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Online galleries add new dimension to contemporary art scene

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Jason Bryant is an emerging artist whose work appears both in online galleries as well as in traditional bricks-and-mortar spaces. (Artwork by Jason Bryant, courtesy of Raandesk Gallery of Art)

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Annika K. Martin, a first-time buyer, purchased three paintings in an online gallery, including this one. (Artwork by Lauriston Avery, courtesy of Raandesk Gallery of Art)

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Online galleries often show the work of more than one artist at a time-- a trait that artists find attractive. (Artwork by Jennie Barrese, courtesy of Raandesk Gallery of Art)

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Cyber-galleries allow prospective art buyers to peruse their more moderately priced collections at any hour of the day or night, all year round. (Artwork by Jordanna Kalman, courtesy of Raandesk Gallery of Art)

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Photography, sculpture, painting and drawings can all be found in online galleries. (Artwork by Ken Madore, courtesy of Raandesk Gallery of Art)

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Online gallery owners say that they have to be careful about indecency rules in different states when featuring their artists' work on the Internet. (Artwork by Laura Salierno, courtesy of Raandesk Gallery of Art)

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With little overhead costs to worry about, online gallery owners say they spend a lot of time on customer service, making contemporary art more accessible to buyers. (Artwork by Laura Salierno, courtesy of Raandesk Gallery of Art)

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RaandeskGallery.com, HangArt.com and PicassoMio are three online galleries that are changing the way contemporary art is bought, sold and appreciated. (Artwork by Louise Daddona, courtesy of Raandesk Gallery of Art)

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With a wide selection, online galleries offer artwork that can appeal to a variety of tastes and budgets. (Artwork by Michelle Nixon, courtesy of Raandesk Gallery of Art)

You can go to Raandesk Gallery whenever you want, and you can wear, well, whatever you want. That was especially good news for Annika K. Martin, who happened to be in her pajamas when she bought her first work there, an abstract painting of overlapping square shapes done in inks and food stains. She wasn’t embarrassed at all.

“I don’t really go to galleries that often,” said Martin, a 27-year-old attorney from New Canaan, Conn. “It puts you in an intimidating situation and can be a bit of a high-pressure experience. I’d rather take it at my own pace.”

The gallery where Martin bought three paintings is not your trust fund hipster friend’s typical contemporary art gallery. There is no stark, imposing, poorly marked building to find and navigate. No gallery assistant peppering you with questions like, “So what do you think of the artist’s vision?" and "Are you going to buy?”

Instead, the gallery and others like it share an increasingly desirable pair of characteristics: They exist online and they’re not pretentious.

That combination has helped spark interest in sites in the United States and abroad. Other online galleries that have opened their cyber-doors recently include HangArt, PicassoMio, EyeStorm and The Guild.

With their numbers growing, online galleries are starting to change the way in which contemporary art is appreciated, bought and sold. With a philosophy that emphasizes simplicity and easy accessibility, the galleries are opening doors for consumers, artists and owners alike. And they are doing it by using the Internet as an equalizing force.

“In today’s market, I think you have to provide people with a sense that the gallery is there for them” by going out of your way to accommodate people, said Randy Boyes, director of the online gallery HangArt.com in San Francisco. “This generation of buyer needs something more. It can’t be us versus them.”

Boyes said that the majority of “them” were first-time buyers--people who may have believed they needed to be an art expert to be a connoisseur and who lacked confidence in their own taste.

“Art should speak to you, and an online gallery gives you that opportunity,” Martin said. “In the comfort of your own home, you have multiple occasions to see it.”

When she was deciding what to buy for her office at her Manhattan law firm, she did not want to rely on what the gallery assistants or art critics were saying. Instead, she wanted to rely on her own taste and sense of style.

Online galleries are attractive to first-time buyers for other reasons, too. Both Jessica Porter, owner of RaandeskGallery.com in New York City, and Boyes said their galleries offer quality, original artwork at lower prices than might be found in a bricks-and-mortar gallery: in the range of $100-$10,000. Owners can afford to sell at those prices because they do not have the overhead associated with a traditional gallery space.

What’s more, nearly all online galleries, PicassoMio and EyeStorm among the largest, show the work of a number of artists simultaneously and represent art in a variety of media. Many traditional galleries show the work of one or two artists at a time and for only a limited period.

Emerging artists, who represent the majority of contributors to online galleries, enjoy having their work shown with other artists and consider online galleries a great place to get exposure.

“Being in an online gallery is like constantly being in a group show,” said Laura Salierno, 26, an artist from Monroe, Conn., whose photographs appear in the Raandesk Gallery.

“You need more of a voice than just the traditional scene,” said Jason Bryant, 31, a painter from Brooklyn, N.Y. “That’s a hard scene to break into.”

Of course, there is nothing to stop artists from trying to do it all on their own. Artists can create their own Web sites and post their work online, or go the eBay route. Some, in fact, do just that. But to do so takes some know-how, initiative and time--things often in short supply.

Many emerging artists create their art outside of full-time day jobs. They say that curators of online galleries take the promotion, marketing and sales pressure off them so they can concentrate more on what’s most important: the art.

The online gallery format also takes a lot of pressure off the owners, directors and curators. Aside from a Web master, there is not much of a staff to worry about. And with no rent or building to maintain, gallery owners and directors say they have a lot more time to attend to other matters more important to them, like customer service.

Porter and Boyes say that their online clients come from all over the country and, increasingly, from around the world.

Both galleries will help install the work, if shipped locally, and find the right spot for it in your home or office. The owners say they understand that artwork purchases can be lifelong, and so they’re careful to give people exactly what they want.

Boyes said he was aware that some customers might think one thing of a painting when they see it online and then feel something totally different when they see it on a wall in their homes.

As a result, many online galleries promote local bricks-and-mortar openings or shows in other spaces for anyone who might want to get up close to a painting. For others, high-quality thumbnail photos allow for closer inspection online. And if it just doesn’t look right on the wall, Raandesk and HangArt both have return policies.

Martin said she never needed that safety net. After she bought her first piece, she went back for more. She acquired two more paintings, a pair of landscapes showing shadowy groups of wilting trees in browns and blacks.

Becoming an art collector has also helped Martin complete a life transition.

“I’ve outgrown the French Impressionist posters from college and the French bistro posters from Ikea,” she said. “I needed something in between that and a huge purchase. These were just what I was looking for.”

E-mail: kjl2115@columbia.edu