Feel Free to Match the Couch: A Guide to Buying Art Online

Popping up, all over the internet, like bald little mushroom heads in the corner of an overgrown garden, are dozens of buy-art-online sites. Their spores are in the air. There’s a new one every day, with offerings that cover the whole gamut of affordability, quality and snob appeal.

It’s time to match the couch, my friends — shamelessly, and in the privacy of your own homes; the way you shop for porn.

BZA CO

I got a notice in my e-mail just this morning advertising the very well designed, BZA CO, The Bazaar for Creative Objects. Hosting mostly unknown artists, BZA CO is uncurated, making it overpopulated and tiresome to pick through. Any artist who wants to can set up a “gallery” and upload work to it, and BZA will do the printing and shipping. Right now, like many other buy-art-online sites, BZA sells only prints (or electronic downloads). It has plans in the works for apparel and what they call “ornaments.”

Functioning much like BZA CO, though for a general crafts market, Etsy has an arts filter that will lead you to some very interesting craft cum art objects. Some of them are very good. Indeed, a few of the gems buried in there are good enough to make one wonder why the artists have classed themselves with craft instead of going the gallery route.

A few days ago, I was introduced to the not-yet-up-and-running but soon-to-be unveiled, Artsicle, which promises to feature not only art, but financial support for artists who need a good patron. A sort of combo Kickstarter and print shop, it will be, I suspect, another non-curated site with artists who can upload art for sale, as on BZA CO.

While most of these shops boast affordability, many of them try to single out a buyer’s vanity. Artisicle’s pitch, “You’re unique. Your art should be too” ends with a promise that you’ll  “find the perfect piece of original art for your space” and, as with most of these sites, you can search by size, and color, as well as by artist.

Hard Core Twee

Couch-matchers will love the preponderance of sites that sell high-end serialized art: most famously, the online gallery Cereal Art, sells serial, and a few unique, items by big name artists like Maurizio Cattelan, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Yoshimoto Nara. Curated by invitation, Cereal Art has been online for nine years and has several satellite real-world galleries in Philadelphia, Miami, New York, Chicago, West Hollywood, Las Vegas, London and Paris. Items are numbered and sometimes signed. Dubbed ‘Cereal Art’ as a play on Warhol’s “serial art” the “gallery” is a source of pride to founder Larry Mangol who sees multiples as a valid art medium: “Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys are two artists among many others who effected the way people think of art by producing multiples,” he says.

At Other Criteria's Gagosian Store

In the same vein, artists Damien Hirst and Shepard Fairey have set up shop themselves, using their fame to hawk clothing and high-end collectables for fans and art-lovers who have a taste for some take out. Much like Cereal Art, Damien Hirst’s Other Criteria, “works with artists to make limited editions and multiples, t-shirts, jewelry, photographs, posters, prints and books.” Also like Cereal Art, Other Criteria has some real-world shops, Other Criteria HQ, and two other shops in London and Gagosian/Other Criteria Editions Store in New York. And Shepard Fairey’s OBEY which claims it has been “manufacturing dissent since 1989 actually only sells clothing with Fairey’s graphics on them.

Those who like to return things will want to explore Turning Art: an online art library of sorts,
which works like Netflix for high-end prints that are slipped into Turning Art’s frames. This is a one size only enterprise involving a lot of mailing: be kind; rewind.

If all this sounds slightly deflating, there’s always, UGallery, a source for truly affordable original art. UGallery is proud to state that “an expert panel of curators selects each artist, giving the gallery a diverse and sought-after collection of media, styles, and perspectives,” but I found the diversity not only in the media and styles, but in the quality as well, so be prepared to see a lot of bad art before you find the gem you’re looking for.

The Saatchi Online site also has links whereby one can contact artists who have work of interest, but like all the other non-curated sites, it’s a lot to look through.

The problem with most online art sites is that even when it’s curated, it is hard for the serious art collector to find anything that is not largely decorative.

So, for the best of online buying, the very ambitous Artzizzle is one of a kind: This site has works from marquee artists. Carefully curated, the site functions like kind of an online gallery/auction house selling original paintings, mixed media works, sculpture, as well as multiples. It also provides an Art Buyers Guide as a downloadable PDF. Strictly for beginners only, the guide gives just enough information, honestly, to make couch-matchers upgrade their Artzizzle accounts in order to get more advice from the “Rewards Program.” It also boasts an “On my wall” feature much like the Benjamin Moore paints site has for it’s paint colors.

Of course there are online buying options for the hard core collector as well: monied buyers can bid online at Christie’s, place absentee bids at Sotheby’s, and view lots or purchase a catalog from Philips DePury. Used to the gallery experience? Buy from a growing number of galleries with online shops, such as the Saatchi Gallery Online Store.

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See also my interview with Arzizzle’s Ed B.

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ADDENDUM:

Check out also:

Thinkspace Gallery: nice originals and prints on this site. Painting, mixed media, sculpture. A nicely curated site with a consistent aesthetic.

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AUCTION:

Sotheby’s

Philips DePury

Christie’s Online Bidding

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CURATED ART:

Cereal Art

UGALLERY

Artzizzle

Saatchi Gallery Online Store

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TRADE ON FAME:

Other Critera

OBEY

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NOT CURATED:

Turning Art

Artsicle

Saatchi Online

BZA CO

Etsy

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3 Comments

  1. catweaver says:

    Just noticed that UGallery has a “virtual wall” app that’s fun to play with and sort of like Artzizzle’s “On my wall”.

  2. Bailey says:

    Hi Cat!

    Thanks for including us in this list. Great blog – I’ve enjoyed browsing through.

    Just thought I’d note that we’re actually a curated gallery. Sad to hear that our taste is “really really bad” but we’ll keep working on it :)

    Cheers,
    Bailey (Ugallery)

    1. catweaver says:

      Hello, Bailey: sorry to have gotten that wrong. I have updated my story. You keep working on it, and I’ll keep checking in! :)

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