Artists Connecting Directly to Buyers is a Reality in the Art Market Now: Self-Representation is Unavoidable, Desirable, and Necessary.
In Conversation: Shirley-Ann O’Neill, Director at the VAA speaks with Artist, gallerist and Fair Art Fair App founder, Stacie McCormick, about the future of the art world.
Digital selling tools, market shifts and a new generation of art buyers are creating new opportunities for artists to develop artist-collector relationships directly. The art market’s migration online has increased confidence in buying art and collectables direct. We discuss whether buying direct and self-representation is the future of the art market.
“Consumers have a right to how and when they buy art, the market is big enough for everyone.”
VAA: The art world has opened up over the past two to three years. Recently our members have reported a significant increase in demand to buy art directly. Do you think the digitalisation of the art world has increased or influenced consumer confidence regarding where and how they buy art?
McCormick: Absolutely. I agree that consumers have a right to how and when they buy art, the market is big enough for everyone.
Not giving choices besides the traditional gallery model, it’s an act of suppression, right? The market insists you get every graduate thinking they’re supposed to wait for representation. They’re not taught self-representation – once it was considered a dirty word. Regrettably, it feeds into a kind of weird scarcity metric. A great gallerist is worth their weight in gold. It’s no surprise artists want it, but the numbers speak for themselves.
For example, in the UK there are 55,000 registered visual artists and 1,600 galleries. You don’t have to be a mathematician to know that there is not enough wall space for all the artists that want to show their work; but I don’t see that as negative. I see it as an opportunity. An opportunity for artists to form partnerships and self-represent. There are great opportunities for national and local arts organizations, in finding spaces. For instance, I admire people like Camilla Cole who started Hypha Studios and takes empty spaces to get them working for artists.
“Every single artist is asking that same question: how do I get into a gallery?”
VAA: What are some of the big changes currently happening in the art world?
McCormick: We are really surfing a paradigm shift in the art world for what feels like the first time in its history. The art world is extremely chaotic right now. What I love about that chaos is its opportunity, big time.
A lot of artists want a gallery to come into their studio spontaneously and say, “we’re taking 22 works. We think we’ve got 16 pre-sold”. Relationships like these take time to build. Although it appears like it can be, it’s not overnight. Opportunities like that are about building relationships.
Every single artist is asking that same question: how do I get into a gallery? Then I just say, you know, there are some tried and true steps you have to take. If you aren’t taking those steps, then remember other artists are. Maybe even artists that are not as good as you, but they’re out there doing it and they’re getting the attention. Those who are learning to self-represent or collaborate are selling art on their own terms. They are the ones reaping the rewards. This does not eclipse your chances with a gallery either.
“Suddenly with the internet, every trade, every supplier, everything became much more transparent and it altered the industry.”
VAA: That’s some great insight, this is a topic we discuss frequently with our artists. Until recent years it used to be somewhat frowned upon by the art establishment if an artist sold directly and self-represented. If you had your own website and you had your social media presence, it was a big taboo, a big no-no. You were advised not to display transparent pricing as it would reduce the negotiation power of galleries. Whereas now, the consumer wants to see price points. In fact, it gives the artist integrity. In the current digital climate, a gallery will rarely consider an artist without an online presence because they want to see the trajectory of your work and anticipated demand.
McCormick: The world is so competitive, plus buyers are increasingly savvy. And I love that. It’s very interesting because I was working in the design trade to make money, to support my art practice and the design trade went through transparency realignment. Suddenly with the internet, every trade, every supplier, everything became much more transparent and it altered the industry.
That growth and change filtered out the pretendiers; that transparency allowed for quality to come in, as well as supporting early career creatives. But the other thing that it allowed is that architects and designers all get together now because they’re not hiding anything. Now, you’re either good or you’re not.
“It is incredible the number of people who have wall space who want art, but don’t know where to begin.”
VAA: Do you think a fairer art world is emerging?
McCormick: It’s starting to change. We still have the top hierarchy that still wants to sanction, and to validate. I always tell people that what I have discovered in all this time is that it is likely that the consumer is the most suppressed/neglected person in the art world. Potential art buyers are fed a myth that they can’t buy work directly from artists – they’re totally convinced of it. I think that is criminal because thousands of artists are blocked from thousands of potential buyers. The Fair Art Fair App was really born with this idea, it is incredible the number of people who have wall space who want art, but don’t know where to begin.
Downloading the Fair Art Fair app- seeing all the pins on the map and finding an artist that lives near you, and buying a work for your walls all directly. To have that personal relationship is magic and it supports an artist directly.
At the top of the art world game between the auction houses and the top-ten galleries in the world, it is now what seems to be a billionaires’ market. They are all trading amongst themselves it is exciting and sensational. It is a stock market that’s rather locked up, but beyond the very top is this incredibly exciting world that all of us have an opportunity to play with. It doesn’t mean we have to collapse the top of the art world or even be against it. We want the top and all those phenomenal artists and spaces.
VAA: Do you believe the art world has been playing catch-up with other sectors?
McCormick: Absolutely. If you look at the fashion industry, the consumer has a right to buy in the fashion world at every single level. But you still have the top of the fashion world where people collect haute couture and it’s a rarefied elite arena of very, very wealthy people collecting one-off artworks so that it’s so parallel that fashion world in the artwork, except the fashion industry allows the consumer to connect and get what they want. The art world is only just starting to allow this.
“It is really important for artists to take advantage of the tools and look carefully at these organizations that offer support.”
VAA: We have seen support from the top of the art market emerging recently, for organisations like ours to nurture talent. Have you experienced the same with Fair Art Fair App?
McCormick: More support is needed. The top of the art market needs to be supporting organizations like ourselves that are feeding great artists into their galleries. A number of artists that work with us that are then picked up by the big galleries and become great profit centres. Working closer, in synergy, again, it’s a real campaign for me. The Fair Art Fair app is just a brilliant tool. It is really important for artists to take advantage of the tools and look carefully at these organizations that offer support. It’s totally transparent. We take no commission, just an annual subscription fee.
VAA: If someone sees a piece of art in the Fair Art Fair App, does the artist get to keep all the content details of the person who’s buying it?
McCormick: We do not mediate the sales, we simply provide the opportunity. So, if you click interest to buy, an inquiry to buy is a button on the work of art. It just says inquire to buy, everything else is taken offline and it’s directly between you and the buyer. We don’t have any contact at that stage.
It’s a bit like a dating app really. We get you to meet, but we don’t take you on the date.
VAA: Do you think the Fair Art Fair is unsettling to the top of the market that wants to retain control?
McCormick: I think we are a disruptor, as we are attracting collectors to the app. The tools for the art lover are excellent. I’m seeing interest from galleries too. One collector recently uploaded hundred works on to the app and that’s in total privacy. He’s keeping track of his entire art collection on the app.
“We are so excited about the globe filling up and artists finding art lovers, curators and more to support and love their works.”
VAA: What is the future of Fair Art Fair app?
McCormick: The future is the world – the unseen artist visible and thriving. Down the road, I think art lovers within the app will want to do secondary trading. They may want to start to make their collections public and they’ll be able to do that. We are working on several SAAS options to expand on our promise of being a destination of discovery. We are so excited about the globe filling up and artists finding art lovers, curators and more to support and love their works.