This Gallery Is Shaking Things Up by Auctioning Art Directly Through Social Media

For Minneapolis's Modern Artifact it's a way of reaching an audience who maybe didn't think they could afford to collect.

Dale Chihuly, Buttercup Yellow Persian (1996). Courtesy of Modern Artifact.
Dale Chihuly, Buttercup Yellow Persian (1996). Courtesy of Modern Artifact.

The last few years have been a tough stretch for most mid-size galleries, with mega-galleries continuing to eat up sales, real estate, and even newly emerging artists. Necessity remains the mother of invention, however, and more and more entrepreneurial ventures are giving unexpected and often informal approaches a go in the hopes of reaching new eyes… and new wallets.

Among these is Minneapolis’s Modern Artifact, which for over ten years has been a secondary market hub for a diverse selection of contemporary and modern art. Though the gallery has long had a strong online presence, it recently threw a bit of a curve ball when it decided to take some of its property to auction via social media, in the hopes of meeting an emerging generation of collectors where it spends its free time.

While platforms like Instagram account See You Next Thursday have adopted this model for emerging artists, Modern Artifact’s move remains a highly unusual and, with no reserve, even a risky one for a gallery dealing with more established names. Recently, the gallery says, heated bidding attended its sale of Dale Chihuly’s Paradise Persian (2003).

We caught up with Modern Artifact to see what inspired them to take its business to social media and which works they will be offering next.

Pablo Picasso, Profil De Jacqueline 56. Courtesy of Modern Artifact.

Upcoming social media lot: Pablo Picasso, Profil De Jacqueline 56. Courtesy of Modern Artifact.

What inspired you to host these social media auctions?

We were looking for new ways to engage our existing social media followers. The idea began with us auctioning off less expensive, art-related products in trivia challenges. In one of our first trivia challenges we posted a video that showed a cabinet full of fine glass art. We asked people to guess which piece was not made by Dale Chihuly, promising a Chihuly book for the winner. These were a lot of fun and had a great response on social media, so we decided to take it a step further: Why not try to auction some actual art?

Have you seen this auction platform used by other galleries? Why do you think people engage with this rather than the more traditional models? 

I haven’t seen this for secondary market art works. Whether it’s true or not, much of the public believes that traditional art auctions have a high barrier of entry. Social media is instantly accessible and easy to use. Holding an auction on social media brings in a lot of people who may not have otherwise participated.

Dale Chihuly's Paradise Persian (2003) sold over Modern Artifact's social media platforms for $3,600 via social media.

Upcoming social media lot: Dale Chihuly’s Paradise Persian (2003) sold over Modern Artifact’s social media platforms for $3,600 via social media.

So you’re saying you’re reaching a new audience with this approach rather than your typical clients?

Definitely. Although we’ve had some previous buyers participate in our past auctions, the vast majority have never purchased anything from us before. We’re also encouraged by how many Facebook users have shared our auction posts, which helps expose us to an entire circle of friends that we would be unlikely to reach in any other way.

I guess my concern would be that you have an established relationship with an established client whereas this could really be anybody. Have you had any issues with payments being honored?

We have not had any issues so far! Regardless, we would wait for payment before shipping any items, so other than the time investment lost there is little risk. If payment was not received in a timely manner, our policy would be to provide the winning bidder with a written warning and a final chance to pay before offering the piece to the second highest bidder.

Salvador Dali, Samson and Delilah. Engraving on paper. Courtesy of Modern Artefact.

Upcoming social media lot:Salvador Dali, Samson and Delilah. Engraving on paper. Courtesy of Modern Artefact.

Can you reveal any works that that you’ll be using this model for in the future?

We’re really excited about our current roster of upcoming social media auction pieces. We’re going to be offering an original, authenticated Salvador Dali print and an original Picasso ceramic. Another work, which would be great for a bar, is a Steve Kaufman original Cigar oil painting on screenprint canvas. And, after the success of the Persian Blue, another Dale Chihuly, a yellow Buttercup, which is one of our personal favorites.

Steve Kaufman, Cohiba. Courtesy of Modern Artifact.

Upcoming social media lot: Steve Kaufman, Cohiba. Courtesy of Modern Artifact.

What do you think the future of social media is for you and for other dealers and galleries?

Social media is rapidly changing the way people use the internet, and there is a premium placed on how responsive and interactive businesses can be. We think the art world, and the secondary market in particular, has a lot to gain by becoming more interactive.

The social media auctions are really a win-win for us: they allow our customers to get a great piece for less than that what they’d pay direct to our gallery, but they also allow us to see what artists our followers are passionate about and gain crucial insight about the state of the market.

While it’s impossible to predict the future of the ever-evolving art world, I’m optimistic we will continue to see social media used as a tool for more direct customer engagement.

Follow artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.