Art sales are moving online. Galleries — and forgers — see opportunity

One gallery saw sales skyrocket after launching an online viewing room. But the market for fakes is growing.

What would the art world be without a little drama? As fine art sales move to the digital realm, counterfeiters are finding more marks.

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Galleries are finally catching onto this ecommerce thing

On February 10, the well-respected Gagosian gallery network will launch “online viewing rooms” to coincide with the Frieze Art Fair in Los Angeles. In addition to showing works from a bevy of big-name artists, gallery specialists will be available for 24/7 chat support. 

It’s like Zappos… but fancy.

Gagosian has been playing with this model for a while, and things have been going well:

  • Digital sales climbed 350% for FY 2017-18 after the gallery launched its first two online viewing rooms.
  • One notable sale was a $6m Albert Oehlen painting.
  • The gallery reports an increase in new buyers since it started its online exhibits, and many virtual visitors are more focused than people browsing IRL.

The famous auction house Sotheby’s also is investing in tech. In 2018, it bought the AI startup Thread Genius to gain insight into its patrons’ art tastes.

But fraudsters are one step and a Fauxcasso ahead of the game

When artists make etchings, woodcuts, or lithographs, they often work with a printer to make a certain number of reproductions. These prints are numbered and signed, and the original is typically destroyed.

Some prints are super valuable. An original Andy Warhol “Marilyn Monroe” print, for example, can fetch $300k. And as forgers up their photomechanical reproduction game, they’re able to churn out fakes that fool even experts.

And online sales are 1 more avenue for crooks to swindle aspiring aficionados. 

In Switzerland, for example, an art expert gone bad sold hundreds of fake prints he claimed were originals by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and the like. He’s being prosecuted after doing it for 10+ years.

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