Auctions & Art Collecting in the Digital Age

In its 2016 online art trade report, Bermuda-based insurance provider Hiscox estimated that by 2020 the online art market will be worth $9.58 billion. Leading auction houses have taken hold of the power of the web, launching sites that bring the exhilaration of the auction house floor to your fingertips. There is a host of popular options that make art collecting in the digital age convenient for collectors to discover new treasures and for individuals and organizations to sell.

In the past, some collectors questioned the authenticity and safety of online auctions; however, the rise of reputable galleries, auction houses, museums and foundations selling valuable works on digital platforms has eased many of those concerns. Sotheby’s and Christie’s each have an established online presence that allows collectors to follow their favorite artists and preview the upcoming auction calendar for offerings from contemporary emerging artists to old master paintings and metalwork. Sotheby’s features a joint site with eBay that live streams New York auctions so collectors can bid from anywhere in the world. Some main auction houses sell products on sites like LiveAuctioneers.

Some of the largest auction platforms today are online-only, such as Artsy, Artnet and Paddle8. The latter bills itself as “the auction house for the 21st century collector.” Their site features clever technology that provides buyers with total cost calculators to factor in fees like shipping before bidding. Paddle8 also holds benefit auctions to support institutions like Planned Parenthood and local museums. Artsy boasts a portfolio of over half a million images from galleries, estates, museums, fairs and more. Their mission to “make art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection” has translated to mobile technology: the Artsy iPhone app allows you to watch, save and bid on international art with the tap of your thumb.

Artnet takes online bidding a step further by providing their 2 million monthly users with market alerts, gallery networks to connect dealers with collectors, a newswire, and price database with over 30 years of auction results. Artnet’s style is most indicative of what makes art collecting in the digital age so unique: it’s more than 24/7 bidding, it’s accessibility and education.

Digital bidding means fine artworks can range drastically in price, from nearly zero to over $1 million at Paddle8 and even “an original de Kooning or Warhol for just a few thousand dollars,” as Christie’s explains. Nearly every site has an educational component, like market reports or blogs and videos to to help you learn more about the artists on auction. Online art auctions also remain popular for bringing together an assortment of works that aren’t available in brick and mortar stores, securing them as the latest and hottest method of collecting the world’s finest works.

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