It’s Art Basel in Hong Kong, and swarms of visitors armed with the latest smartphones flood the gargantuan exhibition halls of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Their mission? Looking for the most curious-looking or outrageous piece on display. Neither was very difficult to find given the recent art trends. After finding their target, these visitors take a photograph of these works, preserving them on their mobile phones. In doing so, they build their very own collection of curios, albeit in digital formats.
What’s becoming increasing common, however, is the way gallerists now encourage visitors to post these images on social media platforms. While taking snapshots of artworks used to earn visitors a scowl from the gallery attendants, galleries now offer hashtag recommendations to go along with photographs. This is the digital era of art. Social media is now such an important aspect of peer-to-peer referrals that traditional word-of-mouth referrals now look dated in comparison.
The number one social media platform on which artworks are purchased, unsurprisingly, is Instagram. Previously used by teenagers to post selfies or vacation photos, Instagram is now the de facto platform for artists to showcase their works. Refusing to be left behind, galleries now use Instagram to post real-time images and updates from their exhibition openings and art fairs.
A research conducted by Artsy earlier this year discovered that more than 50% of art collectors who use Instagram had purchased works from artists they had found on it. In fact, more than 30% purchased the exact work they saw on Instagram. Even more surprising? Those who had purchased on Instagram were actually repeat buyers, having purchased on average 4 works via Instagram.
And that’s just Instagram alone.
As the mother of modern social media, Facebook’s role has been all-encompassing in connecting artists, galleries and collectors. It offers collectors a flavour and character of the gallery (regardless of where the gallery is), and personalised updates by artists. It is the noticeboard for all things art-related: you can receive invites to events, promotional updates from art fairs, recent news on your favourite galleries and even travel plans of your favourite artists, to say the least.
If you’re a huge fan of reading, there’s tumblr. Geared towards content-rich lovers, tumblr has been used by many galleries – ours included – as a de facto blog to share all sorts of information. With practically no limits as to what may be posted, tumblr has become a platform for galleries to share their expertise, opinions and insights on a fickle and ever-changing industry.
And if you just haven’t got the time to read a thousand-word post, you can let 140 characters do the job. Twitter has become a default live-update app for events (even though one shouldn’t be surprised to learn that most of these updates are written ahead of the actual events themselves, and posted when apropos). It has also become an important arena for discussion and expression opinions… within the confines of the character limit, of course.
All this is to say that the world is changing rapidly, and those who are unable to harness the benefits and advantages of social media are likely to be left behind. Don’t believe the hype? Try it for yourself: The next time you’re shopping for a new artwork, why don’t you switch on your favourite social media application and browse it for a little while.
You might just be surprised by what you find.
Written by Weiren Loh, Gallery Director, Barnadas Huang