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This week, galleries scheduled to participate in the canceled Art Basel Hong Kong, moved their planned booths to the fair’s new online viewing room platform. There, Gagosian is currently presenting the work of artists Georg Baselitz, Jennifer Guidi, Tetsuya Ishida, Jia Aili, Takashi Murakami, Mary Weatherford, Tom Wesselmann, Zeng Fanzhi, and others.
Coupled with the temporary closure of its physical locations due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Gagosian is also working to expand its digital sales and programming initiatives. Whitewall checked in with one of the gallery’s directors, Sam Orlofsky, to hear more about what’s in store.
WHITEWALL: What will users find on Gagosian’s site, as well as the Art Basel online viewing rooms?
SAM ORLOFSKY: We are presenting new works directly from the studios of Georg Baselitz, Jennifer Guidi, Jia Aili, Takashi Murakami, Mary Weatherford, and Zeng Fanzhi. We are thrilled to be offering iconic blue-chip works by Tetsuya Ishida and Tom Wesselmann that are rare to find on the market. We focused the selection on finding very desirable works of the highest quality, which is the same way we select works for physical fairs.
Georg Baselitz’s Die andere Seite vom Ölfleck (2019) is being unveiled from the artist’s never-before-seen series of gold-on-black paintings. We have a mandala-like composition from Jennifer Guidi, An Instance of Becoming (2019), where sculptural markings evoke an intensely meditative sense of narrative and spiritual offering. In paintings such as Derelict Building Worker’s Chair (1996), Tetsuya Ishida provided vivid allegories of the challenges to Japanese life and morale, charged with a dark Orwellian absurdity.
New works may be offered over the course of this presentation. Viewers are invited to return to the site for an opportunity to find additional offerings.
WW: How is Gagosian approaching online sales overall?
SO: With each iteration of our Online Viewing Rooms we have not only exceeded our own goals, but broken new ground for the industry. We have seen exponential growth in online sales, new contacts, and traffic to our site in the past three years.
Sales revenue from online outreach is up over 420% from the beginning of 2018. Online sales in 2019 was over 30x our total in 2016. Traffic to our Online Viewing Rooms has increased substantially as well. Our most recent OVR was visited by 59% more users than our first presentation in June of 2018.
We meet new collectors with each presentation. Our Frieze LA OVR in February 2020 OVR introduced us to 193% more potential clients than the Art Basel OVR we hosted in June of 2018.
WW: How do you see that platform expanding?
SO: We enjoy creating new experiences for our audience with each online sale. We want visitors to come back and discover something new each time. We are currently working on a new series of sales that we hope to unveil in April.
With physical gallery and fair closures, the Online Viewing Rooms offer collectors more options than ever before from the comfort and safety of their own home.
We have worked diligently to create online experiences that come as close as possible to seeing a work in person. This includes exceptionally high-resolution photography, videos, interviews, market analysis, and access to our experts.
WW: How have you been seeing collectors embrace online viewing rooms?
SO: We sold an Albert Oehlen painting for $6 million on the platform, exceeding the then-current auction record for the artist and allowing us to publicly participate in setting a market record, a position that has historically been held by auction houses.
The art market has traditionally been considered a very solid investment in times of uncertainty in the stock market. We hope this continues during the current crisis.
We also believe there to be huge opportunities in embracing, experimenting, and investing in technology, especially for image-led businesses. We plan to keep innovating to give collectors unique experiences online and access to our artists, scholars, market expertise, and innovators.
WW: Why is transparency so important online?
SO: We started with the hypothesis that collectors are open to buying art online, even at a high price point, if they were offered works of high quality. Most of our early decisions grew out of either our perception of how the auction houses were using online sales or what we were seeing evolve in the online sales platforms, such as Artsy (Larry Gagosian is a founding investor), Ocula, ArtNet, etc.
We recognized that price transparency was effective in those scenarios and reassuring for potential buyers.
Our depth of experience with consignments at the highest levels of the market lead us to want to try and make sales online at the $100,000—$1M range with meaningful frequency. And we have!
WW: How are you working with artists digitally?
SO: We collaborated with Sterling Ruby by curating an online only exhibition that positioned his works alongside historical artists who influenced him. Sterling opened his personal collection up for the occasion, offering access to collectors for this exclusive period. So, the platform has allowed our artists to tell their stories in a new medium and introduce their work all over the world in a unique way.