In a Radical Move, Sotheby’s Has Debuted a New Online Sales Platform for Blue-Chip Contemporary Art Galleries, Taking a Cut of All Sales

Sotheby's will take a flat commission from galleries based on sales.

A view outside Sotheby's in New York City. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images.

In a venture that proves just how strange the times are, Sotheby’s is launching a digital marketplace for art galleries that goes live today.

The lineup of galleries involved in the Sotheby’s Gallery Network, as the platform is being called, includes Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Lehmann Maupin, Jack Shainman Gallery, Luhring Augustine, Kasmin Gallery, Petzel Gallery, Sperone Westwater, and Van Doren Waxter.

“The greatest innovations and best partnerships come out of challenging times,” says Sotheby’s contemporary specialist Saara Pritchard, who spearheaded the initiative.

While all aspects of the art market have been challenged in recent weeks, “this is crippling for the galleries,” she says. “Without organizing exhibitions and no art fairs, they have no way to drive new visitors. We already have the e-commerce platform and ability to do sales.”

As part of the deal, galleries will give Sotheby’s a flat commission based on sales, and all artworks presented on the website will be available for purchase exclusively through Sotheby’s. Galleries will not be precluded from promoting the works through other means, but all buyers must be referred to the platform to make purchases.

While purchases of works priced up to $150,000 can be completed through Sotheby’s transactional platform, galleries are welcome to list works above that price and buyers are directed to “enquire” with Sotheby’s staff, who can help them complete the sale.

Angel Otero, Window Seat (2019). Image courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

Angel Otero, Window Seat (2019). Image courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

“I have a terrific relationship with Saara Pritchard, who called me in March with an idea,” said Lehmann Maupin partner Carla Camacho. “I listened, and here we are. Through Sotheby’s, we see an opportunity to expand our reach and to bring our artists’ work to clients based all over the world.”

Camacho said that, with Lehmann Maupin’s global business, a digital strategy is essential.

“For us, the Sotheby’s Gallery Network is supplemental,” she says. “It’s a platform on which we can leverage Sotheby’s deep network and also benefit from their proven record of online sales.” The gallery will intially present works by Angel Otero, Marilyn Minter, and Alex Prager.

Asked about the unusual nature of traditionally competitive galleries and auction houses getting on the same page, Camacho says the times have forced a pivot.

The art world is not isolated. It is a delicate ecosystem. With COVID-19, we are witness to an unprecedented moment that demands creative solutions in order for businesses both small and big to survive. It’s time to experiment, to let your guard down, to reach out and help others, and to work together. “

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