The Rise of Online Marketplaces

The Rise of Online Marketplaces - Omenka Online

The global art world has begun to adopt digital transformation at an increased pace; this is a huge opportunity for African art,” says Tamzin Lovell-Miller, the founder and director of Art Fundi, who throws light onto the trajectory of the African art market. The unprecedented outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic served as a brow raiser, globally. Businesses were forced to implement disruptive sustainability initiatives or suffer the risk of fizzling out. The art market isn’t in any way an exception. Its groundbreaking sales records amid the ongoing travel restrictions proves that the pandemic—regardless of the negativity it exudes— is abetting a digital encroachment of the market. A report by Statistica projects the increase of online art sales to a total of 9.32 billion U.S. dollars by 2024. This drastic paradigm shift began before the outbreak of the pandemic; however, it grew exponentially with the implementation of worldwide lockdowns. Arngunnur Aegisdottir, the director of sales at Turbare, observes “The pandemic only accelerated for the art world the inevitable; that art would mainly be sold and bought online… Within the African context, the levels of exposure, access, and  revenue opportunities that online platforms grant galleries and artists remain a compelling reason for them to stay committed to this model.”

The Rise of Online Marketplaces - Omenka Online

Olisa Nwadiogbu
Lady in wait, 2018
Acrylic on canvas
106.7 x 182.9 cm
Courtesy of Turbare

Keeping up with Online Art Market Trends amid the Pandemic

With the imposition of incessant lockdowns globally, there were concerns that the art market may experience a massive decrease in sales due to the absence of physical auctions and exhibitions. On the contrary, the opposite became the reality. The interest of buyers in purchasing art online piqued exponentially, therefore making art traders migrate to the digital environment if they weren’t already. “Over the pandemic, we have seen a tremendous amount of interest as many collectors have moved online and discovered ARTOJA for the first time.”- Joseph Gergel, co-founder of ARTOJA also reveals.

The Rise of Online Marketplaces - Omenka Online

Dennis Osadebe
Facelift, 2017
Archival Giclée Print
Image Size: 60 x 60 cm 
Paper Size: 62.5 x 62.5 cm
Edition of 100
Courtesy of ARTOJA

Furthermore, digital art markets that were in existence before the pandemic, sought novel ways to provide somewhat similar experience collectors enjoyed in physical events. One of the ways in which traders have achieved this is to personalize the shopping experience of collectors, as well as ensure transparency in the selection of artworks. Art Zuri is one of the many new platforms that aim to leverage “curators specialising in African art; a trusted pool of experts” who vet the quality of the artworks submitted by artists before they are displayed on the platform, according to Clari Green, the founder of Art Zuri.

The Rise of Online Marketplaces - Omenka Online

Nuno Silas
From the series ‘The Intensity of Identity’, 2019-2020
Photograph, 45 x 60cm,
Copyright of the artist
Courtesy of Art Zuri

The economic impact of the pandemic on art events cannot be underestimated. From a positive perspective, the cost of gathering audiences to view and purchase the work is cheaper, considering the reach that online platforms provide. “The levels of exposure provided by these online channels are unparalleled and firmly push the galleries and artists on the African art market onto the global stage,” says Aegisdottir. Also, online art markets and virtual exhibitions inform how artists interact with their audience. Through social media and other platforms, artists and galleries are offering unparalleled access to their work and operations by engaging art lovers and making them active participants in their creative process. Besides, another observable trend is the emergence of digital composite platforms offering not only art but also fashion to ensure more exposure to new and broader audiences. A fine example is Ananse Africa, an online retail store retailing clothing and accessories for men, women, and children in addition to artworks. More so, it is in partnership with corporate giants like Master Card and DHL to ensure corporate support and provide miscellaneous offerings to their customers.

Expected to become the new normal is the integration of digital and physical marketplaces. “Art businesses will be smart to adopt a hybrid model, making the best use of what the physical and virtual can offer by employing both alongside each other with the ability to switch entirely online at short notice if necessary,” says Lovell-Miller. Other traders like Gergel also opine that the traditional market still retains its value; however, online markets are auxiliary platforms. He states, “We are all ready to get back to physical operations in the art world that cannot be replaced by an online experience. But the online market can only enhance art organisations that also work within the traditional market.”

Diversity in the art market is another trend that has gained the interests of collectors. The growing activism against gender-based discrimination and systemic racism has spiked the sales of the artworks of female and Black artists, thereby promoting inclusivity. This is a movement brands like Art Zuri are incorporating into their approach. “There will be a deliberate effort to amplify the representation of female artists, who remain under-represented within the ecosystem. There is also an opportunity to question the current state of affairs, through discourse, which we plan to leverage through Zurizine,” says Green. Zurizine is a blog by Art Zuri that shares perspectives on global art issues and profiles, artists, curators, and collectors. This is another trend Lovell Miller predicts to be the future of the art marketplace. She states, “Marketplaces will run magazine-like blogs, and art magazines, and fairs will launch marketplaces.”

Examining the Potential Pitfalls of Online Art Markets

The operation of online art markets has its perks; some of these include the liberty to reach a wide audience across geographical boundaries, as opposed to being shortchanged by travel limits issued to curtail the spread of the virus. Albeit, establishing and sustaining an online presence may require major financial investment, as several other businesses are offering the same value. Therefore, critics fear the likelihood of online sales platforms with high expenditure battling a long-term economic downturn. Contrary to this notion, Gergel posits “I think a major benefit of an online sales platform is that it doesn’t necessitate a high overhead, as it works within the digital space that avoids many of the costs of traditional businesses.”


Read In Conversation with Mikhaile Solomon

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