Beginning Sept. 17, eBay is set to create a live online art and design auction in cooperation with Phillips auction house entitled “New Now.” This auction will create another digital avenue for bidding on high-end art, design, jewelry, photography, prints and watches, in addition to the more traditional methods of in-house and telephone bidding.
This is a controversial step for both parties involved. It forces the farthest, wealthiest and most unreachable part of the art world into the more modern and accessible twenty-first century. Phillips, by getting involved with such a commonplace brand such as eBay, risks its reputation and success in the high-end art market. eBay, on the other hand, sets itself up for rejection by putting money and effort into an incredibly well-established and exclusive business arena for very little payback.
It is important to note that eBay has been dancing around the edges of the art world for over a decade. After a lackluster attempt at a partnership with Sotheby’s in 2002, it struck up a deal in late March to create an online auction. It was clearly met with more success the second time around as eBay has ventured less timidly into this deal with Phillips.
There are evidently a number of reasons this whole deal is not as ridiculous as it may initially appear. Phillips is not selling multi-million dollar works online, nor is eBay attempting to rebrand themselves as a new exclusive name in the art industry. The art on sale at “New Now” is fairly affordable. According to artnet News, the most expensive piece of art being sold is worth half a million dollars, by painter Joe Bradley.
What is even more important than the art itself is its timing. Now in a rapidly-evolving and technology-reliant world, this makes sense. For the art world to stay alive and relevant it must partake in mainstream business and communication methods. It can’t afford to remain small, stale and outdated. eBay, in my opinion, is onto something.
Nevertheless, both companies are stepping into spheres in which they are not traditionally welcomed. That comes at a price. Phillips and eBay are like oil and water. Most people would still say they simply don’t mix. Perhaps Phillips and eBay are recognizing a virtually unseen need, though. This is particularly appropriate for Phillips because it specializes in art made within the last century. This decision is making the business practices for modern art, in fact, more modern.
Are these risky business endeavors? Probably. Until there is a more established relationship between high end auction houses and more commonplaces retailers, working together will be a risk. Do the potential outcomes outweigh the risks? I would say yes. This is another huge step in the right direction for art. It is modernizing even the oldest and most obsolete business practices that continue to survive in the industry. It makes anyone with a laptop and well-endowed bank account a potential buyer. There’s no need to know the right people or have a well-known reputation within the most exclusive circles. It ultimately allows art to reach a wider audience.