Art Basel Rebukes Artsy for False and Misleading Practices Involving Galleries

Art Basel wants you to know it has never partnered with Artsy, and it never will.

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Potential crowd-funders at Art Basel in Basel.
Photo: MCH Messe Schweiz (Basel) AG.
Marc Spiegler Photo: Angela Pham/BFA

Marc Spiegler
Photo: Angela Pham/BFA

 

Art Basel, the world’s biggest fair franchise, has rebuked the online art platform Artsy for deceptive and misleading business practices.

On Friday, the Swiss-based mega fair (see Here Is the 2015 Exhibitor List for Art Basel in Basel) sent a letter to all galleries participating in Basel shows making it clear that they had no business relationship or partnership with Artsy (or any other online platform), according to a source at Art Basel’s Swiss management office.

The letter to Basel galleries informing them that no partnership exists with Artsy is the latest in a series of efforts by Art Basel to stop this unauthorized co-branding.

In January, a puff piece on Artsy appeared in Fortune. In the article, Artsy CEO Carter Cleveland strongly implied that Art Basel has a paid relationship with Artsy. The inaccurate description appeared in the context of an explanation of Artsy’s monthly gallery subscription program, noting that Art Basel was among 37 art fairs that appeared on the site in 2014. This statement was misleading and led to an immediate complaint from Art Basel to Fortune. A correction was swiftly added to the article clarifying “that Art Basel does not pay Artsy” or have any formal relationship with the Artsy website.

In a statement sent to artnet News, Art Basel confirmed they had sent the letter to its dealers.

“Art Basel and Artsy have never had or been in a partnership,” Sara Fitzmaurice, president of Fitz & Co, the fair’s American public relations firm, told artnet News. “Art Basel did send a letter to clarify the issue, in response to misconceptions among some exhibitors, due to a recent Fortune magazine article that incorrectly stated that Art Basel has a partnership with Artsy. The article stated that Art Basel pays Artsy to produce fair-specific micro-sites. In fact, Art Basel does not have any sort of collaboration with Artsy, and never has.”

“While this misinformation has now been partially corrected on the Fortune site, the original, incorrect article has reappeared in other places. And there had occasionally been similar issues where some exhibitors mistakenly thought Art Basel was partnering with art-sales websites,” she added. “As a result, Daniel Lechner, head of gallery relations for Art Basel, sent a letter to exhibitors clarifying these facts.”

Art Basel is not the only one complaining about Artsy’s business practices. Several New York galleries have complained that the Artsy pricing system is unfair, with the site offering top tier galleries free participation as a way to bring in smaller and medium sized ones. Questions have also been raised about the site’s pay-for-play content model in which participating galleries are contractually guaranteed articles which are then passed off on the site as legitimate editorial coverage—”Artsy Preferred,” an upper-tier gallery subscription plan guarantees in writing “six editorial features/yr posted on Artsy and tweeted by @artsy.” “Artsy Premium,” offered to galleries at $1400 a month, promises everything in the preferred plan, as well as what it describes as “increased editorial coverage,” among other benefits. It’s basically a custom publishing model.

All this comes amid questions about the viability of Artsy’s ever-evolving business model. In response to the Fortune profile, Art Market Monitor‘s Marion Maneker analyzed Artsy’s revenue stream and online traffic, examining the company’s profitability and prospects, and ultimately questioned the company’s long-term viability. (See our story Artspace Sale Augurs Inevitable Shake-Out in Online Art Sales.)

The conflict with Art Basel is, however, unlikely to go away soon. According to our source, Art Basel is also unhappy with deceptive statements on the Artsy website suggesting it has a partnership with the online platform. One of Artsy’s main collecting resources is its detailed information about galleries’ offerings at fairs like Art Basel. Here is how Artsy promotes art fairs on its website:

One of Artsy’s most popular features for collectors is our online art fair previews. Here, you can view what exhibitors will be bringing to the fair, inquire on and collect works, and view special content such as “Insider Picks.” We preview more than 30 major art fairs including Art Basel, Frieze, the Armory Show, NADA, ArtRio, IFPDA, Zona MACO, and Design/Miami.

Art Basel’s letter to Artsy attempted to clarify the misconceptions about the online art sales company’s business practices as they relate to Art Basel. Our source also indicates that the fair giant specifically objects to a page on Artsy that allows you to browse works for sale by exhibitor, artist medium, price, and size. There is even a section on the Artsy iPhone app that purports to be “your personal guide to Art Basel.” Much of this information is sourced from the Art Basel website, possibly in violation of Switzerland’s data protection laws.

Art Basel in Hong Kong opens this week (see Art Basel in Hong Kong Has 231 Galleries on Deck for 2015 and Cao Fei to Debut Massive New Artwork During Art Basel in Hong Kong), but there does not currently appear to be a page for it on the Artsy website.

Read the letter to Art Basel exhibitors below:

Dear Gallerist,

We are writing to clarify a possible misconception among exhibitors, due in part to a recent Fortune magazine article that incorrectly stated that Art Basel has a partnership with the art-sales website Artsy. The article stated that we pay Artsy to produce fair-specific micro-sites. In fact, Art Basel does not have any sort of collaboration with Artsy, and never has.

While this misinformation has now been partially corrected on the Fortune site, the original, incorrect article has reappeared in other places. Furthermore, it has become clear that this is not the first time our exhibitors mistakenly thought Art Basel was partnering with an art-sales website. Some gallerists even assumed their presence on such sites was a benefit of the Art Basel participation package.

Agreeing to appear on such platforms involves various forms of contractual commitment. Therefore each gallerist can decide whether or not to provide data or images to such art-sales sites, based both on their own gallery’s online strategy and on the contractual conditions proposed by the art-sales site in question, which vary widely between sites.

As you know, for each show, Art Basel offers you a free presence in our online catalog and mobile app, for which we ask exhibiting galleries to submit artworks. These are not shared by us with any other online platforms. We work intensely to promote your artists and their artworks across many forms of print, digital and social media, by providing international media relations, a robust social media strategy, and media promotion, especially through our official media partnerships.

We hope this clears up any confusion.

I look forward to seeing you again soon.

With best regards,

Daniel Lechner
Head of Gallery Relations
Art Basel


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