Movin’ On Up: The Rise Of The Online Gallery

Recently, famed New York art critic Jerry Saltz made quite a stir with his mournful article over the “Death of the Gallery Show.” Speaking from his countless excursions into the New York art scene, Saltz asserted that the public attendance at gallery shows has been increasingly diminishing over the last years—not the quantity of art, mind you, only the quantity of people present where contemporary art used to predominately appear. And where have these people gone? Where do people see, experience, buy or sell art, if not in the galleries where it's always been the tradition? According to Saltz, “Selling happens year-round, at art fairs, auctions, biennials, and big exhibitions, as well as online via JPEG files and even via collector apps. Gallery shows are now just another cog in the global wheel. Many dealers admit that some of their collectors never set foot in their actual physical spaces.” This is where our conversation about the online gallery market comes in.

The exponential development in technology over the last two decades—namely, the Internet—has had a profound effect on the way we act and react upon the world. In the early 90s, consumers were understandably hesitant when online shopping became a thing. Questions of privacy and security were at the heart of this hesitance. That fear is now long gone. The way we buy goods, pay for bills, send letters, read, and meet people; the Internet has changed it—or at the very least has adjusted the way we perceive time and space in these scenarios. Art, the ever-changing mirror of culture, has also inevitably undergone an adjustment: most notably we’ve seen the invention of New Media art, works made with digital components and strategies, but we’re also seeing the adjustments technology is having on old media. Particularly, the seeing, buying and selling that Jerry Saltz is alluding to.

Berlin Art Parasites, seeking to gain a better understanding of the recently expanding online art market, sought some of the galleries behind this rising trend. For our first excursion into the topic, we visited the Berlin headquarters of Oricura, an “online gallery for original curated art,” where we spoke with its founders about their insights, motivations and challenges as we continue to shift our art preferences from a purely physical to a more virtual approach.

An Offline Encounter

I met up offline with Tino Kyre and Felix Wasmuth, co-founders of Oricura, at their Berlin office to talk about the online marketability of art and the development of their recently established venue. The idea for Oricura began, like most start-ups, through the combined mutual interests of a passionate group of friends. Kyre, a lawyer and consultant, and Wasmuth, also a consultant in the consumer goods sector, came up with a vision to develop a “placeless” platform where quality art could be sold at affordable prices and in an uncomplicated manner. Equally important, they sought to open up a new access point into the art market and a place where they could foster the relationships between collectors and artists.

Felix Wasmuth (L) and Tino Kyre (R) with work by Markus Keibel, one of their artists. Photo: Chris Phillips

The truth is that the buying and selling of art is also experiencing a transformation. Seeing a work of art in person—once a must before buying a work—is becoming somewhat of a luxury for many art enthusiasts and collectors. The velocity at which we live today, with its constant flux of information, now allows for these negotiations to be done remotely, securely and online. But the question remains: how sure can one be of the quality of the work if it is not experienced in person?

“We only take works of art from artists who take it seriously,” Tino tells me, “It has to be your passion and vocation.” To ensure the quality of the work they display, Oricura begins by building a strong and transparent relationship with the artists selected. Their online platform certainly makes up for not being able to view a work in person by providing artist biographies, detailed information about the works, size relativity and, with the help of art historian Sophia Seydack, provide a historically contextualized perspective of any artwork in the collection.

For The Sake Of Art

“L’art Pour L’art —no bullshit,” Felix tells me, as he expresses the passion he shares with their artists who, like him, believe in the power of art and in serious intent of expression. It was a comforting thought. Especially after remembering Jerry Saltz’s claim that, “When so much art is sold online or at art fairs, it’s great for the lucky artists who make money, but it leaves out everyone else who isn’t already a brand. This art exists only as commerce, not as conversation or discourse.”

Yet this is the expected cynical view that usually attaches a venture like an online gallery; a view that tends to dismiss them as capitalist byproducts. But being in the humble office of Oricura, with their ever increasing collection and committed sincerity, allowed me to see the possibilities of an online art market that still remains attached and invested in the integrity of the artists they represent.

Tino Kyre guiding us through Oricura's features, over a cup of coffee. Photo: Chris Phillips

In conversation with Sophia, she shares with me the importance of connectivity and attachment when it comes to communicating with their artists. Countless phone calls and e-mails—and studio visits, when possible—are exchanged to ensure that the presentation of the art remains honest to the intentions of the artists involved. “Sometimes an artist may find it difficult to fully express in words his sensibilities towards his work,” Sophia tells me. This is where her experience in art history comes in, making the communication between them a crucial component for the successful transfer of information to viewers and potential buyers.

Checks And Balances

Tino and Felix, to ensure that their artworks are not seen as investments by buyers (as it has become the trend in contemporary art auctions and sales), have created a maximum price ceiling of €5,000; no artwork in their collection surpasses this sum. Equally remarkable is that their collection is not limited to contemporary works of art but also works dating back to the 1800s— some which come from their own personal collection. With Oricura, they sough to create a placeless and timeless platform where art of any period and genre could become easily accessible and affordable. This further ensures that potential buyers don't seek a "trendy" investment but rather go for something that captures their honest sensibilities.

Inside Oricura's humble storage facility where art is photographed, packaged and shipped. Photo: C. Phillips

“Art is the last big thing to hit the Internet market,” says Felix near the end of our conversation, and the team at Oricura appears very hopeful in this regard. So much so that, despite launching their site in February of this year, they’re already thinking of expanding to a bigger location that will allow more flexibility for the handling of their collection.

Will offline galleries be able to stay afloat once the larger public loses their inhibitions concerning online art shopping? Indeed, only time will tell what’s in store for the online art market and the rise of these ventures. Perhaps Jerry Saltz was right and we are witnessing the death of the gallery show, as we know it—or perhaps we’re merely experiencing a social adjustment as we accommodate to the realities of today's marketplace. We’ll keep you updated.

Article by Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra