Seven Ways Collectors Can Harness the Internet


If you found this article, you’re already using the Internet to support your interest in art. But chances are there’s much more you can do, from getting valuations to tracking your favorite artists to participating in live auctions. This article gives you an overview of what the Internet has to offer to collectors and provides links to some of the best resources in the virtual world of art. It’s a world that, just a few years ago, collectors could only dream of.

By: Sylvia Lehnen
For the growing number of people who collect art and collectibles, the Internet is an invaluable resource. However, with the glut of information that’s out there, getting an overview of what’s available and finding the best resources can be daunting. This article will help steer you through the maze.

1. Keep up with Art News
2. Research Prices
3. Follow the Art Market
4. Track Individual Artists
5. Buy or Sell Art Online
6. Check Upcoming Events
7. Find Out about Other Collectors

1. Keep Up with Art News

In essence, there are three ways to get art news from the Internet.

  • Research specific issues by searching for key words, using Google or one of the other search engines. Remember to be as specific as possible. “Art” will get you thousands of entries, while “Art Basel” will take you to Basel or Miami.
  • Go to sites that cover art news. General newspapers like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Forbes, and others all have specialized sections with excellent articles related to collecting art. There are also a number of sites dedicated specifically to art news, as well as dozens of blogs with a more personal, if less predicable, approach. Go to the Resources section of Artelligenz.com for some links you can use as your gateway to the world of art news.
  • Instead of searching for information, have it come to you! Subscribe to free newsletters, “news by email,” and news feeds, or use one of the paid services that provide highly specialized information (listed below). A word of caution: Consider setting up a separate email address for such subscriptions, both to protect your privacy and to keep your mailbox from being overrun.

Tip: By the way, are you still using “favorites” or “bookmarks” for sites you want to revisit? If so, check out “tagging” services such as del.icio.us. Once you set it up by assigning a description, or “tag,” to hold a collection of links, you’ll find it much easier to find and manage your links. And you’re no longer tied to your computer, so you can access your links from any computer or PDA, anywhere, and any time. De.licio.us also gives you access to links others found useful. In addition, you can set up private tags for a group of people that can be viewed only by those people, and to which everyone in group can contribute links. It beats sending links back and forth and having to manage it all.

2. Research Prices

One of the most useful things you can do on the Internet is to research how much a work of art sold for at auction. It’s a great resource, whether you’re considering buying, selling, or if you’re just curious. It’s also a way to track market trends and discover new works or artists. Online research will give you a good starting point; however, before you buy or sell you’ll want to consult a professional. To find out why, see Michelle Angerman’s article “What Online Research Won’t Tell You Can Hurt You.”

Below are some popular sites that provide pricing information. Most have some free content but charge for providing the actual price data, with various subscription options. Two sites provide this information for free, so you might want to check them first.

  • FindArtInfo.com provides auction prices for all sorts of fine art for free. It’s very easy to use–you simply select the artist’s name to get a list of sales. According to the site, they offer prices for over a million pieces of art, with about 219,000 photos of artwork. In addition, the site shows close-ups of some 54,000 signatures.
  • LiveAuctioneers uses eBay’s technical infrastructure to work with some 550 auction houses that provide on-line access to their auctions. The result: an archive of about 4 million auction results, including more than 28 million images. Accessing this database is free and easy–with an eBay account you just select the Sold tab and enter your key words in the Search field at the top of the home page. In addition to finding out winning prices, such searches will show whether the artist or object you’re searching for will be offered in upcoming auctions (select the Live tab). For more information about how to participate in auctions on line, see topic 5.
  • AskART used to bill itself as “The American Artists Bluebook,” but expanded in early 2007 to include international artists as well. AskART provides information of past auction records for about 100,000 artists since 1998. The site also offers an analysis for auction sales, as well as a comparison of price trends each year as compared to gold, the S&P 500, and real estate. AskART offers subscriptions, 24-hour access, or one-month access to its database. You can also sign up to be notified when a particular artist’s work becomes available at auction.
  • artnet‘s price database includes over 180,000 international artists, from old masters to contemporary art. Based on auction records from over 500 international auction houses since 1984, it covers more than 2.9 million sales. A recent addition to the price database is 20th century design. artnet offers packages for professionals and individuals and searches with or without images, monthly subscriptions, and one-day passes, as well as “performance reports” and estimate reports. You can even use your budget as one of the search criteria. The interface is easy to use, although some of its features are not immediately obvious.
  • artprice has some 25 million auction prices and indices covering over 400,000 artists, which makes it one of the largest pricing services. It also includes several interesting options, including getting estimates and services for collectors wanting to value their collections. artprice offers limited free accounts and various options for doing research with or without images, as well as for setting up “online galleries” where artists can sell.

3. Follow the Art Market

Beyond getting price information about specific artworks, you can analyze market trends for particular artists, schools of art, nationalities of artists, collectors–you name it. In addition to publications that focus on art, the online edition of the New York Times, the Financial Times, Forbes, and Business Week frequently run pieces that explore various aspects of the art market. For very targeted information, you can also check out the following resources:

  • artnet offers a “market trends” section where you can track evolving pricing for over 4,300 artists, based on yearly lot transactional statistics, bought-in statistics, sales volume, price levels, and auction estimates. You can see the high-level charts for free; for detailed results and analysis, artnet offers various pricing packages. artnet also offers customized research and analytical services.
  • artprice offers various tools for art market analysis, including its Artprice index. For a great overview of how the market is evolving, you can download the Artprice “2006 Art Market Trends.” According to the introduction, “Artprice has never before recorded such high figures. The growth of the public auction art market is unprecedented. Artprice has compiled a hotly disputed Top 10 based on price inflation and sales volumes.”
  • Skate’s is an interesting relative newcomer to the scene. It ranks the world’s 1000 most valuable works of art, using records of public transactions. Skate benchmarks any significant purchases against this group to show overall trends, as well as the technical data points underlying those trends–such as valuation ranges, weighted averages of art by period, and analyses of art by countries–to name just a few. The way Skate crunches the numbers and slices and dices the data will make any MBA’s heart sing.

Although Skate positions itself as catering to high-end buyers and financial experts with specialized services, its research provides a fascinating glimpse into the global market in the world’s most expensive art to anyone who’s interested. If you register, you can get the Skate Investment Newsletter, which is full of “actionable intelligence”–if you can afford the action, that is. But even if you can’t, you’re in for some interesting reading.

4.Track Individual Artists

Several sites provide information about artists and images of their work, and make it possible to track your favorite artists in various ways. That includes being notified when particular works become available and following market trends to see how prices for particular artists evolve. Sites such as ARTFACTS.net and Skate’s keep track of top-selling artists. However, if you also want guidance about finding exciting new art, check out ArtInfo’s weekly “Editors Picks,” featuring art currently showing in galleries that caught the attention of the editors.

For sites that let you choose which artists to track, check out these sites:

  • artnet has a “Works Catalogues” section that features comprehensive information about a long list of contemporary and 19th Century and modern artists, as well as images of their works. According to artnet, “our goal is to present a growing body of artists’s online monographs. Unlike published print monographs and catalogues raisonnes, these are living catalogues, which will be constantly updated as artists create new works and estates release additional works.” artnet also provides a subscription service that sends you an email when artworks by artists you specify come up for sale in art galleries and auction houses worldwide. You can track up to 30 artists from artnet’s database of 180,000 international artists, or specify other search criteria, such as medium, style, or price.
  • AskART provides a similar service–including a limited free version–for its database of 52,000 American artists and, since 2007, international artists as well.
  • ARTINFO has a section called “Featured Artists” that includes an interview with one artist and provides information about a long list of artists. Click any of the names and you’ll get images of the works that are currently available and links to the galleries that represent them.

Another way to track artists you like is to start a “virtual” collection. For new collectors in particular, it’s a great way to hone your taste by reviewing and storing a range of images. Experienced collectors can use such virtual collections to track works and artists of interest. It’s the art equivalent of comedian Steven Wright’s famous quip “I have a large sea shell collection I keep scattered on the beaches all over the world.” Here are two sites you can use to create a virtual collection:

  • My Gallery is a project by the deYoung Museum and the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. It provides an image database of over 82,000 images from its collections, many of which are never exhibited. You can either create a “collection” just for yourself or publish it and share it with the world. Dozens of people have posted collections based on a wide range of themes. Check them out for a taste of what you can do.
  • MYabsolutearts is a site that lets you collect images from its database of over 22,000 contemporary (emerging) artists. The site also has a commercial interest–you can buy the works in question. Although you may not have heard of many of the artists, it’s a great way to decide what you like, learn about artists, and maybe find some artists you want to follow. The site also has an educational component about art, art movements, and where to see art.

Unfortunately, because of copyright issues, neither site provides a way to blend out the associated text and get full-screen images of the paintings. That makes it hard to really get a sense of the art and impossible to create on-line slide shows as a way of enjoying your “collection.”

5. Buy or Sell Art Online

Several sites offer art for sale or let you list art you want to sell–and make it possible for artists to sell their work directly from the public. Two sites that have a good selection and a well-designed user interface include:

  • In addition to informative information about artists, art movements, and auction results, AskART has ads for art wanted and art for sales by dealers, private parties, and auction houses.
  • The absolutearts.com site is designed to let collectors find and purchase art. It features more than 24,000 artists and includes a feature that lets collectors track works they like.

Participate in Live On-line Auctions

It seems that most online buying and selling of art goes on in live online auctions. It’s a revival, of sorts. In the boom days of the .com era, auction houses, dealers, and galleries spent millions building online auction sites. Third-party sites such as artnet also got in on the game. A few years later, almost all have given up conducting on-line auctions, with the notable exception of Christie’s Live and one of the original online auction sites, www.ewolfs.com. However, most auction houses still make their auction catalogs available for browsing online.

Although the massive technical requirements for such sites made them unfeasible for most auction houses, many now maintain an Internet presence by outsourcing to service providers such as LiveAuctioneers, which works together with eBay to take advantage of eBay’s traffic and vast technical infrastructure. With over 550 auction houses in a dozen countries signed on to conduct on-line auctions, LiveAuctioneers broadcasts auctions almost daily in real time via the Internet. Depending on the auction, you may or may not be able to see the video and hear the sound, but you can always use your mouse as a paddle to bid against floor bidders. If you win, you’ll pay the same buyer’s premium, usually around 20 percent.

LiveAuctioneers publishes information about upcoming auctions well ahead of time to give buyers a chance to check the catalogs and research the items for sale. The site’s interface includes a prominent search box that will find items in upcoming sales, as well as past results for those items in a single search. To participate in online auctions, you sign up and qualify yourself–once you’re registered, you can join any live auction to bid in real time or you can place absentee bids that kick in automatically to raise the price until your maximum is reached.

Tip: A note about “real time”–it means just that. As I was researching this article I clicked around the interface to explore various options, including the Bid button. Yes, I know… my feeble explanation is that it was late, and since I’ve made several on-line purchases using eBay and the interface looked just the same, I expected a confirmation message. Instead I got “You are the high bidder.” I had a flash of panic as I watched helplessly, hoping someone would outbid me. But the next thing I saw was “3-Second Warning” and then “CONGRATULATIONS!” I am now the proud owner of a lovely 19th century Chinese brush washer. It could have been worse–this military bronze sold just moments before for $1,400.

Live Auctions vs. Traditional eBay Auctions

In addition to online auctions being the real-time adjunct to actual auctions, there are other differences between these auctions and “traditional” eBay auctions. Most importantly, instead of dealing with individuals or eBay “stores,” you are typically dealing with auction houses that hold traditional auctions. You’ll also pay the same “buyers premium” charged at such events.

As with any auction, caveat emptor or “buyer beware” applies, which includes checking out items for sale ahead of the auction, reviewing guarantees and return options, and getting a reliability report about the auction house from the Better Business Bureau before bidding. Had the customers of the Fine Art Treasures Gallery art auction television show (currently investigated by the FBI) done that, they would have been alerted to the problems with that company.

In addition to live auctions, eBay and its rival Yahoo also have categories for art and other kinds of collectibles. As far as the visual art goes, most of the offerings are less than $100, even though very expensive pieces of art are bought and sold on eBay– most famously, a fake Diebenkorn that focused attention on fraud that can occur on such sites. According to FBI agents charged with policing the Web, scams and schemes permeate this marketplace. And although everyone seems to know someone who made a great find on eBay, anyone looking for investment grade art may be frustrated. For example, a random search for “Warhol” and “original” yielded hundreds of items, mostly “original reproductions.” One of the works that, judging from the price, might actually be the real thing was offered at a “Buy it Now” price. A quick search showed that price to be three times of what that piece last sold for at auction.

6. Check Current and Upcoming Events

Art fairs are springing up all over the world. For a concise overview of art fairs through the rest of the year, check the Resources section. If you want to find out about art fairs, gallery openings, museum exhibits, and special events around the world, the following sites provide an overview and great ways of filtering what you’re looking for and where it’s happening.

  • ARTFORUM lets you find events and exhibits by date range, region, or country or you can simply display a list of upcoming events, complete with the associated links.
  • The Art Newspaper offers a searchable guide of worldwide exhibitions, including a search by category and “last chance to see” alerts.

In addition to such megasites, many cities periodically offer information about local “art walks” or “gallery crawls” on the Internet. For example, see what’s on in Los Angeles, Scottsdale, San Diego, Pittsburg, and Charlotte, NC. In the San Francisco Bay Area, KQED Public Radio visits local galleries so you can participate in the “First Thursday” gallery crawl.

7. Find Out about Other Collectors

Some collectors are intensely private and go to great lengths to keep their holdings secret. Others want to share their passion and their collections. find domain name owner Learning about other collectors and their collections is part of what makes the art world infinitely intriguing.

Want to know who’s collecting what in the Gulf states, as revealed by artnewspaper.com? Then there is Art Review magazine’s annual list of the 100 most powerful people in the contemporary art scene. And among the yearly Forbes‘ lists, this list of billionaire art collectors came complete with a slide show of the people, although unfortunately not their art. There’s also Wikipedia‘s basic list of American art collectors.

You can also get more personal insights in publications that regularly profile collectors, including Business Week, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Financial Times. Many local public television and radio stations also provide coverage of regional collectors who sometimes open their collections to the public. For example, the public television station in San Francisco makes available streamed footage you can run on your computer, such as a delightful outing to collector Steven Oliver‘s Sonoma ranch, which is one of the country’s most ambitious private collections of site-specific art.

Want to connect on line with other collectors? Both Absolutearts.com (in its new Discuss section) and myartinfo.com let interested parties post blogs or start on-line discussions.

Contribute Your Favorite Resources

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