The Art of Buying Art Online


When was the last time you set foot in a gallery and felt comfortable enough to inquire about pricing and potential payment plans for a piece of work you had your eyes on? As much as the stone-cold gallerist times are behind us, let's face it—buying art can still be an intimidating process.

There used to be the stigma that buying art online meant you weren't buying real art, but times they are a-changing. In 1999, Artnet started selling online but ended those auctions a few years later after losing millions. Then in 2000, Richard Gipe—a gallery owner in Arkansas who was appalled at the lack of technology in the art world—launched a website where you could scroll a catalogue of artists and purchase their works (shopping cart and all).

Fast forward to 2007 when Jen Bekman started her enormously successful 20x200 site, which sells batches of prints (and originals) from hundreds of artists for prices the novice can swallow. Since its inception, 20x200 has sold more than 65,000 prints and has been featured in The New York Times, New York magazine, Fast Company, Good, and more, virtually eliminating the taboo that once existed about selling and purchasing art online. Right around the same time, U Gallery sprung up in our own backyard. The Mission start-up also saw the advantage of bringing affordable original works and limited edition prints to the masses and recognized the value of providing a selling platform for emerging artists. The local, online-only gallery, which gives you the option of a weeklong test-run in your home, has had an amazing 2010/2011 year. Artnet, which was initially ahead of the online art buying curve, reinstated its auctions a few years back to great success, and Gipe's Art Exchange site is also alive and well.

These days, more and more outlets are jumping on the virtual buying bandwagon, recognizing tough markets and realizing the advantages of reaching a previously untapped audience. For more on that, check out this recent New York Times article "A Resurgence in Art Buying Over the Web."

But to bring it back home, it's not just web-only sites that are proliferating. Physical galleries here in SF are also adding a shop component to their sites to further break down the barrier between gallerist and art enthusiast. So, whether you're too shy to ask about a piece at an exhibit reception or if you just prefer the comfort of browsing artists you like in your own home, you now have the opportunity to do so. Here, a short list of local galleries pioneering the art-on-the-web frontier.

Gallery Hijinks: Just now celebrating its first anniversary, these young gallerists offer a variety of painting and mixed media contemporary art. Their site is beautifully organized and highly navigable.
2309 Bryant St., 415-371-9330,

Fecal Face: This gallery has been around for 11 years and has a solid rotation of contemporary and street art. Their site features original artwork, prints, books, zines, t-shirts, and more.
248 Fillmore St., 415-255-6479,

Rosenthal Gallery: This three-year-old Mission space offers a mix of abstract and representational art. By the looks of it, it's not apparent that you can purchase from this site, and not all works are for sale on the web. Click on artists, then click on a specific piece, and you'll see an "Add to Order" prompt if it's available.
365 Valencia St., 415-552-1010,

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