When auction watchers, antiques enthusiasts and art lovers that are serious about their world come together they are inevitably talking about the confluence of the GFC, the changes to superannuation laws, changing tastes, the commercial digital revolution and the habits of buyers and sellers alike. That conversation is, at its core, about the very disruptive but I think also exciting changes that we are all witnessing. These rapid and seemingly relentless changes bring me to ask myself with increasing frequency “when will this all settle down?” Collectors have been replaced by “collectorators”, people don’t want small paintings they want big ones, art lovers seem to have lost the time to wander down a high street or visit a city and the march to bringing more old-fashioned activities online has not lost any of its pace. Feel confused? Well I do too but I think we are coming closer to some sort of balance between activities that were once the preserve of bricks and mortar that also enjoy the capacity to be “onlined” – some call this the phygital” space; that balance between the old-fashioned physical offering and the digital one. 1stdibs.com, the brainchild of an American, is just one such example of how the very traditional art of buying and selling art, antiques and jewels can work beautifully online – here there is a balance. The images are superb, the website functions seamlessly and the offering is, well, spectacularly overwhelming – it’s a visual feast! But this is where the value of the online offering reassuringly ends. Why? Because the site still relies on the “eye” of a great dealer, a premises that houses the collection, a rapport between buyer and seller that needs to be established, maybe a decorator to assist the transaction and ultimately a carriage service to get it to where it needs to go. I agree that “high street shopping” is in decline but I don’t agree with the lament of many a dealer that there is not another way. Online markets that bring buyers and sellers together, online advertising that expands ones audience exponentially and the ease with which one can convert ones offering from the physical to the digital offer a real and meaningful solution to the declining bricks and mortar collector and an exciting one at that!
John C R Albrecht
National Head of Collections, Leonard Joel
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