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Online art sales feel economic pinch


When sales started to suffer because of the recession, Catherine McCormack-Skiba and her husband had to find new ways to sell art work on the Web site they debuted just months ago at Art Basel Miami Beach.

They now are offering more art for lower prices on newyork, the site they launched in December.

"We get an awful lot of people looking . . . but not a lot are clicking and whipping out the MasterCard at the moment," Brian Skiba says.

Like auction houses, online sites selling art are faced with a decline in sales. These sites vary in the quality of art they sell. Some of them are standalone and some are operated by galleries as an additional way to reach buyers. Some owners say they are losing money, while others say their businesses haven't grown as much as they had hoped since the economic downturn. They all are looking at alternative ways to keep their businesses going in this declining market.

McCormack-Skiba, of Palo Alto, Calif., said people are buying the less expensive art on the site. No one is buying the pricier works that range from $5,000 to $10,000.

So, to readjust their strategy they are offering more art at lower prices. They are increasing the number of prints of each artist they represent on their Web site.

"Clearly the economy dictates a large part of what you can do in the next year," Skiba said. "I don't think we are impervious to it. We benefit from the fact that we are still small. I don't know a single business . . . that's not impacted by the economy."

They also are trying alternative ways of distributing art. In a new venture called "Expresso Gallery," they have arranged to load photographs of art work on projectors and place them in coffee shops in major U.S. cities in hopes of attracting new buyers.

Bill Fine is in a similar situation. Last year he launched the auction section of his Web site, Works are put up for auction and the site gets a 10 percent commission from the buyer as well as the seller. Though his site has average monthly sales of $400,000 to $500,000, he says he still is losing money each month.

"It wasn't fortuitous timing," Fine said. "I think it's probably been harder to build a momentum in this economy."

His site also hosts 2,300 galleries from around the world. So, all a client has to do is type in the name of the artist he or she wants to find and a catalog of works will pop up.

Despite the current challenges, Fine has faith in his venture.

"We think this is the future of the business here," he said. "I think there are probably fewer people in the market. I think they are looking for value. I think there is a certain reticence in the million-dollar range."

Monica Herman, director of the Mixed Greens gallery in New York City and its art sales Web site, said people aren't making the big splurges, but they still are buying.

"People are being more particular about what they are buying," she said. "Clients are asking for discounts more aggressively than we are used to."

However, another online venture by Jen Bekman called 20 x 200, which offers lower-priced limited edition prints and photographs, has taken off.

Bekman, who also owns a gallery in New York City, said the project's success probably is due to the reasonable prices and high quality.

"Business is increasing. We will probably make twice as much revenue as last year," she said.

Still, the economy has slowed the pace at which she hoped the project would grow.

Carolyn Meyer, associate director of the School of Painting at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, said artists also are being affected by the slow sales. Graduates are seeking teaching jobs because of the downturn in sales, she said.

Meyer's own work, which sells online and at a gallery, was down 50 percent from last year, she said — although 2008 sales were her best ever. Her oil and canvas paintings go from $1,300 to $10,000.

Online auction site eBay's antiques and art section also has seen declining results. The company would not comment on whether sales have been affected by the economy, but it gave a comparison for the value of all items sold within the category.

It said the antiques and art category made $1 billion in the first quarter of 2009, a one-third decline from $1.5 billion in the first quarter of 2008.


Art online

For more information about the galleries and organizations in this story, go to their Web sites:

New York Art Exchange:

Mixed Greens:

Harn Museum of Art:


Art + Auction Magazine:

Jen Bekman Gallery:

Online art sales feel economic pinch 06/27/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 27, 2009 4:30am]
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