Arts December 2, 2014

Virtual Galleries

Local Art Galleries Leverage Advances in Technology


The Internet and other forms of technology have had a dramatic effect on the way galleries sell and market art. Less than 10 years ago, by definition, a gallery was a beautiful bricks-and-mortar space. Today, serious collectors can browse through an online gallery at their leisure anywhere in the world.

Barbi Reed, owner of Anne Reed Gallery, took her gallery completely online in 2009. “We were pioneers,” she said. “Maybe the first established gallery, representing well-known artists, to totally relinquish its space in favor of focusing attention on what I instinctively felt was the new paradigm. It was obvious that the Internet’s power lay
in its ability to convey information, through both words and images. That being said, the value of seeing art in physical galleries can never be underestimated. It is not an either-or debate.”

“Absolutely, we’ve seen a huge difference (with technology),” said Gail Severn, owner of the Gail Severn Gallery, a bricks-and-mortar gallery in downtown Ketchum. “It has changed the way we do all of our marketing, promoting and communicating. We use email, our webpage, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogs in an effort to reach out to our customer base as a means of educating and informing them.” Severn said that during a recent area conference, the gallery sent out a tweet to participants and reached potential customers who might not have known the gallery existed. “We can stay connected to our customer base, whether they are on vacation or traveling on business half
a world away.”

Severn pointed out that one enormous change in her business has been the influx of digital photography. “It has replaced the traditional form of photography. We used to shoot 4-by-5-inch transparencies to make prints, but digital has made the process much simpler. We can create a large format in high resolution and use the image for many different media.” However, she cautioned, even with all the benefits of technology, color may display quite differently on different computer monitors.

L’Anne Gilman, owner of Gilman Contemporary, said she “is a firm believer in bricks and mortar” and that only 2 percent of the gallery’s sales are online. While she uses Instagram, email and a website to stay connected to her customers, she said that most clients have already physically seen work by the same artist before they buy. 

“The bricks-and-mortar model works for me because part of what I love about my job is the relationship you build with the client you meet,” Gilman said. “Online is not the same. For me it’s a very personal thing. My clients like that. They want to feel secure with who they’re buying from.”

Gary Lipton, owner of Lipton Fine Arts, a gallery that is open two days a week, said his gallery does 95 percent of its sales online. “In Ketchum, Idaho, with a population of 3,000 people, there’s no need to have a large gallery with overhead costs. A lot of people who walk in a gallery have no idea what they’re looking at—they just think it’s pretty. I don’t see a lot of curatorial knowledge. My online buyers are educated and know exactly what they’re looking at. They are very specific: they want to know the provenance, the condition and what’s my best price.” 

“My model has made my business very successful,” Lipton said. “I don’t have any overhead, my physical gallery is open only two days a week, and I can enjoy my life, which I do!”

Gail Severn said that technology has changed how people think about art and what art is. “Now, any opening or event is one click away from thousands of people seeing it via various social media outlets,” she explained. “Projects like the Bay Lights in San Francisco  are a perfect example of how technology and art impact peoples’ lives. What has not changed is that most people still want to feel connected to their art.”

This article appears in the Winter 2015 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.