IT professional, Rohit Ahuja, was looking for original paintings for his new home. He did the rounds of some well-known art galleries in the city but failed to find anything that suited his budget. Then he came across an online art gallery where he browsed through more than a hundred paintings and purchased three for about Rs. 7,000 each. The paintings arrived five days later by courier.
“I have bought everything online from books to apparel to electronics, but this was the time first time I bought paintings online. I must say it was quite an experience unpacking the paintings,” says Ahuja.
There is a growing tribe of people like Ahuja who are shopping for art online — just like they buy books and many other things.
No wonder then despite the continuing slump in the art market, which has forced many a brick and mortar gallery to shut shop or scale down their operations, a number of online art galleries— both big and small —have come up in the past couple of years. These galleries, which do not have any physical presence, mostly sell the works of young artists to young first-time art buyers.
“Our customers are young working professionals in the age group of 25-40. They are those who want to own original artwork at affordable prices. Many of them find it very intimidating to enter a well-known art gallery,” says Vivek Ahluwalia, who launched ARTicurate, a Delhi-based online art gallery, last year.
In August this year, Mani Shekhar, 30 and Prashant Gupta, 31, started ArtsNyou, another Delhi-based online art gallery, which sells both original art work and prints. During the Diwali season, the sales, says Gupta, have shot up by 300 per cent — mostly driven by buyers in the 25-35 age group.
“These are the people who have the inclination to buy art, but no time to go from one gallery to another for days looking for art work that suit their walls and budget. While shopping for art online, they simply match the painting they want to buy with their walls,” says Gupta.
The founders of these new online galleries — with a background in business and management — say that their online art ventures are ‘democratising’ art, which has been confined to elite circles due to high prices. “I wanted to use the power of the Internet to make art accessible to the masses and get emerging artists buyers which they hardly get otherwise. I started with 50 artists and today we have signed up about 3,000 artists and many of them are selling well through our online gallery,” says Bhaskar Chattopadhya, 35, who quit his job as general manager of a multinational to start ArtSquare, an online art gallery in February this year.
To prove his point about democratising arts, Chattopadhya says that he recently sold the painting of a deaf and dumb artist for Rs. 75,000, apart from the painting of a Bhopal-based street painter named Aziz Khan for Rs. 35,000.
“These artists were turned away by many art galleries and had never been able to sell anything before. In fact, many of our best-selling artists are from small towns. A great work of art, I believe, can come from anyone, anywhere. Our business has been growing at 200 per cent every month,” says Chattopadhya. His online gallery, he says, has already sold about 800 original art works since its inception.
“At most online galleries, all artists upload the images of their paintings themselves and keep them there till the paintings are sold.”
The average cost of original works on these websites ranges from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 1 lakh. They also organise online ‘curated’ shows, offer sales and discounts and even framing services.
Alka Raghubanshi, well-known art writer and curator says that online art galleries can really make art more accessible to people who display certain diffidence in accessing conventional art galleries. “But I think they will not be able to sell high-end, expensive art -which the buyers would always want to see, touch and feel in person,” she says.
Young artists, on their part, say that online art galleries have given them an opportunity to show and sell their work which does not come easily otherwise.
“Online art galleries have enabled me to show and sell my work sitting at home,” says Pravin Randive, 28, a Solapur-based artist, who recently sold two of his paintings for Rs. 18,000, and Rs. 40,000 through ArtSquare.