I don’t have a steady job right now, but that doesn’t stop me from spending a couple hours of every week shopping for art I can’t afford. I go through the work of artists I like (Rauschenberg, Warhol, Dienes, Rosenquist, Leeson, Smithson…). I discover new artists, like Derek Fordjour and Nancy Holt. It’s not the worst way to spend my time, but I’m also not getting any exercise. I’m not walking into any galleries. I’m doing it on my iPad.
The companies that enable my LCD-window-shopping habit are Artsy and Artspace. They don’t house the art itself, but they aggregate the catalogs of well-known galleries across the world. Each offers a clean, uncluttered interface where you can engage in activities we’re all familiar with by now: follow, favorite, and—if you have a couple thousands of dollars—buy or bid.* Sometimes my credit-card finger gets itchy, but so far I’ve resisted. I like looking at my own virtual gallery when I open up the app. It's like Pinterest, but classy. **
It’s no surprise the art world has gone online in this way. What surprises me, is how much I like both of these apps. There’s no substitute for seeing work in person, of course, but it is fun. I don’t engage in aspirational online window shopping with anything else. I generally look at things I can afford to buy (and I don’t really buy that much online anyway). Even though I’ve seen Warhols*** in galleries hundreds of times, they somehow feel more obtainable here, presented like any other online good (The Phaedon-owned Artspace makes art feel even more buyable by offering installment plans). While I’ve always found the people at galleries approachable and friendly, when I go into a gallery, I look at the high-rent gallery space, the expensive framing, the back offices where payments are made, and I think, “I can’t afford this.”
And then there’s this: Both companies are smart about giving you other reasons to keep engaging with them in the form of really compelling content. This is how they insinuated themselves into my life. Artsy, in particular, does a great job of putting out fantastic, short-form articles every week. This week I read about Sister Corita Kent, 11 amazing women pop artists , and Edvard Munch in the age of anxiety (I’ve avoided the article on “What it costs to be a mega art collector” because, well, see above). It’s a smart marketing move given that, I imagine even a well-heeled customer doesn’t purchase with the frequency of your average Amazon Prime subscriber. So it keeps Artsy and Artspace “top of mind.” From a marketing standpoint it falls under customer education, but the affect it has on me, a non-customer, is a halo effect that these gallery aggregators are somehow into this for more than just the money—they care about the art.
So, in the past week I’ve “contemplated” the purchase of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Seduction, Robert Smithson’s Lake Crescents, and a Warhol Jackie. They hang in the fantasy house in my head.**** And, hey, if my ship ever does come in, I’ve got some favorites all ready to buy.
* For the record, both companies offer work by less-well-known artists in the hundred-dollar range.
*** Actually, neither app offers any sort of user ratings, commentary, or review. Which is kind of refreshing.
*** I make a big deal about Warhol, Rauschenberg, etc., but where these sites are really fun is with some less-famous artists. You might be hard pressed to find a gallery in your city that has a Terry Allen, but you can find him on Artsy.
**** With the Artspace app you can virtually place the art on the wall of your house with an augmented reality app.