, “Particularly if they specifically enquired about it.” Just because there’s a global pandemic, doesn’t mean we can’t be polite!

Text Lizzy Vartanian 

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Curator – Public Programmes
Whitechapel Gallery - London, UK
Research Associate, Krasner & Pollock Exhibition
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York, USA
Artist Liaison
Art Works Gallery & Advisory - Singapore
Artist Manager
Karimah Ashadu - Germany