Art sold online

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The art industry the last creative industries to make the move with more people buying art online it could be that times are already changing.

More people in the UK visit art galleries but record numbers are flocking to the internet too. And buying art online is the becoming an industry norm.

The online art market is already estimated to be growing by 20% each year.

"We sell more art in a month online than most bricks-and-mortar galleries do in a year," says Rebecca Wilson, a director of Saatchi Gallery.

"It's because of a huge international audience, a lot of work and a team of curators making sure very good work rises to the fore."

More art is now being viewed online so is the importance of a physical gallery being lost?

"Even before online, a majority of their sales, even in the high-end galleries happened at art fairs, not in the galleries," says Jonas Almgren, chief executive of art website Artfinder.

"The physical space is diminishing in importance".

"Contrary to looking at the White Cubes of the world - that all start opening more gallery spaces - many of the next tier of galleries actually shut down or shrunk down their gallery space."

Yet it's not only the middle-market that is using the web to attract buyers, and Artfinder is by no means the only way to find art.

The big surprise is the amount of art sold "sight unseen". This means the art is sold from a traditional gallery without the buyer ever having seen the art in real life.

According to analysis from insurers Hiscox, about 90% of galleries regularly sell art to clients on the basis of a digital image only.

"Once you buy it though, art collection is addictive. The magic moment happens when you unwrap it and see it rather than in a gallery."

And the stereotype of younger people being more tech-savvy is, according to Hiscox, simply not true. Most collectors aged over 65 had bought art directly online.

A number of people behind art sites still think there is an important role for galleries to play

"There's a long-standing elitist idea in the art world," says Ms Wilson.

"When online art started, people were unsure about buying shoes online, so the idea that you could buy art online was unheard of. That's totally shifted.

"I feel it's a parallel universe to the very traditional gallery and museum structure which has dominated the art world. It is causing a big shift but I don't think that one will eradicate the other."

And the upper echelons of the art world still do not seem to be willing to embrace change as quickly.

"The high-end is 200 galleries, 2,000 artists and maybe 2,000 buyers," says Mr Almgren.

"That's a large part of the market because it's very top heavy but it's not the largest part. It's much broader."

With all this competition from online, big retailers and even the increasing number of restaurants and cafes selling art, could it be the case that the physical gallery ever vanishes?

"I don't think so," says Mr Almgren.

The art displayed in galleries is regularly very different from work sold online

"There's going to be even more need for people to explain what really is good."

If that gap is to be bridged, the art community must be happier moving even further away from the physical gallery towards high-resolution images.

"Art is still way behind fashion, where the change has largely already happened," says Mr Almgren.

"I think it will move online faster. Of the people that bought in April [2013], 14% have already bought again in a month and a half. It's just remarkable and I can't quite explain it."

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