New York’s leading contemporary and modern art fair, The Armory Show, launched this week with a new partnership: the well-financed start-up Artsy.net. The site unveiled much of the fair’s content a week early, allowing visitors and buyers to browse ahead of their visit. “We put 2,700 works of art from the fair online, from 97 per cent of the exhibitors,” COO Sebastian Cwilich said. The site now has 125,000 registered users and offers 27,000 artworks, some for sale, others from museums and institutions for reference.
Artsy, which launched fully last October after a long gestation period, has raised $13m from some powerful investors including Wendi Deng Murdoch (wife of Rupert Murdoch), Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and the art-loving Dasha Zhukova, partner of the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich – whose massive yacht Eclipse was conveniently berthed alongside one of the two piers that host the fair.
“We felt that the link-up with Artsy was a great opportunity for our exhibitors to put their artists in front of an international public,” said fair director Noah Horowitz. This was not the first time the fair linked up with an online venture: last year it partnered with Paddle8, which has now changed its business model and is concentrating on auctions.
With Artsy, anyone interested in an artwork in the fair can click through to ask, for example, for more information or the price. The site takes no commission on sales made during the fair; Cwilich explained that “We are looking to establish relationships.” Outside the fair, Artsy charges between 1-6 per cent on sales.
Yet sales and even inquiries generated by the site seemed rare at the Armory. Edinburgh’s Ingleby Gallery was disappointed that its neon work by Peter Liversidge, “Etc” (2011), despite being selected as a highlight by Zhukova on the site, did not generate a single contact. However, Singapore Tyler Print Institute pointed to the sale of a couple of prints directly as a result of Artsy.
None of this impacted on the commercial success of the fair, which got off to a brisk start on Wednesday with a packed vernissage. American collectors were out in force and a raft of sales were quickly made, including Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled (The meaning of life is that it stops)” (2008), for an undisclosed price at Sprüth Magers; Presenhuber immediately sold Ugo Rondinone’s “Kiss Now Kill Later – 2 parts” (2010) to a major US collection for a price in the region of SFr200,000 (£140,000) and Bischoff/Weiss placed, among other works, two sculptures by Rana Begum, priced between $8,000 and $20,000.
“We liked the service Paddle8 offered last year,” said Raphaelle Bischoff. “In the past we made sales and two major contacts through the online-only VIP art fair. We all want an online site to work but I don’t think anyone has found the key yet. It’s going to happen, and when it does it will be massive,” she said.
The Armory Show ends Sunday. See also this week’s Collecting supplement