Seven Surprising Ways the Internet Has Screwed the Art World?

by Corinna Kirsch on April 18, 2014 · 9 comments Opinion

internet screwed

Over on artnet news, Alexandra Peers reports that the Internet has changed the art world in “seven surprising ways,” but not always for the better. The listicle contains some nuggets of common sense—yes, having seven reviews about the Whitney Biennial pop up in your news feed before the exhibition even opens will affect the way you see it—but some of it’s just conflated blather. So what’s a blogger to do, but respond.

Here’s the list of conclusions Peers has made about how the Internet has screwed the art world:

1. The truly rare object is now wickedly expensive.
The easy availability of price information on the Internet has standardized prices for many works; one gallery can’t charge all that much more than another for somewhat similar works.

What a leap. Standardization of pricing does not cause some artworks to be sold for millions of dollars; it’s a lack of standards—regulation gone unchecked—that allows prices to go bonkers.

This doesn’t mean standardization doesn’t exist. Just by going online, you now know that when you buy a painting by an artist at their Los Angeles gallery that you’ll be paying about the same price at their New York one. (Still, some, like Felix Salmon at Reuters, argue that you’re going to pay more for art just based on the gallery’s location.) But galleries don’t always put their pricing information on their website; you’ve got to send a dealer an email or make an old-fashioned phone call. This adds to the difficulties of knowing a work’s price through the Internet’s graces.

Be that as it may, the “easy availability of price information on the Internet” has nothing to do with the outrageously priced paintings that are bought and sold at the world’s major auction houses. As a cause, “standardized prices of works” neither accounts for nor creates that strange force that allows some artists to command skyrocketing prices. Taken as a total view of the art market, the “now wickedly expensive” artwork remains an anomaly rather than the norm.

What does cause the boom, though, has something to do with an increase in speculative investment the world over. We’re not really sure because certain corners of the market remain closed off; Sarah Thornton, when writing about why she quit writing about the art market, notes how the demands of oligarchs—who commonly purchase art as a means of tax evasion and money laundering—end up shrouding the art-auction world with mystery.

2.  The Internet fueled the art boom by inspiring false confidence.
“Google search an artist’s name and you are an instant expert,” notes Portuguese art collector Antonio DeCordoso, who shops annually at the Armory Show and Art Dubai fairs. It doesn’t quite work that way, of course, he adds, but the Internet provides a burst of comfort and confidence that has meant people buy more quickly, if not much less foolishly.

I don’t take issue with the statement that the Internet gives everyone more access to information, but there’s no evidence that collectors are now more informed buyers or purchase more quickly because of it. We know that people buy art all the time without seeing it online, but even that can be taken with a grain of salt; a recent AXA Art study found that most collectors they interviewed aren’t willing to purchase art online.

What Peers doesn’t tackle is the relationship between people buying art online and the “art boom”; she claims that the “art boom” has been “fueled” by online sales. This would be the case if, due to the availability of work online, people were buying more art than ever before, contributing to a growth in overall sales. Also unexplored: why it is that the Internet is “inspiring false confidence.”

3. The Internet has created new power players and ways to be ones. 
There’s a pecking order in the museum world that has existed for decades, but it’s being upended. The century-old Frick Museum, plus the Getty and the Dallas Museum of Art, have fewer Twitter followers together than the Andy Warhol Museum, a social media behemoth at 629,000 followers.

Why has democracy screwed the art world? Thanks to the Internet, there’s more voices than ever talking about art online. Peers mentions blogs like Art F City (thanks!) that have emerged as power players because of the Internet. So how is this a problem? Maybe we critics should rally behind the motto “Screwing the art world every single day.”

Peers reserves her silliest ideas for Twitter, though. There she talks about how the “pecking order in the museum world is being upended” because one mid-size museum (the Andy Warhol Museum) has a whole lot of Twitter followers. Twitter followers do not make for a more “powerful” museum; more importantly, an increase in followers does not necessarily mean an increase in financial resources—like more grant funding—or an increase in acquisitions. And again, what’s so wrong with upending the pecking order?

4. The Internet has fueled the production of multiples and “near” multiples

Some art-world watchers—the Baer Faxt’s Josh Baer among them—argue that it’s actually changed the art that artists are making; that they are creating bodies of work with little dissimilarity precisely so they can be traded easily, and sight unseen.

You can talk to one person and be of the opinion that artists are doing one thing; talk to another and she’ll tell you the opposite story. The art world isn’t defined solely by those who have built a market for their work and are now lazily attempting to exploit it with multiples or near-multiples. Just one type of artist, the type Josh Baer knows.

5. Everyone is now an art-market quarterback.
The Internet started a cottage industry of analysis of, and investment in, the art market, just as the manageability of sports statistics fueled the explosive growth of fantasy leagues. An industry of experts with no institutional memory? Lucky us.

Agreed. But I don’t think institutional memory has gone out the window; it’s not like you can’t find Anthony Haden-Guest’s—or anyone else’s—writings on the art market of the 1980s online.

6. The Internet has crystallized groupthink.
The art world was always a gossipy place, but you used to have a day or two before a consensus on, say, the Whitney Biennial was reached. No longer. Even the casual online skimmer can immediately feel they’ve read so much that they’ve already seen the show—or at least floor three.

Agreed.

7. Who are all these people—and were all of them invited?
Remember paper invites? At first it was great when Blackberries took off and all you had to show at a check-in was your e-vite. Now, websites for events serve as to-do lists for party crashers, who always seem to know somebody at a museum, and can either talk their way in or bottleneck the desk while they name everybody in their class at Cooper Union. The good news is so many people are trying to get into art parties that it’s making the art world more fun and magnetic. The bad news is the crashers are in line ahead of you.

The art world is screwed because the Internet has made secret, exclusive parties less exclusive.

SMH right now, just SMH.

  • http://www.officesuppliesincorporated.com/ Joseph Staples

    oh good, this isn’t a top ten list. It’s a top ten list mercilessly roasting another top ten list. I thought this could be the start of the end for AFC…thanks for staying on brand.

    • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

      I love it when commenters call x post as the beginning of the end. Every post is a sign of something.

      • http://www.officesuppliesincorporated.com/ Joseph Staples

        True, there is never the one sign. You just look up one day and everything has fallen apart.

        • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

          LOL. Well, tell me what you want to see more of, and maybe we’ll be able to do some of that.

          • http://www.officesuppliesincorporated.com/ Joseph Staples

            This is going sideways…I was trying to say nothing is wrong and roasting a shitty list is you doing exactly what you do.
            This is what I get for trying to be a smart ass.

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            omg. I am not used to commenters who have anything nice to say.

          • http://www.officesuppliesincorporated.com/ Joseph Staples

            hahahahahahahahah
            Ok, i feel better. Stay positive!!!

          • http://www.corinnakirsch.com/ Corinna Kirsch

            Have no fear; the blog has yet to resort to listicles on a regular basis.

  • Miranda

    The internet has contributed to the bifurcation of the market as only the truly extraordinary or well-supported escape the downward pressure on pricing due to ease of access to pricing, ease of access to auction results and the awareness of just how much work is out there in relation to number of collectors. There is a big difference between cultural groupies and actual buyers. Not too long ago Sotheby’s London offered a course on the impact of the internet on the market. In it they discussed the same findings.

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