Reframing Online Auction


Flash sales on the Internet offer great deals on the latest True Religion jeans if you buy fast enough. Now, how about getting a similar deal on a work of art, perhaps one by American painter Frank Stella?

In a twist on the flash-sale concept, auction site Blacklots launched last month and offers contemporary art at low commission rates during 24-hour sales.

CJ Little, Blacklots’ co-founder, said the Santa Monica site aims to broaden the art market to would-be collectors who find the process of buying through an auction house intimidating.

“This shouldn’t be a painful process. We want to start to get people more comfortable collecting and get them to consume art in a way that they probably are not,” said Little, a tech entrepreneur who founded the site with entertainment executive Minor Childers and Rodman Primack, former chairman of London auction house Phillips de Pury & Co.

The website is focused on the secondary art market, meaning it only auctions art from collectors, not from artists or galleries. With sales ranging from $1,000 to $25,000, the pieces are typically smaller works from prominent artists.

Among the pieces recently sold are works by Japanese painter Takashi Murakami and American photographer Gregory Crewdson.

Blacklots conducts auctions, which start at noon every weekday and run for 24 hours, much like they would on eBay. However, bidders must apply for access to the website or receive an invitation from someone who’s already a member.

After the sale, a Blacklots salesperson contacts the winning bidder for payment and then arranges shipment. The company takes a 7 percent commission fee from both the buyer and seller, a fraction of the 25 percent fee auction houses typically charge.

Upcoming auctions will include work from Stella and Swedish sculptor Claes Oldenburg. The company plans to expand to prints and rare books in the next few months.

Online art sales have become increasingly popular and Blacklots has far from cornered the market. Artnet, a New York-based website that posts auction results and gallery listings, has started its own auctions. In addition, startups such as Munich’s ArtCollectorsClub ask art experts to put together online exhibitions of pieces that website members can purchase.

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