Art

Could we be one Instagram 'like' away from making art galleries redundant?

Online art shopping clicks with local and international buyers

06 September 2020 - 00:00 By
Social media platforms such as Instagram have given artists the opportunity to display their work to a wide audience without the need for a gallery exhibit.
Social media platforms such as Instagram have given artists the opportunity to display their work to a wide audience without the need for a gallery exhibit.
Image: 123RF/Daria Minaeva

This new online art buying! It's a thing! No need for opening nights and fanfare and cheap wine and walls! If you like something, you can buy it directly from a website, Facebook, or even better - Instagram. No need for research or flappy gallerists secretly wondering how you've come into all this money to spend on art.

You can glean all you need to know from an artist's online profile, and, in many cases, you can view a significant selection of their art online too. So is it time to shunt out the middleman and let social and online take control?

Buyers and artists are adapting to this way of doing business, which may, soon enough, make the gallery model redundant.

Recognising the need for better "results", and for more ways for independent African artists to connect with local and international collectors, Latitudes Art Fair recently launched the web platform Latitudes Online, a curated online venue for artists from Africa to present and sell their own work.

"We'd always wanted to have an online platform, but Covid-19 fast-tracked our plans," says Roberta Coci, one part of the all-woman Latitudes team. It includes Lucy MacGarry, who runs the online platform with Coci. Co-founders Makgati Molebatsi and Nokwazi Zimu are involved in the physical fair.

Coci says going digital has changed the art landscape. "Now that there are no barriers like heavy travel costs for exhibitors to come to a physical fair, we have access to many more galleries, artists and sellers on the continent and globally. At a physical fair you have spatial restrictions, which limit the number of exhibitors you can host.

"To put it in perspective, on Nelson Mandela Square we had space for 24 sellers, whereas we already have 140 sellers on our online platform, with more being added on a weekly basis. When it comes to audience, we also have a much broader reach and can target buyers across the globe. What's more, we are gaining so much rich data on who our buyers are and what art they're interested in, which is allowing us to fine-tune our strategy and ensure value for our sellers."

Latitudes represents more than 400 artists on the site. "We're proud that emerging artist Cinthia Binene Sifa sold out her first body of work on the site within three weeks of the launch. There's only one piece remaining of her second body of work. This proves to us that the landscape is shifting and that our aim to create a platform that gives equal agency to independent artists, galleries, curators, not-for-profit organisations and studios was well-timed," says Coci.

We have even set up Zoom calls between artists and potential buyers who'd like to see the work before purchasing
Roberta Coci of Latitudes Online

"Going online has opened our eyes to the demand for art from Africa. In our first month we had almost 100,000 page views, and were viewed in 103 countries. Our buyers have been from across the world, and we've been selling everywhere from the US to Europe, Asia and even Reunion. There's been a great mix of established collectors and first-time buyers, which is incredibly encouraging. Our aim has always been to introduce a new audience to the joy of buying art."

With online art buying, Coci says, content is key. "We're in constant communication with our audience and we're always working on collaborations and partnerships that keep our online presence strong. When it comes to selling, we try new things every day, and have even set up Zoom calls between artists and potential buyers who'd like to see the work before purchasing. Many of our buyers have commented that they feel like they're getting to personally know the artists through us," she says.

"We had our first Instagram auction in collaboration with Between 10and5 this week. Selling via Instagram is without a doubt a growing trend, especially among independent artists."

In fact, Vogue magazine recently called Instagram the "World's Most Talked-About New Art Dealer."


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