Commercial galleries News USA

Amazon to launch virtual art gallery

Internet retail giant is targeting smaller dealers with a plan to offer more than 1,000 objects online—and it will take a commission

The retail giant's new art site would resemble Amazon Wine, which launched last fall is expected to launch an online art gallery later this year. The online retailer of books, electronics and apparel aims to offer over 1,000 art objects from at least 125 galleries, according to dealers who have been approached by the website’s business development group. Amazon executives told one dealer that 109 galleries have already agreed to participate.

The retail giant’s interest in launching an art gallery first came to light in May, when it organised an information session for New York dealers. Since then, the Seattle-based company has approached dozens, if not hundreds, of galleries from across the US about participating in the programme. A representative for Amazon declined to comment on its plans, saying, “We have not made any announcements about art”.

At least one dealer was told his gallery could offer art under a pseudonym until the website became successful. Amazon representatives told dealers the site would resemble Amazon Wine, which launched last fall and works directly with 450 different vineyards and winemakers across the country.

The art platform will take a commission from all sales conducted through the site rather than charge galleries a monthly fee to present their wares, according to dealers familiar with the venture. Commissions will range from 5% to 15% based on the work’s sale price, dealers say. (For comparison, the online sales site Artspace charges commissions ranging from 10% to 20%.)

Rather than focus on international, blue-chip businesses, Amazon appears to have targeted smaller dealers, including Eleven Rivington, On Stellar Rays, Vogt Gallery and Zach Feuer. Most have not followed up. “I didn’t really have to think much about it and said it wasn’t for me,” says Augusto Arbizo, the founder of the New York-based gallery Eleven Rivington. “I have said no to most e-commerce opportunities for the simple reason that I just do not have that much inventory. And we work with very few artists who do editions or prints.”

Feuer says he will reserve judgement until the site launches. His decision to participate depends on “how much control we get over presentation”. His artists would also have to approve any work he placed on Amazon, he says. He is more likely to offer prints than original paintings or sculptures.

Costco launched a similar art platform last year, and currently offers prints by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall as well as original works by Johnny Botts and Hilary Williams. (The most expensive work on Costco’s site is a lithograph by Jean-Michel Basquiat priced at $5,999.99.)

Some doubt that Amazon’s scheme will be successful. “This is a stunning idea and I find it hard to believe they can pull it off in fine art,” says James Hedges, the president of the art-oriented investment firm Montage Finance. “Prints, multiples and editions may be the low end of the market but there is still a low end of the low end.”

More from The Art Newspaper


15 Jul 13
4:40 CET


Any artist (or anyone for that matter) with an online presence knows that throwing your wares out there doesn't mean you are going to be seen. A gallery/representative will have the knowledge to be able to place your work before the right people.

15 Jul 13
4:42 CET


The new sales paradigm is coming--like it or not. I'm a collector, and while I don't buy without having seen any of an artist's work in person. I buy all the time based on images if I already know the artist's work. But I don't think Amazon is set up to properly allow artists to sell for themselves--that's why they're adopting the gallery-partner model used by Artsy, Paddle8, etc. And the problem with Saatchi is that it's just too big & uncurated to work well for artists--they get lost on it. I've been working on solving this problem for the past 2 yrs. While I think the entry of Amazon (and eBay) into the fine art market is inevitable, I also think I've come up with a much better solution that helps artists, galleries & collectors--a Zagat's for art that crowdsources expert curation. It gives collectors good advice about what to buy, lets artists sell direct (and get constructive feedback about their work) & helps galleries extend their reach. Look for Curatious soon!

5 Jul 13
15:32 CET


To Milton, I disagree with you. Many galleries already sell online. This is a chance for lesser known artists and those without connections to have their art sold. The Amazon brand will give these artists a better chance to be discovered.

4 Jul 13
5:19 CET


Great technological advancement from Amazon, but this concept is not new. Galleries have been selling online since the early 2000's. However, Amazon brings the power of its brand name recognition, distribution and promotion to the table. It's testing the waters by engaging smaller New York high-end galleries hoping to gain from the greater margins of high-end art transactions. But buying high-end original fine art is not like buying a rare bottle of wine or other high-end commodity. 15% of a $20K transaction is an easy $3K for Amazon that they think can add up handsomely with volume. As an artist/dealer, I work with collectors who want to see the original art, the artist in person as well as the story behind the art. The higher the price of art, the closer the relationship experience that exists between the collector, the artist, and gallery/dealer. Amazon offers nothing unique, and in the long run is still a mass market distributor.

2 Jul 13
19:53 CET


To the other commenters: Why would Amazon open it to individual Artists? The idea is that they approach intelligent, well curated galleries and it's not open to every Joe Schmo. Something where any artist good or bad can list and sell their art online already exists. It's called Etsy.

1 Jul 13
16:28 CET


As an aspiring artist I agree with Mbeng Pouka. Amazon should open it up to individual artist as well. The average art buyer is looking for something they like for their home that they find beauty in personally. Much of the time they don't care who painted it, they are only interested in the work itself. The art collector knows the names and works of the artist and galleries he likes and will search for them by name. The well known, established artists I know personally still do galleries and gallery shows but they also sell from personal websites. Online marketing and sales is today's culture and artists have to "keep up". Maybe with galleries opening their doors to online venues more it will allow them to showcase more artists, making it a little easier to get established as an artist. There are many great, yet unknown artists out there who just need more opportunity to "be discovered". God gives us the talents we possess to share with others. We all should have that opportunity

1 Jul 13
16:38 CET


The idea that galleries and curators should control art sales is old and steeped in undermining the artist. At last there could be a platform for true democratisation for artists to sell their work independently - artists and Amazon should seize it .

28 Jun 13
15:1 CET


If there was a painting, not print, by Nat Little, Carl Lawless or Ellery Thompson at a fair price, I'd be all over it. There would have to be enough quality photos for me to examine itand, if the price is inflated to over cover the Amazon fees I would pass. I would have no interest whatsoever in prints - fine or otherwise.

28 Jun 13
15:2 CET


Despite the absurd claim above, galleries have been online since windows '95 launched. These days MOST galleries sell MOST of their art online-whether by sending out an email that links back to a preview page prompting a phonecall or using an online shopping cart. In a recent art market poll, gallerists confessed to selling over 60% (on average) to buyers who've yet to see the works in person. Most high-end art auction sales are by phone or proxy bid, too. It seems that most people NOT in the know are operating with a 2001 sensibility. I've no doubt that this new endeavor will be incredibly successful. Anyone familiar with etsy or deviant art will know immediately why it is a bad idea to launch the program with the artists themselves: unreliability and inferior, quickly produced work would rapidly pollute the site (just check ebay), steering away serious buyers. Eventually it's likely they'll allow artists to sell directly, but hopefully not soon. Quality exhibitions require curation

27 Jun 13
19:25 CET


The idea sounds very good but it will be better to give more opportunity to artists themselves just like on ebay where buyers directly interact with sellers, as not all galleries are big enough to keep artists work or to sign a large number of artists therefore most of the artists are struggling to get into big galleries. So setting up a website to allow artists to sell direct like in Saatchi will be more beneficial for artists to avoid a double taxation from galleries and amazon

27 Jun 13
15:51 CET


I built the first ever online art gallery/shop in 2001. Prints may sell well, but fine art is very difficult to sell online. We used some pretty clever photography to capture the art works back then. However, technologies today have advanced somewhat since. Amazon really needs to employ those technologies effectively, if they want to sell fine art. Am really interested to see how they get on.

Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.


Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email


Share this