According to the European Fine Art Foundation, (TEFAF), online sales of art reached $3.6 billion in 2014, or about 6% of all worldwide sales. “That’s a big number, and I was surprised to see it,” says James Cox, referring to a January 2016 article published by The Economist. “The trend is that people are more and more comfortable using online commerce and, with the high cost of brick and mortar, it’s cost efficient too. I am willing to bet that figure will rise,” concludes the owner of The James Cox Gallery of Woodstock.
Cox, who operates the gallery with his wife, the artist Mary Anna Goetz, is striding confidently into the ranks of those wielding virtual gavels. His upcoming Collector’s Exchange — Online Cabinet Sale will not supplant his 25-year old brick and mortar operation. Nor will it remove him from the world of live auctioneering that he has come to enjoy over the past years. It will offer collectors yet another avenue to find pieces they will cherish.
The gallery’s online auction will take place in March and the soft deadline to offer objects for consignment is February 20. Cox says he may accept items a few days beyond that date, but potential consignors take note: as of press time, the trusted curator has already been cataloguing about 125 accepted items and 200 pieces is his target number.
“Selected pieces will range in price from $50 to $1,500, and 80% of them will be fine art with the remaining 20% items that are quirky, interesting, niche-y or collectible. I’ve always done that — included items such as rare publications, ethnographic art, 3-D pieces — but they must have quality, resonance,” Cox explains. When asked if there are things he would not accept, he laughs loudly and quickly, then says, “most of the universe! There will be no Beanie Babies. No Disney characters. No above-the-couch living room art. These pieces will all be items we believe in, and feel our consignors will sell successfully. We want our consignors to be pleased with the results. That’s a major element.”
With obvious delight in his primary role as auction curator, Cox exercises a great deal of influence and draws upon decades as a well known arbiter of authenticity, quality, condition and taste. “Online art auctions are definitely a coming thing, and they’re happening. Period. Buyers have an advantage in that they don’t have to dedicate the day to going to an auction. People follow along on their iPhones, and place bids from the 4th hole of the golf course or on their boat,” he says. “And, people with a specialized or niche interest are able to participate in two or three auctions a day. If they’re interested in a particular artist, time period, nationality or any other category, they can peruse vast numbers of items from the comfort of their computer.
“I am guessing that online auction prices may be more reasonable than those generated in one-on-one live competition. When people are sitting in a room together, they are more emotionally involved. Online is perhaps a bit more dispassionate.”
Since the early 1970s, Cox has been fascinated by the fine art of auctioneering, and has lent his talents to a few select causes and organizations. He cataloged Native American arts and crafts for the forerunner of New York’s Sotheby’s (the Parke Bernet auction gallery) and the experience awakened his desire to obtain certification as an auctioneer. Following graduation from the Repperts School of Auctioneering in 1975, Cox used his new skill to raise funds for groups as diverse as the New York Heart Association (which staged lively benefit events at the 21 Club) and New York’s Dutch Treat Club (when Isaac Asimov served as that body’s president). Locally, he’ll return for the third time as featured auctioneer at Family of Woodstock’s popular Chocolate Lovers Brunch (to be held this Sunday, February 21, at Diamond Mills in Saugerties).
As co-sponsor of Woodstock Artist Association and Museum, Cox has helped raise over $150,000 for WAAM’s annual Fine Art Auction. One such event about five years ago led to his discovery of LiveAuctioneers, the Internet’s leading auction-related site and now the Cox Gallery’s best platform for online sales. “After the big auction for WAAM, we took all the things that had been turned down, and offered them online for one week only and did remarkably well when we added it all up — live auction plus online auction. The ease of doing it was almost extraordinary, and that one experiment stayed in my mind, yes.”
Cox has since gradually added an online component to his own gallery’s regular auctioning activities too, and notes a growing global involvement during live auctions. “All of our live auctions have also carried on the Internet over the past eight or nine years. Broadcasting to the world gives you an extremely broad range of buyers, people we’ve never heard from before, along with others who have been following us for years,” Cox says. “After the live auctions are over, we’re shipping items to Japan, Israel, Spain, Poland and elsewhere. We’re not switching to just online sales, but we’re adding online sales to what we’re already doing.”
Between the Christie’s and Sotheby’s that cater to the 1% of fine art collectors and eBay, which many liken to a garage sale, curated online art sales occupy an enormous and often quite discerning middle ground for serious buyers. LiveAuctioneers will offer an international reach and an audience of millions for Cox’s Collector’s Exchange — Online Cabinet Sale. And, Cox will use his own normal channels of media and marketing, and communicate with existing followers who have signed up for his own carefully culled email list. It all adds up to a wide reach for consignors and a valuable body of works to please bidders. Cox is also able to bid on behalf of regular bidders within the limits they set.
Items will be online through the month of March. The final auction lasts about one minute per lot, or, with 200 lots, about three or three and-a-half hours, says Cox. “The final few moments: that’s the exciting part. I am very much excited about this.”
The James Cox Gallery at Woodstock will be accepting objects for consignment through at least February 20, and it is anticipated that the catalog of items in Collector’s Exchange — Online Cabinet Sale will be online by March 1. During weeks of active bidding, worldwide visitors may view online “lots” with photographs and detailed descriptions, until the final online countdown and announcement of winning bids. Please call 679-7608, visit www.jamescoxgallery.com or send an email to email@example.com for further information.