Has Instagram Changed Art Buying?

Liz Catalano
Published on

Brett Gorvy, Christie’s former global head of contemporary art, posted a picture of a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting on his personal Instagram page in 2017. Within hours, he received messages from collectors around the world who were interested in buying the piece. The painting was sold for $24 million two days later. Speaking with the New York Times, Gorvy stated, “From the buyer’s point of view, this was a total Instagram sale.” 

Instagram boasts over a billion users monthly, and current estimates suggest that over 50 billion photos have been shared to date. Artists, galleries, and auction houses are increasingly using social media platforms like Instagram to share, market, and sell art. Auction houses see viral hashtags and eye-catching photos as an opportunity to draw bidders toward their upcoming sales. Sotheby’s, for example, celebrated one million Instagram followers in 2019. The auction house even compiles a list of its best Instagram posts at the end of each year. 

Posted on Sotheby’s Instagram page to promote the upcoming “Made in Britain” auction on March 17, 2020. Image by Sotheby’s.
Posted on Sotheby’s Instagram page to promote the upcoming “Made in Britain” auction on March 17, 2020. Image by Sotheby’s.

Buying and selling art is adapting to the digital space. Beyond the increasing growth of online auction sales (rising over 11% yearly since 2013), initiatives such as See You Next Thursday (SYNT) have changed the accessibility of art buying. The SYNT account posts images of at least one piece of art on Thursday evenings, allowing interested buyers to bid simply by leaving Instagram comments.

Founder Calli Moore shared her vision for the account with Artsy last year: “[SYNT is] very geared toward artists who have a very large outreach, but are not represented [in galleries].”

An example of Ashley Longshore’s work, which gathered more than 10,000 likes on Instagram. Image by Ashley Longshore.
An example of Ashley Longshore’s work, which gathered more than 10,000 likes on Instagram. Image by Ashley Longshore.

Independent artists are also using Instagram for self-promotion. Ashley Longshore is one artist who harnesses the power of social media to market her work. She reported to Vogue: “Technology is the platform of my business: All I need is my iPad, my Instagram, and a delivery truck.” Nearly 300,000 users follow Longshore, receiving regular updates about new work and merchandise releases. Instagram has opened the doors of the art market to lesser-known contemporary artists, giving many the opportunity to profit off their work without fighting for gallery space.

As auction houses and artists adapt to the platform, the art being sold has changed too. A 2017 London exhibition exclusively showed artwork that was created and popularized on Instagram. Seattle’s Frye Art Museum allowed the likes and comments of its Instagram followers to determine the composition of an upcoming show. Interactive works such as Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms enjoy near-constant social media coverage as well.

The economic impact of social media on the art industry is still unclear.. In a report to the Los Angeles Times, however, Invaluable discovered that 45% of U.S. consumers found new art through social media platforms. Andrew Gully of Invaluable predicted that the current trends will continue, especially as younger generations interact with art on Instagram. This early exposure may translate to increased buying power and engagement with the art industry for Instagram’s current users.