Amazon Enters Art World; Galleries Say They Aren't Worried

Play associated audio

Local record and book shops have been disappearing as the market for music and literature moves online. In the past few years, there's been a growth in sites that sell fine art on the Internet. On Tuesday, Amazon joined that market. But in this case, many brick and mortar galleries aren't seeing the Internet as a threat.

Modernbook Gallery in San Francisco currently has 11 very large eerie photos of a fair-skinned woman in a white-lace dress donning its walls. In one photo, the woman sits in a chair and feeds milk to a TV. In another, the top half of her head is replaced by a bird cage.

The artist's name is Jamie Baldridge. Gallery manager Danny Sanchez says the work was inspired by Baldridge's childhood and "afternoons reading fairy tales for their dark nature. So you kind of get a little bit of that in his imagery."

It's especially exciting to Sanchez that art collectors are able to look at and buy these creative photos online.

"It'll be another outlet for us to showcase our artists and get that wider range of people who are looking for art that would normally not come across into our building," he says.

And Sanchez was eager to partner with Amazon. "They redefined online shopping, and I think they have the ability to do that for this new kind of marketplace for art," he says.

The audience for visual art is there, says Peter Faricy, vice president of Amazon Marketplace, which is overseeing the launch. Faricy says the company was getting customer requests to put art on Amazon.

"We know our customers love fine art and want ways to discover more of it. And so this really gives them a way to discover artists far beyond their geography," he says.

The new Amazon fine art site includes galleries in New York, Miami, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Canada. Faricy said Amazon's got more than 150 galleries and dealers signed up with work from more than 4,500 artists.

Faricy says the company has tried hard to make the site easy to use and appropriate for looking at fine art. "All of the images we're using for the artwork are high definition. They're all able to be looked at in more detail," he adds.

Amazon isn't the first business to bring fine art online. In the late 1990s, Eyestorm set up shop from London. More recently Artsy and ArtSpace have made deals with major museums and galleries to sell works by art stars like Sol LeWitt and Cindy Sherman.

But David Ross, the former director of both the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, says Amazon's entrance into the market is a much bigger deal because some 100 million people already shop at the site.

"My old maxim is people only order what's on the menu. Now that art is on this menu, and the Amazon menu is probably one of the prime menus in the world today for people who have disposable income, now that will become an option, whether it's for a gift or for the home or whatever," Ross says.

On Amazon, you can buy a Monet, a Warhol or a Norman Rockwell for close to $5 million. But most of the works range in price from $100 to $5,000. And many of the galleries that have signed up are not high end.

Amazon got in touch with Patricia Bransten, the director of Rena Bransten — one of San Francisco's highly respected galleries. She did not sign up with Amazon. She says the person who talked to her knew more about selling wine than art.

"They're not going to get it. They don't have enough, in my opinion, to actually get the art business, both to understand it and to get the physical, the inventory," she says.

Bransten does sell work online; her artists have been on ArtSpace and Artsy, which she thinks are better educated about the market. Still, Bransten says she's hardly sold any work online. And she worries that Amazon's entry into the business will reinforce the big names and marginalize lesser-known artists.

She says that unlike books or wine, people like to look at art in person before they buy it.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit


Writer James Alan McPherson, Winner Of Pulitzer, MacArthur And Guggenheim, Dies At 72

McPherson, the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, has died at 72. His work explored the intersection of white and black lives with deftness, subtlety and wry humor.

Oyster Archaeology: Ancient Trash Holds Clues To Sustainable Harvesting

Modern-day oyster populations in the Chesapeake are dwindling, but a multi-millennia archaeological survey shows that wasn't always the case. Native Americans harvested the shellfish sustainably.


Twitter Just Turned VP Nominee Tim Kaine Into Your Dad

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine introduced himself to America Wednesday night as a fighter, Hillary Clinton's ally and — your dad.

Writing Data Onto Single Atoms, Scientists Store The Longest Text Yet

With atomic memory technology, little patterns of atoms can be arranged to represent English characters, fitting the content of more than a billion books onto the surface of a stamp.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.