Investing in art online

Every month, the MD of Aspire Art AuctionsRuarc Peffers, contributes a column on the business of collecting and investing in art.

Aspire Art Auctions has consistently led the market in terms of technological innovation. One of the key areas in which the auction house has opened up new horizons is in the field of online sales, a growing area of commercial interest for the fine art auction industry. Reliable figures are not available for the South African market for online auction sales of fine art. However, in 2017, global online sales of art and collectables were estimated at $3.75 billion, an increase of 15% over 2016, according to the fifth annual Online Art Trade Report, published annually by insurance company Hiscox. This is steady growth, from a low base, and represents almost 10% of a global market that recent reports have valued at $45 billion or higher.

Investing in art online aspire art auctions
David Goldblatt, Carvings for sale on William Nicol Drive, Bryanston, 3 July 1999. Black and white gelatin print. 20 x 25cm

     One of the global market leaders for online sales is auction house Christie’s, whose internet sales last year generated $72.4 million, an increase of 12% year-on-year. Perhaps more important than the revenue they generate, these sales produce a major influx of new customers, causing substantial growth of Christie’s database – up to 30% of its new clients each year.
     In the South African market, the online platform serves a similar purpose. Because of its lower price points and accessibility, buying art online attracts a wider audience that doesn’t have to deal with the perceived barriers to entry that go along with participating in live auctions.
     Aspire has brought several innovations to the South African online art auction space. This year we have launched the concept of themed auctions, which brings more focus and ease of navigation for participating buyers. Sales of contemporary art, prints and multiples, and art books have all been met with success.
     Often the volume of work, and the wide range and variety on offer because it can be accommodated on the online platform, can prove intimidating to the buyer. Themed auctions circumvent these issues and enable collectors to pick out their favourites easier.

Investing in art online aspire art auctions
In Boksburg by David Goldblatt

     In the case of art book sales, there is a dedicated collector base, and Aspire has had notable successes this year with two online sales that featured art books prominently. In the most recent of these, special presentation editions of a monograph on Norman Catherine, edited by Hazel Friedman and Ashraf Jamal and offered in the artist’s original wooden case, and a leather-bound special edition of Goldblatt’s seminal collection from the early 1980s, In Boksburg, both sold for R23 450. Many other art book editions and rarities sold for well over their high estimates as art book dealers and general art book collectors realise that Aspire is the place to be for selling their precious volumes, and they can do so with the ease of the online platform. The same is true of the quality offerings in the contemporary art sphere. For example, a recent Aspire Timed Online Auction saw an exceptionally rare hand-printed photograph by the iconic and recently-deceased South African fine art photographer Goldblatt, Carvings for sale on William Nicol Drive, Bryanston, 3 July 1999, sell for R82 075, almost five times its high estimate.

Investing in art online aspire art auctions
The Human Race by Robert Hodgins

     Ever-innovative, Aspire has also brought the first smartphone app for online auctions to the South African market. The increasing adoption by clients of the smartphone app to interface with the online auctions demonstrates the growth and development of the sales channel. For Aspire, increasing support for online also means more royalty payments to living South African artists under the terms of the company’s pioneering Artist’s Resale Rights initiative, still the only one in the country to generate royalties for visual art sales in the auction market.
     In line with its strategic approach to themed online auctions, Aspire’s last sale for 2018 offers an extensive range of top quality art books and collectable contemporary art prior to the year-end holidays. Aspire is seeing the whole platform gaining traction in the South African market, following the growth curve of online buying in Europe and the US.