The Web as showroom

Visibility: Being seen is the key for upstart artists, and many are looking to the Web to put their works in the public eye.

April 13, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A picture is worth a thousand megabytes.

As more and more people vie for their piece of the World Wide Web, a trend has developed among artists and galleries to shop their wares online. In the great equalizing realm of the Internet, everyone from Sotheby's to small, local galleries can present their pieces to the millions who log on every day.

"I had seen individual artists having their own sites and sharing their own work," said Regina Zalewski, owner of Gallery-Z in Ellicott City, which opened this month and is launching a Web site next week featuring its inventory. "I wanted to have a site to show what we had and get the artists' work out there." In the art world, visibility is key. Artists often take their work from festivals to shows seeking buyers. At the other end of the deal, some buyers are often too intimidated to venture into high-end galleries.

Itheo.com, a site based in San Francisco, was founded by Atif Hussein, a photographer familiar with the limited resources of artists, and Akash Agarwal, an art collector uncomfortable with the atmosphere at some galleries.

"We are an online marketplace that also is the first to deliver business services to artists," said Jill Helffenstein, spokeswoman for Itheo.com. The Web site is named for Vincent Van Gogh's brother Theo, who offered the artist financial and emotional support during his career. "We were launched on March 20th, and the response we have gotten has been tremendous from both the artists and the buyers."

In Ellicott City, Zalewski, an artist, also views her gallery as more of a storefront. The 46-year-old budget and strategic planner for the Smithsonian Institution decided to meld her love of art with husband Doug Riley's computer expertise as the head of a software development company.

The result will be www.gallery-z.com, a site that will offer digital images of the art in the gallery in Howard House at Main Street and Old Columbia Pike in historic Ellicott City. More than 25 artists, local and international, have been invited to display their work, and the gallery boasts such diverse works as sculptures constructed of old compact discs to metal bugs.

To guard against theft of images, Zalewski has installed software to protect the digital pictures, and the gallery's inventory computer will be connected to the Web site so there will be no double selling of the art, she said.

"People visiting the site will be able to select an artist, see all of the mediums they work in or select a particular medium," Zalewski said. "I think there is a lot of great work out there that people would love to have in their homes or offices."

Ron Stinson, a metal sculptor from Carlisle, Pa., is one of the artists featured at Gallery-Z. Stinson, 43, launched www.metal expressions.com last Thanksgiving to showcase his creations. In the era of Web surfing, people expect that businesses will have a site, Stinson said.

"It helps because I can direct people to the site and they can find info on my work and where I will be," Stinson said. "I understand how powerful [the Web] is. It's just the easiest way to find information these days."

With art, Internet sites are being used in a variety of ways. Germany recently launched www. lostart.de, a site listing artwork plundered by Nazis during World War II, with the hopes of returning the stolen pieces. Buyers can bid at highbrow sites like Sothebys.com, and those with more limited resources can visit sites like eBay.com.

Walter Gomez, owner of the Gomez Gallery in Baltimore, estimates that 20 percent of his gallery's gross sales come from work purchased from their site, www.gomezgalley.com. Artists interested in showing at his gallery are able to log on and see what type of work is displayed, Gomez said.

Gomez said he also uses the Web to fill orders for customers. When a collector interested in obtaining a Ross Bleckner painting approached Gomez, he was able to contact galleries in Sweden, Chicago and Atlanta to locate the perfect piece.

"It's just an incredible vehicle for galleries," Gomez said.

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