The Covid-19 pandemic saw a transformational shift in the way the professional art market operated, forcing galleries and auction houses to close or move online to reach their audience. Three years later, only 16% of art sales are made online, but many of these online platforms operate under the traditional structures of the existing market, contributing to an art industry that is often perceived as opaque or exclusionary for new buyers.
Recognizing a need in the industry for an open marketplace where Canadians can make transparent and independent art sales, Dr. Lara Tomaszewska created ArtRow, a disruptive digital marketplace aimed at democratizing traditional art sales.
Lara’s extensive experience in the art industry allowed her to establish strong relationships with private collectors, print publishers, and professional artists, giving ArtRow a unique opportunity to list works that would otherwise be traded behind closed doors.
Techcouver sat down with Lara to learn more about her vast experience as an entrepreneur in the art space and the inspiration behind ArtRow.
Tell us about yourself and your experience in the art industry.
LT: My educational and professional background has always been deeply connected to the world of art. I completed my Ph.D. in Art History at the University of British Columbia in 2007, and I have over 20 years of experience as an advisor, researcher and appraiser of fine art. I have sold works by Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Andy Warhol, Jean-Paul Riopelle, AY Jackson, and Gordon Smith, among many others. My main areas of expertise are Canadian art, European painting (including Impressionism and early abstraction), American modernism, pop art, and contemporary art and photography.
In 2012, I founded Openwork Art Advisory, a boutique advisory firm specializing in building and shaping private and corporate collections, and I’ve held memberships with the International Society of Appraisers, the Universities Art Association of Canada, and the Association of Art Historians (UK).
What is ArtRow?
ArtRow is an online marketplace where anyone can buy or sell historical and contemporary artwork that has been thoroughly vetted by a team of experts.
The goal of the platform is to break down the barriers of traditional art sales to create a space where buyers and sellers can be confident making art investment decisions, regardless of their prior experience.
What was the inspiration behind the platform?
LT: After working in the art industry for years, I recognized a gap in the market where the needs of artists, collectors, and everyday buyers were not being met. During the pandemic, as bricks-and-mortar galleries were forced to close and in-person events came to a standstill, the lack of alternative mechanisms for sales became clear, and ArtRow was born.
Until now, art sales have generally been limited to a few primary channels like galleries, auction houses, and private sales. These channels often come with restrictive contractual agreements for sellers. For new collectors or those less familiar with the art market, navigating auction houses and galleries can feel intimidating and exclusive, creating an obstacle for everyday buyers to invest in art. ArtRow also unlocks a new group of sellers, providing every seller with professional art services increasing new supply and access in the market.
How does ArtRow work?
LT: ArtRow acts as a broker in specialized art sales, acting as the intermediary between the seller and the buyer for sales of physical works of art. Our knowledgeable team of specialists manages all aspects of the sale – including sourcing, research, verification of condition, shipping coordination and any additional sale-related logistical tasks. We source and vet high-quality works from private collections worldwide, giving buyers of all experience levels the knowledge and expertise they need to make sound art decisions. ArtRow also allows sellers, including private collectors, emerging artists, and professionals, to list on the platform while maintaining possession until a sale is made, an option usually not available through traditional sales channels. For collectors who wish to buy or sell higher-value works, we also provide options for bespoke sales.
What makes ArtRow different from an online gallery or auction house?
LT: Online art sales have existed through digital galleries or art hosting sites for several years, a process that accelerated during the pandemic when traditional art sales were forced to move online. These sites bring the services of a gallery or auction house online while maintaining the institutions’ existing organizational framework. My experience in the art world has allowed me to develop strong relationships with private collectors, print publishers, and professional artists offering a diverse collection of artworks directly from these sources.
The fact that everyday sellers can access ArtRow is what differentiates it from other online platforms. On ArtRow, an individual seller can apply to sell their privately owned artwork, and if accepted, the seller receives professional art services – from suggested retail pricing to guidance on condition reporting to in-depth art descriptions. Unlike selling online through galleries and auction houses, on ArtRow, the seller maintains possession of the artwork and does not need to have an exclusive consignment agreement. This marketplace structure already exists in other sectors of luxury resale.
Compared to existing online platforms for artists, ArtRow was built for the everyday user. While we do work with select professional artists, ArtRow unlocks a new group of sellers, thereby providing new supply to the market.
What are the benefits of the open marketplace model?
LT: Marketplaces have long provided a meeting place for communities to socialize and exchange information. ArtRow is committed to bringing this experience into the digital realm through our interactive Learn page.
With a broad selection of artwork from private collections around the world, buyers have access to a curated selection of unique works backed by the expertise of ArtRow’s team of art professionals, who vet every piece listed on the marketplace. From the seller’s perspective, the marketplace model streamlines the sales process. ArtRow facilitates every aspect of the sales process, including payment and shipping, without some of the stringent requirements associated with more traditional sales outlets.
Why is accessibility in art important?
LT: Art is for everyone. At ArtRow, we believe greater access to the art market will make the art world more inclusive and vibrant, and by encouraging new buyers and collectors to enter the market, greater access to art sales will support the growth of the art industry as a whole.
The artwork listed on ArtRow ranges in price, ranging from $300 to $165,000, which allows everyone to find vetted works of art they love. This ensures that art remains accessible to a broad audience while still catering to collectors looking for rare or unique works.
In your opinion, what is the role of technology in the art market?
LT: There is huge potential for the art industry to leverage technology to better serve its audience, and much of that potential remains untapped. At ArtRow, we view technology as an essential tool for making the art market more accessible, transparent, and inclusive. Not only can technology play a key role in connecting buyers and sellers from around the world, but it can also facilitate the discovery of new artists and provide experiences for people to engage with art. Technology also has the potential to shift power dynamics in the art world, giving sellers and artists a wider platform to reach new audiences and provide a wealth of resources for buyers who are new to the industry.
As the landscape evolves and artists embrace more digital and mixed media, technology stands to serve an even greater role in shaping the future of the art market.
What is your ultimate goal with ArtRow?
LT: At ArtRow, our goal is to transform the way fine art is bought and sold. We want to empower people to make confident art investment decisions, regardless of their prior experience. ArtRow is committed to building a marketplace for people to connect and participate in equitable and accessible art exchange. We strive to make the art world transparent so anyone can have access to some of the world’s finest artwork.
What are some of your favourite pieces listed on the platform?
LT: As an art historian and art appraiser, I am trained to be a critical thinker and neutral advisor with a dedication to due diligence. At ArtRow, our experts focus on our clients’ passion, carrying out research, condition reporting, and market valuations so that our clients can buy and sell what they love!
That said, I am proud of the fact that ArtRow features a diversity of artists and that we are dedicated to gender equity. In an industry where female artists make up only 14% of gallery roster representation, at any given time on ArtRow, female artists make up 40 – 50% of our listings! Just a few of these amazing artists include rising star Cinthia Sifa Mulanga from the Democratic Republic of Congo; Coast Salish elder artist Susan Point, who is teaching younger generations of Northwest Coast Indigenous artists; renowned American graphic artist Paula Scher, whose works are included in MoMA; and, the “greatest living British sculptor,” Emily Young.