The acquisition of art today is a relatively quick, simple and convenient process, thanks to the comprehensive development of digitalisation and e-commerce – allowing one to make a purchase from nearly anywhere in the world.
The artist as a direct seller
It is easiest to purchase artwork directly from the author, with immediate transfer of ownership. In Latvia, artists are in direct contact with prospective buyers, and the narrow market of buyers and sellers tends to come together at art events, enabling such “direct buying” on a local scale. Most contemporary artists also actively document their work on social networks. Instagram is particularly suitable for this, enabling not only the publication of photos and videos, but also facilitating the cultivation of a personal image. Many artists worldwide address their buyers there. Ashley Longshore, an artist based in New Orleans, comments her Instagram activities: “I’m not an ‘Instagram Artist’. I’m an artist [who] uses all the resources I can to get my name out there.”
Galleries and auction houses
Art is predominantly purchased from galleries and at auctions. An artist will generally cooperate with a single gallery entitled to sell their art, although a gallery owner’s work goes far beyond the sale of artwork. Galleries are autonomous art centres engaged in artist selection and promotion in a number of ways – writing publications, organising exhibitions, issuing books. A good gallery will take care to furnish proper documentation, offer information on art exhibition and preservation. Galleries and antique dealers in Latvia also function as auction platforms, with at least 5 entities currently holding auctions in Latvia. On a global scale, the most well-known names are Sotheby’s, Christies, Bonham’s and the Beijing Poly International Auction Company, where sale prices reach into the millions of dollars. These auction houses also collaborate with art consultants and dealers, who themselves are engaged with galleries and auction houses or may operate autonomously as intermediaries for art purchase.
Art markets and Messen
Another popular way to purchase art is so-called art fairs, or markets (Messe in German). These ambitious events are held not only for the sale of artwork, but also as a networking platform for all stakeholders. Galleries pay impressive amounts for stands at these events – for instance, small galleries were charged 783 U.S. dollars per sq.m. at the 2019 Art Basel fair; larger galleries would have to part with 933 dollars per square metre of booth space. The most influential art fairs are held in Basel, Miami, Hong Kong, London and Paris, some of which have featured the work of Latvian artists. Galleries try to be noticed and recognised at fairs, hoping that a prominent collector will acquire a piece by some artist they represent, thereby also contributing enormously to that artist’s career growth.
The online art market is a relatively new phenomenon, which is currently developing at unprecedented rates. Some of the aforementioned art fairs have been held in the virtual environment this year due to Covid-19. Despite the limitations, potential buyers from around the world were able to come together and “network”. Organisations focused specifically on virtual sales also exist, such as Artnet.com, Widewalls and Artsy platforms for users to buy art, keep track of art prices and market developments. Sale and purchase platforms such as Etsy and FineArtAmerica are also developing, which offer utterly amateur creations at highly affordable price points.
We may conclude that supply on the art market is sufficient for a buyer to comprehensively study art processes and market specifics, and to gain an understanding of art itself. This is the only way to understand what forms and topics in art are attractive to you as a buyer – and present a valuable investment opportunity.
 Goetzmann, Z. 2018. These Artists Jump-Started Their Careers by Selling Directly to Collectors on Instagram. Artsy. Available: www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-artists-jump-started-careers-selling-directly-collectors-instagram