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Sotheby’s teams with Artsy for online-only auction

International auction house Sotheby’s is partnering with Web-based art platform Artsy to create an online-only marketplace for contemporary art.

Artsy’s search engine and database will be used to find artworks, which users can then bid on via Web site or mobile applications. The partnership will give the Web site, founded in 2009 and made public in 2012, a boost in visibility while granting the centuries-old auctioneer a chance to connect with a new, younger audience.

The crying of lots for online
The online-only sale will take place in late October and aims to highlight contemporary painters, sculptors, videographers, photographers and multimedia artists who incorporate or depict technology or other aspects of the modern or digital age in their works.

Artists being sought after by Sotheby’s and Artsy include American painter/photographer Richard Prince, post-conceptual multimedia artist Cory Arcangel and abstract painter and digital artist Jeff Elrod.

Artsy sale page
Screenshot of Artsy’s sales page

Artsy’s database contains hundreds of thousands of images of artworks, and the company has previously hosted 20 auctions, with proceeds going to museums and other nonprofit organizations. With high-profile backers in both the art world and the tech world, Artsy makes a good partnership for the esteemed auction house.

“Artsy is building a comprehensive resource for our users to learn about and collect art, and an ecosystem that expands the global reach of our gallery, museum and international art fair partners,” said Sebastian Cwilich, Artsy’s president and COO of Artsy, New York. “Bringing leading auction houses onto Artsy is a natural extension of our platform.”

Sotheby's portrait
Picture of David Bowie by Mick Rock, on view in Sotheby’s “Rock Style” exhibition in London

For a while, Sotheby’s was thought to be lagging behind rival auctioneer Christie’s in adapting to the online sales environment, but that looks to be changing. In addition to a $3 million sale of an artwork by Chinese painter Zao Wou Ki earlier this year, Sotheby’s has seen a 55 percent increase in online bidding and a 35 percent increase in the value of winning bids in the first half of 2015.

The increase can be attributed in large part to Sotheby’s pre-existing partnership with eBay. In July 2014, the two companies worked together to develop a digital platform that has enabled consumers to easily browse artwork, antiques and collectibles.

Through the partnership, eBay has granted its 145 million active buyers access to Sotheby’s expertise, auction experience, artwork and collectibles while the auction site has made the bidding process easier through its seamless platform and payment solutions (see story).

"Napkins," 2013, by Cory Arcangel
“Napkins,” 2013, by Cory Arcangel

The Artsy partnership, like the ongoing one with eBay, has the effect of making the auctioneer more accessible to global consumers, but Artsy will also likely bring a younger audience.

Keeping pace
Sotheby’s partnership with eBay has led to previous online auctions such as that with eBay. However, other auctioneers have also jumped into the online marketplace.

Auction house and art seller Christie’s capitalized on the interest of fine horology with the launch of its online Watch Shop.

Christie’s Watch Shop contains rare, vintage and luxury timepieces available for immediate purchase, year round via ecommerce. As more third party retailers have set up ecommerce options for luxury watches, timepiece manufacturers have been forced to follow suit to keep up with the competition (see story).

Final Take
Forrest Cardamenis, editorial assistant on Luxury Daily, New York