The Death Of The Gallerist - Part I

The Changing Landscape of Art Buying

This is the first in a two part blog story. Why two parts?

Firstly, no actual murder of a gallerist has been committed, so this is not going to leave you on a cliffs edge until next week. It simply felt like too much ground to cover when documenting the monumental change in the landscape of art buying and potential Death Of The Gallerist. So, in this first instalment I will attempt to present the last decade of change and the emergence of a new online presence across the art world.


Back in November 2015 the Financial Times ran this headline,

Death by 1,000 clicks on the British high street

Mid-market department stores are brought low by the rise in online shopping

The mid-market department stores were one of the first true victims of online shopping. The increase in popularity of buying most mid-priced consumer goods came as no surprise to consumer in the UK or any other western high street where online shopping had evolves into a seamless method of getting what you want, when you want and at a more competitive price. The algorithms became smarter and the cookies crumbled all over our online footprints and soon we were all being served up a tailor made targeted shopping solution. However, high value goods or luxury purchases though were not considered in the early 2000s as a suitable safe online purchase.

In 2006 when Charles Saatchi established “Your Gallery” an online artist platform where artists could upload their work online at www.saatchigallery.com/yourgallery, within the 1st week 1,800 artists had registered. By the end of the first month 1.4 million unique users had visited the Your Gallery site.

Charles Saatchi, born in 1942 in Bagdad to Iranian parents who laters settled in London

Charles Saatchi, born in 1942 in Bagdad to Iranian parents who laters settled in London

Saatchi is arguably the most important modern day patron of contemporary art, an international art collector and art brand influencer. He is also one half of the most successful advertising agency in the 90s, with a shrewd understanding of how to market a successful brand. When he put his brand behind a platform for artists to exhibit their work it was a game changer for the unknown artists and for people’s perception of how contemporary art could be consumed.

Saatchi also had tremendous clout in the London and New York art scene with many crediting him being entirely responsible for the success of British artist Damien Hirst amongst others, though Hirst would very much dispute this! In the late 1990s the Saatchi brand became synonymous with contemporary art and art investment.

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst

When the new Saatchi Gallery opened in October 2008 at the Duke of York's HQ in London it was beyond impressive. At the time I was working for the Halcyon Gallery at their equally beautiful location, situated on Bruton Street, W1. I will always remember The Halcyon Gallery being part of the most delicious designer sandwich, nestled between fashion designer Stella Mccartney’s flagship store and Diane von Furstenberg. Saatchi’s new gallery was a located on the ever fashionable King’s Road, a sublime classically fronted vast space which was to house his contemporary art collection and was credited by many as,

"one of the most beautiful art spaces in London."

The gallery is still the only completely free-entry contemporary art museum of its size in the world and features 6,500 m2 of 15 equally-proportioned exhibition spaces. Much of the art may be relatively unknown to the visitors but Saatchi has cleverly created a gallery space that not only inspired new minds but acts as a spring board for new artists. Artists that he, has already invested in.

The Saatchi Gallery

The Saatchi Gallery

As well as being consider by some as the greatest modern patron of our time, Saatchi is also an influential secondary art dealer disguised as a patron and is the only modern collector credited with creating an art movement.

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When Saatchi expanded his Your Gallery site to an e-commerce platform in 2011 and created Saatchiart.com the art world took a seismic shift towards a new art buying behaviour.

Currently Saatchiart.com has more than 100,000 artist profiles and 1.92 million visitors

A recent report by Hiscox Online Art Trade in 2018 explained:

The global art market was valued at $63.7 billion in 2017, up 12% from 2016.Online art sales increased by an estimated 12% reaching $4.22 billion which represents 5% of all art sales. More people are investing in art than any other luxury commodity at 21% with wine following at 11%. Hiscox predicts that online art sales will reach $8.37 billion in 2023.

Here are some of the key factors on the online market place which are impacting the art buying behaviour:

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Clearly this is an extremely exciting time for the art buyer, who get more visibility, choice and satisfactory customer service. It is also a new landscape for the artist, who are able to sign up to a plethora of online platform including Saatchi and introduce the world to their artistry with often lower commission rates than traditional galleries and no shipping costs.

Some of the international online gallery players available to artists and art buyers

Some of the international online gallery players available to artists and art buyers


The once intimidating auction rooms are now attracting a new generation of online buyers.

The once intimidating auction rooms are now attracting a new generation of online buyers.

In 2014 major auction houses also joined the online art buying revolution as both Sotheby’s and Christies invested in software solutions and marketing to attract a new online auction buying audience. This resulted in 23% of all lots sold by 2017 being made online which was approximately $180 million, a 16% increase from 2016. Clearly the online art buying trend was also being activated in the most traditional and antiquated level of art buying.

More significant maybe was the fact that 53% of online bidders were new clients. Online auctions appeared to be a vital way of attracting new buyers who wouldn’t normally step into an auction room. The average sale price has also risen to $10,000 by 2017 which shows that trust is being built and the online auction house market is set to grown, much in the same way as all online consumer behaviour.


Finally, the subject of the online art buying market from the consumer or artist perspective cannot be discussed without an essential factor of social media and content publishing. Instagram has especially been sighted as the king of content when it comes to consuming and accessing art images and really getting to know your artist or online art provider. As Simon Davies from Tech.co explains,

“Instagram has emerged as a more democratic platform for art, offering unparalleled access to those whose pockets are not as deep as their enthusiasm for art.  It also allows serious collectors and critics to discover and evaluate art with our bias. 

In a sense it strips away reputation and fanfare, instead forcing artist to connect with people in a visually engaging and innovative way.” 

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Instagram has become an extraordinary tool with constantly evolving attributes, stories, video clips and direct messaging. It connects imagery to the consumer on an unimaginable level supplying free content 24/7. All you needs in an smartphone and an account and the ability to communicate your message clearly. As an art historian it is unimaginable how all of this rapid art sharing will be categorised in years to come, if at all.

A snapshot of the @nordicartagency Instagram feed

A snapshot of the @nordicartagency Instagram feed

So in such exciting times for the art buyer and art creator, where is the gallery’s role in this new landscape? Is there a need for the offline gallery and how has the digital world impacted the physical gallery? Can traditional galleries survive or like the perpetual death of the high street is it really a case of The Death of the Gallerist?

Next week on the blog I will give you my opinion as an art advisor, instagrammer, art historian and gallery owner. Do please leave you comments and any online buying tales of joy or woe as it would be interesting to have some art buyers experiences and not just the stats.

Juliet Rees - Nilsson

Founder & Art Advisor