Amid the pandemic that is covid-19, I hope everyone is staying safe and doing something creative to put into the world. It’s easy to become a consumer during times of isolation. Instead, view it as an opportunity to create and examine what is within your arm’s reach under a different light. My life outside of this blog put a pause on it the past year, but let’s see what becomes of it.
A French court has ruled that Jeff Koons’ edition of sculptures titled Naked (1988) is a plagiarism of a black & white photograph by the late Jean-Francois Bauret. Jeff Koons LLC and Centre Pompidou, the institution that hosted the artist’s retrospective that featured the scultpure, have been ordered to pay €20,000 to the estate of the photographer, another €20,000 for their legal cost, and another €4,000 in fines, totaling around $46,500. Considering that Koons’ works regularly sell for $millions at auction and that this isn’t his first plagiarism conviction, this is not really news worthy of the press that it’s been getting this week.
However, court rulings like this do muddy where the fine line in creativity lie. Being that this sculpture is in a completely different medium with novel elements like color and flower arrangement, I would have ventured a guess to say this is technically an original work by Koons. Then again, I’m no expert. According to the ruling, these changes “do not prevent one from recognizing and identifying the models and the pose”, and so it is a plagiarism.
It’s not uncommon for artists to use others’ photographs as reference for paintings or original work and leave recognizable remnants of the original photo in the final work, so when is it ok and when is it not ok? This lawsuit just seems like a quick cash-grab by Bauret’s widow, and in the process the court meddled in defining what’s considered a creative effort. Although Koons’ Naked may look similar in appearance to the Bauret photograph, it clearly does not evoke the same feeling from its viewers as the photograph does. Isn’t that novel in itself?
*I wasn’t planning on this post becoming so long, but it’s a summary of the best tips I have learned over the years of being an eBay user. I hope at least some of you find it useful. The tl;dr version appears at the bottom of the post.
In most art collectors’ collecting career, there eventually comes a time to sell a piece from the collection. It might be to fund another work or maybe you decided the work no longer fits the direction of curation. Whatever the reason, eBay is a quick and easy way to reach a large base of buyers. If you’re selling a high ticket item, it’s the equivalent of selling a Ferrari at a swap meet, but it might be preferable to consigning to a gallery and dealing with their BS.
Here I explain the best practices of selling art on eBay, so that you get the most $$ for your efforts.
Let’s start with the title of a listing. This is probably the most important aspect of any listing because a smart title will decide whether a potential buyer will see your auction. Beside obvious things like name of the artist or title of the artwork, there may be other keywords that make it easier to find the listing or entice a buyer into clicking on the listing.
Here’s my tip to making the best descriptive title. Do a search of the artist’s name in eBay. Filter the result to show only sold listings, then sort by “Price + Shipping: highest first”, like so below.
Take note of the auctions that sold for the highest prices and what their titles are. There will be common keywords shared between these successful auctions and if the keywords apply to the work you are selling, then it should be in your auction title. There is a character limit for your title, so choose only the most effective keywords that make your auction stand out and easy to search.
Like they say, “A picture says a thousand words.” And an auction with low-lit, low-res, cluttered pictures says “I’m not worth it.”
The next important aspect of an auction is pictures. Like they say, “A picture says a thousand words.” And an auction with low-lit, low-res, cluttered pictures says “I’m not worth it.” If you have a nice DSLR camera already, then you have a huge leg up on everyone else. If not, it’ll still be okay as long as you take the time to edit the picture with a simplest photo editing software. The default ones that come with any Windows or Mac operating system is fine. Some tips for taking better pictures:
Use high resolution camera. High-res cameras impart more “depth” to any artwork you’re photographing.
Have a clean area on which you can take a picture. Nothing is more off-putting than having clutter of personal stuff in the background. What I usually do is to lay a large piece of black paper on the ground and photograph the artwork on top of this.
Utilize natural light to show off your artwork in the best light. Especially if your artwork has a lot of vibrant colors, then natural light can bring it to life.
You should have these 3 basic pictures at a minimum. A frontal photo that shows the whole piece. A photo that shows distinguishing marks, such as an artist’s signature. This type of photo eases buyer’s concerns about authenticity. And lastly, close-ups of visually appealing details in the artwork that a buyer might not have been aware.
Post-editing can make the difference. Even with the best lighting and photo angles to showcase the piece, there’s always room for improvement. At a minimum, adjust contrast and brightness levels and crop the photos to your liking.
The more you can assure a buyer that this is the real deal, the more likely it is he will be willing to give you more money for it.
Next, the description. Write a short blurb about the artwork itself, especially if you are privy to any interesting stories behind it, the artist, or genre. Details of authenticity/provenance and condition are essential, but be honest. The more you can assure a buyer that this is the real deal, the more likely it is he will be willing to give you more money for it.
Now this is the fun part. How should you sell it? eBay offers a few options. It can be an auction or a Buy It Now. What you choose depends on your appetite for risk and reward.
Auctions: You choose a starting price and a number of days the auction should run, and if people are interested they will bid up the price. If you start at a high price, then it’s likely to deter a lot of bidders. My recommendation is to start low to attract a flurry of activity, which will encourage new bidders and current bidders to bid higher. However, risk is high if you overestimate the market interest in the artist or the particular artwork, but as long as you find at least 1 buyer, the item is guaranteed sell. I usually start auctions at $0.99 for 7days with no reserve, even for items with an estimated value in the thousands of dollar, because I have found this yields auction prices that are significantly greater than the historical average prices for the artist or artwork. It’s a high risk and high reward method.
Pro tip: I found that listings that end on Sunday do better than any other day. Make of that what you will.
Buy It Now (BIN): This is for sellers who are risk averse, but it is straightforward. You set a price and a potential buyer decides whether to purchase it. You know exactly what price you’ll get if you find a buyer, but the disadvantage is you don’t know if it’ll ever sell. To increase the odds of selling, you can enable an option called Best Offer. This feature lets interested parties send you an offer, which you can counter, decline, or accept. If you’re ok with waiting for a sale at a certain price that you want to achieve, then BIN is for you.
I’m a fan of low starting price auctions because it consistently brings in the most $. Let me give you an example. I bought a Shepard Fairey print from 1996 in 2015 via a BIN listing for $1500. A year later, I sold the same piece via $0.99 starting price 7day auction that ended on a Sunday afternoon to achieve $2900, which was way more than I was expecting. I was expecting to break even since the artist’s profile hadn’t risen much in that time and the print market was soft.
If you have some time, you can market your auctions via art forums and this can provide the extra bump
There are other tips to attract more buyers like offering insurance for shipping or free shipping. If you have some time, you can market your auctions via art forums and this can provide the extra bump, but I think the main tips above will cover 95% of things you need to do to get the best price.
In the end, what does eBay take? For listings in the Art category, eBay will take 10% of the end price, which includes any shipping charges that the buyer pays. Then you kind of have to use PayPal to accept payment, so PayPal takes 2.9% on top of the 10% that eBay already took. For me, it’s worth it being that I’m in control of the entire selling process, unlike art auction sites like Paddle8.
You want the short story? Here it is:
Choose a smart and effective title for your listing.
Take good pictures that are well-lit and high resolution using a background that looks clean.
Write a short, honest blurb that showcases the best parts of the artwork and assure potential buyers of the authenticity/provenance.
Choose a pricing option that makes sense for you. It can be an auction or a Buy It Now. My recommendation is a low starting price auction with no reserve that runs for 7days starting on a Sunday afternoon/evening.
If you art part of any art forums or communities, market your eBay listing by leaving a link in your signature or posting the link in a sales thread. More visibility, the better.
However, it raises a question that’s also been on my mind for the past few months: Are technologies like Instagram and Facebook replacing the traditional art market that was once dominated by galleries?
Here’s Marc Spiegler’s take on the matter:
Does Instagram replace Artforum ads? Art fair booths? My gallery? Me?
Obviously, Instagram can serve as a great form of visual promotion. I am willing to bet that a big-data analysis of the format of works being created by today’s young artists would reveal many more square works than before Instagram launched. Why? Because the artists are unconsciously responding to which works get more “likes”—or even sell best—in Instagram’s square world.
So does Instagram replace an Artforum ad? Maybe, although many artists demand full-page ads in Artforum when they move to a new gallery. Does Instagram replace art fair booths? People are selling works over Instagram to the same kind of global audience that you try to reach via a fair, and they are having virtual “conversations” with those people. But they’re not the same kind of dialogues that you have in person.
Instagram is fast becoming a tool for trading, not just marketing
Can you avoid having a gallery if you have a hyperactive Instagram account? Certainly, Stefan Simchowitz sells a lot of work without having a gallery. For a secondary-market dealer, I think it could certainly be the case; you broadcast on Instagram the work you’re trying to sell to anyone and use direct messaging for pieces you do not want to burn through over-exposure.
Does it replace the gallerist? There will surely be artists who will successfully sell their own work on Instagram. But I think most artists prefer to create art rather than spend all day direct-messaging random potential patrons. And I believe that the best way to sell art is to stand in front of the work with the collector. Fairs and galleries still work, because there is something simply primal about how you build the relationships that enable you to sell art in a market based entirely on perception.
This has a couple of important implications for gallerists and artists.
Let’s start with the gallerists.
Without a doubt, social media created new outlets for communication that did not exist before. Recently when I took a poll on a popular art forum regarding their preferred art news outlet, a majority preferred to receive their news directly from artists on Instagram. And why not? It’s convenient. Contrary to what Spiegler says above, I do not think any savvy artist is wasting her time direct messaging potential patrons. Instead she is curating a thoughtful stream of her works or inspirations that resonate with her audience. Key is fostering intimacy. That is where I think galleries struggle in this new age of media. Artists are beginning to realize that they do not need the backing of fancy galleries to sell works, because technologies like Instagram make connecting with new audiences as easy as taking a picture on their phone.
In the next five years, I can imagine artists empowered by modern technologies becoming independently successful without a gallery’s backing. Few examples already come to mind, like David Choe (@davidchoe), Banksy, and to a certain extent even Shepard Fairey (@obeygiant).
Now let’s discuss the implications of Instagram for artists. Like Jerry Saltz and Marc Spiegler mention, one of the ill effects of Instagram is homogenization. Artists are unconsciously reacting to the “Likes” that they receive and thus catering to the tastes of the masses, and in the process becoming similar in content, style, and/or format. The best artists will actively fight against this. We are already seeing a shift towards art that is experiential, participatory, and interactive.
Just last year Banksy’s Dismaland opened to critical acclaim because it was an exhibition of many experiences. It was performance art and its star was the thousands of attendees that flocked to a struggling resort town in Great Britain who otherwise would have never set foot in Weston-super-Mare. James Turrell’s light filled environments are another example of the public embracing art that transcends a square picture on your 6″ smartphone screen. That experience simply cannot be translated onto a phone screen. Although many The Broad attendees have uploaded selfies inside the Infinity Mirrored Room, it is also another work that simply refuses to be distilled into a flat image.
It will be experiential art like the above that survive past the short passes of an Instagram feed. I’m not saying that traditional square and rectangular paintings will be gone. No ordinary person will be able to host Dismaland, James Turrell’s rooms, or Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room in a home. Traditional paintings are just too convenient, so it will never die out. I’m willing to bet that the new art trend is going to be experiential and performance art.
I know what you’re thinking: “I hate social media.” Just hold on, let me explain.
As annoying as social media sometimes get (you’re talking to a guy that deactivated his Facebook account two years ago and uses Instagram exclusively), it is a valuable tool for collectors to personally connect with artists, stay abreast of upcoming shows, discover art and artists, and add works that you would never otherwise have access to. Huge increase in accessibility to art that social media has brought might be one of its greatest benefits.
Here’s a rundown of how I utilize social media for art collecting:
Follow artists and galleries to gain first access. Following artist and galleries that I have a strong interest in allows me to stay up-to-date on new shows and artwork that may become available before the email blast goes out. This is essential especially if the gallery has a first-come, first-served policy for purchasing new works. Getting your name on that preview list is an advantage that you cannot afford to not have.
Discover new artists. Talented artists tend to have talented artist friends, and if you follow enough of them (Read: six degrees of separation) you’ll grow a huge network of artists that excites and motivates your collection.
Find casual collectors who’s looking to sell a Holy Grail for the right price. Search functions in social media have gotten so powerful that with enough know-how you can find almost anything there. Four years ago (wow, how time flies), I searched “Shepard Fairey” on Flickr and found a former assistant of his from back in the 90s. After a couple of messages, I convinced him to sell a print by Fairey from 1993 that not even the artist himself had in his collection. It was a good day.
Gauge the collectability of an artist. These days artist have to be self-promoting gurus to be recognized by galleries and collectors. I use an artist’s social media presence as a critical decider of whether to invest in an artist. How many followers does she have? How active is she on various social media platforms? How much engagement does she have with the greater community? It’s up to you to decide if her hype or lack of hype is deserved.
Strengthen my visual language as a collector. Accessibility to art granted by social media is unprecedented, and this allows us collectors to quickly learn visually what works and what doesn’t. This will help curb the amount of mistakes you make as a collector, and I’ll be the first to admit that I have made a few blunders along the way.
You will be hard pressed to find a more efficient tool for art collecting than social media platforms like Instagram. It’s not only a collecting tool, but an educational one as well for beginning collectors. I really hope you will embrace this landscape of art collecting enabled by new technologies. It might seem unfamiliar but I guarantee you’ll enjoy the ride.
The most common question I receive when I talk about my collection is: “Where do you buy art?” There are different strategies a collector can employ, but it will depend on the strength of the artist’s market and his output.
In this Education series, we will take a look at the myriad different ways of acquiring works for your personal collection, whether through the traditional gallery system or by directly contacting artists. The first installment of this series is the private commissioning of work. How badass does that sound, “I commissioned a piece for my collection”?
Let’s take a look at how to go about doing this.
This strategy works best on emerging artists, who may not yet be fully represented by a primary gallery, but are consistently outputting new works so that you can discern style or content that you might be interested in.
Do your research. Browse the artist’s website, which usually has a portfolio of works that the artist is especially proud of, or her Instagram page, which almost all artists have these days. After examining the works, you need to be able to articulate what subject, style, or “feel” you want expressed. This is the most important aspect of the commissioning process because the better you are able to communicate your vision to the artist, the more likely you will develop deeper levels of appreciation and enjoyment.
To date, all my commissions occurred via emails. If the artist has a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, a DM would work just as well.
Now you know what you want and have a means to contact the artist. Start off the message with a personal note about how you came in contact with the artist’s work or what you love about her work. The purpose of this is to establish a rapport with the artist, to motivate the work to be the best it can be. Then ask if she is taking any commissions at the moment. If she is, then these are what you should provide:
Budget. You should also take into account any shipping expenses that may incur.
Medium (examples: canvas, paper, sculpture, etc). This is where your research will start to come in handy.
Size. This will be determined by your budget, but it’s helpful to include since the artist may be able to accommodate your budget to fit the size you want.
Content of the work. Try to describe your vision of the piece to the best of your ability. It’s just as acceptable to allow free rein to the artist, to give a loose abstraction, or to be specific down to the colors and composition of the piece, although I’d highly advise against that last one.
I don’t like to add too many terms to the commission for the fear of this becoming too much of a business transaction, so I keep things at a minimum. I’m an idealist like that.
Private commissions are the most nerve-wracking method for obtaining works, but for the same reason it can be the most rewarding. You are putting up money sight unseen with the implicit trust between artist and collector that both parties will be happy with the result. However, it’s most rewarding in that you are guaranteed to have a personal connection to the piece because, although the artist did all the heavy lifting, your vision and story will gleam through every inch of the work. Instead of simply handing over money, you were an integral part of the artistic process that produced this result.
Doesn’t that make for a much more meaningful conversation starter?