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Artspace Acquires VIP, Continuing the Art E-Commerce Wars

artspace_illo2One of the ongoing narratives of the art world as of late is the fight over art’s presence on the internet — which company will be the first to make systematized online art sales mainstream? The field of contenders, which has ranged from 20×200 to Paddle8, Artspace, Artsy, VIP Art, and even Fab.com, is narrowing.

Artspace, a website dedicated to selling unique art objects, prints, and editions on a mid- to high-level market range, just announced that it acquired VIP Art, the company behind the buzzy but ultimately lackluster online VIP Art Fairs that launched in 2011. VIP Art’s 2012 fairs proved an improvement on their debut, but failed to gain traction with collectors and dealers — though it did get a lot of media attention.

Salon 94 booth at VIP Art Fair 2011 (image from VIP Art Fair)
Salon 94 booth at VIP Art Fair 2011 (image from VIP Art Fair)

“VIP’s vibrant community of collectors and world-class gallery partnerships bolsters Artspace’s industry-leading position as the only transactional platform online,” a statement from the company reads. Through the deal, Artspace will take on VIP’s staff and VIP founder and gallerist James Cohan will join the company’s advisory board, according to Gallerist. “VIP Art Fair “validated” the idea that the internet could provide a “more efficient method of communicating information and doing so in a richer manner,” Artspace cofounder Christopher Vroom told Hyperallergic in a recent phone conversation.

Vroom has been friends with Cohan for years, and the two companies had long-running conversations about how best to serve their customers, Vroom said. The decision to join forces started last fall. “We both came to the conclusion that delivering dollars to our partners is the best way to demonstrate value,” Artspace’s co-founder explained. “So we started to take stock both of the very rich range of features that VIP had developed and identify how those features could be incorporated into a broader, bigger platform.”

In February, Artspace announced that they raised an additional $8.5 million in capital funding and added Russian collector Maria Baibakova to their board of directors. That number puts Artspace slightly beyond its fellow art e-commerce platform Artsy, which has raised $7.5 million in venture capital funding from sources like Dasha Zhukova, Wendi Murdoch, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. It’s worth noting that Artsy recently created a well-received preview for the Armory Show fair.

bitforms gallery on Artsy's Armory preview (All screenshots by Hyperallergic)
bitforms gallery on Artsy’s Armory preview (All screenshots by Hyperallergic)

With 20×200 remaining out of the picture after its still-mysterious shuttering, Artspace and Artsy quickly becoming two of the major businesses in the online art market. Though their approaches differ, the two are competing over important relationships in the art world as well as the technology sphere. For Artspace, their acquisition is part of an ongoing rapid expansion. They expect to increase their collector base beyond its current point of 200,000, according to Vroom, and grow to include select cultural institutions and museums. “Ultimately, we think that there is a significant portion of the global art market that will migrate online over time,” he said.

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