Buying Art Online

Kent Ullberg s High Noon can be found at sculpture, southwest art.
Kent Ullberg’s High Noon can be found at

By Norman Kolpas

At 10 p.m. last October 31, Tim T. Taylor, owner of Whistle Pik Galleries in Fredericksburg, TX, posted onto his Web site ( a preview of all 70 images from his upcoming Christmas Miniatures Show. Soon after the gallery opened the next morning, six clients were on the phone, ready to buy works that wouldn’t even go on display in the real world until the show officially debuted a month later. In the hour it took to make those Web-inspired sales, only a single customer physically strolled into the gallery—a statistic that was not lost on Taylor. “I see the Internet as enlarging my front door,” he observes.

More and more in very recent years, the World Wide Web is doing the same for art galleries everywhere. For evidence of the phenomenon, you need only scan the magazine you hold in your hands. Ad after ad now includes an Internet address following the street, phone, and fax listings. And the gallery Web sites are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Take, for example the Web site of Claggett/Rey Gallery in Vail, CO which offers viewers a virtual gallery tour, a preview of upcoming shows, an events calendar, and a searchable database of almost 800 artists. Thus, the Internet is becoming a national, even international, electronic Main Street where people seated at their keyboards and monitors can window-shop. And more and more, as those browsers reach a level of personal comfort and security with the Internet, they are turning into buyers.

Wayne Wolfe s Lazy Summer Day can be found at painting, southwest art.
Wayne Wolfe’s Lazy Summer Day can be found at

What, precisely, are they buying in the world of art? Some gallery owners think that prints, particularly signed ones, move most efficiently on the Web. “Lower-priced items are selling,” observes Rob Pitzer, owner of Pitzer’s of Carmel in California ( “Somebody may feel comfortable buying a $235 print online, but they won’t be as apt to purchase a $4,000 to $5,000 painting by the same artist online.”

Most galleries do not let online shoppers complete a purchase without making human contact. “Art is very personal,” says Carolyn Gilliland, director of Munson Gallery in Santa Fe ( “We want to have at least a voice interaction with clients before they buy.”

Many purchases that are initiated online and progress through e-mail and then voice contact also involve old-fashioned snail-mail or at least an overnight delivery service before money and artworks are exchanged. The goal: to get a high-quality color transparency or print of the work into the client’s hands. “Web images never look as good as good photographic images,” says Taylor. Even then, galleries are not likely to consider such sales final until the actual artwork is in the client’s possession. “All of our sales,” says Gilliland, “come with the understanding that everything is on approval.”

Such a to-and-fro of electronic images and messages, photos, and artworks might seem arduous. But reactions among gallery owners are unanimous that a Web presence helps business. Pitzer attributes to his Web site “between 3 and 5 percent of our sales in dollar volume, which is big for a marketing tool that did not exist three years ago.” Even a relative net neophyte like Anita Ellison, who launched a Web site for her Act I Gallery in Taos ( just last May, already sees the benefits, having made three sales thanks to her Web presence.

Those without such concrete statistics at hand nonetheless find endless anecdotal evidence. “A lot of people have told me that they decided to come into the gallery because they previewed it on the Web,” says Gilliland. Adds Lisa Harris, owner of Lisa Harris Gallery (www.lisaharris in Seattle, “While I would not say that we have seen a dramatic increase in sales from the Web site, it is changing the way we do business. People like the mechanism of e-mail and the anonymity of the Web. It’s a great way for them to explore the gallery.”

In short, while it will never replace personal contact, the Web is another, often highly effective tool for developing relationships between galleries and collectors.

Find hundreds of gallery Web sites listed in the new Southwest Art Travel Guide 2001, or visit www.southwest—a comprehensive, searchable directory that allows immediate access to the latest information about your favorite galleries, artists, and museums.

Featured in January 2001