Amazon Adds Art to Cart

Seattle -- Looking for serious art, and a pair of sneakers? Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, might have the answer: Amazon Art.

Last year, Amazon started selling fine art from galleries around the world -- and in typical Bezos style -- broke every rule in the book. Amazon’s “gallery” sells $25 photographs alongside $525,000 oil paintings.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network have searched the Amazon site for investment grade artworks, and here is what they found:

You can search by artist, price, size, subject, style and even color.

Click on the blue square in the search palette and you may get an arty image of New York’s Rockefeller Center by little-known photographer Dimitrios Manousakis for $60 and, several screens later, “Monkey Train (Blue),” a limited-edition mixed-media print by contemporary superstar Jeff Koons for $40,000.

And then it’s just a click to buy. No haggling, no pressure. It’s as easy as purchasing a pair of headphones. The gallery, not Amazon, ships to you directly -- and often for free.

Art Online

People have been selling fine art online for more than a decade on shopping sites such as EBay.

As for dedicated venues, the oldest is probably Artnet.com, a German company founded in 1998 that uploads ads, hosts galleries and gathers data on a broad spectrum of auction sales worldwide. And of course, independent collectors buy and sell art among themselves on our very own Artkabinett Exchange.

Artsy.net, backed by Twitter Inc. co-founder Jack Dorsey and Wendi Deng, ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch, has rounded up some good galleries: Acquavella, Gagosian, White Cube. About 1,500 galleries list on Artsy compared with 250 for Amazon. In terms of inventory, the two are about equal: 50,000 pieces on Artsy versus 55,000 on Amazon.

Virtual Collection

Curiator.com, a site that invited beta testers to join in September and that is expected to open in April, allows users to gather images from around the Web and build a virtual collection in anticipation of an actual one. The site eventually plans to sell art.

Among the strictly online art purveyors, Amazon is by far the easiest through which to make an impulse purchase, with the familiar yellow Add to Cart button beside each and every piece.

On Artsy, you sometimes have to click on Contact Gallery, and wait for a response --sometimes for days -- to obtain the price, perhaps prompting second thoughts.

Both Amazon and Artsy say they’re selective about their member galleries, and both have software that displays how a piece will look in a room. But the similarities end there. Artsy charges galleries to list work. Amazon charges nothing for listings and takes a percentage upon sale.

It is easy to work around the Seattle-based superstore and contact a gallery directly, although Amazon claims not to mind if you do.

Art Establishment

The serious art establishment is dismissive of the Amazon project.

One might find most of its offerings are decorative, not investment grade. Some might cringe at the thought of buying art based solely on a JPEG. Nor would any savvy collector sort offerings by size, subject or, heaven forbid, color.

Proving the point, high-end gallery owners who have so far joined Amazon have not moved much merchandise.

Kenneth Friedman, who owns an eponymous gallery in Calabasas, California, deals in work by Chuck Close, Jim Dine, and Ed Ruscha. After spending a week uploading inventory, he has only sold one piece, “And that was an uphill battle.”

Jeff Bezos' mantra of low prices and free-shipping is not a new concept in the art world. Indeed, fine art galleries have always negotiated on significant acquisitions.

Amazon Art is still in its infancy, though. Sometime soon, while sifting through Amazon.com for ceiling fans or sofas, you may decide to grab a Warhol screen print to take your living room up a notch. In January, there was just such a work -- of Chairman Mao, his face a deep blue, his jacket a Kelly green -- for $200,000.