Entretien avec François-Xavier Trancart, co-fondateur d'Artsper

Interview with François-Xavier Trancart, co-founder of Artsper

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If you like contemporary art, you will probably have heard of Artsper, the French site for selling works of art online. For several years, this Parisian start-up has been revolutionizing the ways of buying art, long limited to physical purchases in galleries. Since 2013, Artpser has been shaking up the art world by making it accessible to everyone.

And as this week marks the start of the famous FIAC (International Contemporary Art Fair) in Paris, a major art gathering, we thought it would be interesting to chat with François-Xavier Trancart, co-founder of Arstper. The opportunity to discuss the success story of this platform, but also, and above all, to reflect on the issues linked to the digitalization of the art market.

What is the genesis of Artsper?

My partner and I didn't come from the art world at all, but we were what we might call lay art lovers. I often went to see major exhibitions, but not having taken an art history course, I sometimes felt uncomfortable in the galleries.

There was also a founding observation: many people around us, friends of our parents in particular, often did not have art in their homes even though they could afford it. Why did they never buy them even though they frequently went to exhibitions? We quickly realized that the classical art market simply wasn't for them.

There is already discrimination from a geographical point of view, linked to French centralization: most galleries are located in the Paris region. Without being in a big city, it is really more difficult to have access to the art market.

The idea of ​​Artsper was therefore not to cannibalize the work of galleries, but rather to work with them to reach a new audience. It was not easy to bring them to digital because the art world is initially quite reluctant to this more “commercial” operation. But little by little, he comes to change and move away from his conservatism. It is now common to see the prices of works displayed at fairs, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

In 2012, 2013, we were looking for sites where to buy art online, and realized that there were very few. And as we were convinced of the existence of a certain psychological or social barrier to buying art, we launched Artsper.

How can we get around the sensitive relationship with the work, which is particularly strong with art, particularly in painting?

It was a real starting question. I myself might have been a little hesitant about buying online. But in reality, we quickly realized that it really wasn't a problem. Most people buy either because they already know the artist beforehand, or because they have a crush. It is very rare that they are disappointed once the work is in front of them.

Moreover, we have noted that for almost half of the people who make a first purchase on Artpser, it is actually their first art purchase. They sometimes go to galleries, and come back quietly to buy on Artsper, from their sofa. There is a pressure factor that is removed in online shopping.

We have of course developed a very effective returns policy, buyers have 14 days to return the works to us in the event of dissatisfaction. But in reality, after falling in love online, it is rare for a customer to be disappointed when they receive it, with the “wow” effect of the physical. Besides, it's the same when I discover an artist on Instagram, it's rare that I'm surprised when I see the works in real life.

Very few returns, therefore, which is quite rare in online sales.

We ultimately reach a fairly well-off audience. To be honest, initially, we capped the works at 5,000 euros. We really thought that people would no longer buy expensive things online... One of the first works we sold to someone other than our parents was a painting for 4900 euros! In reality, many people don't ask questions and buy like you and I could splurge on a pair of shoes for 150 euros... It's hard, but it's true! And it is on these people that we have the least problems with payment failures. Many people also go through Artsper for the insurance we offer. We cannot say that art dealers are the greatest businessmen sometimes. I remember an order, where the merchant had packaged a work for 10,000 euros in a box sealed with tape. With Artsper, everything is easy, we have a ton of insurance, certificates.

Even some collectors now use us because they know they will be delivered on time. There is a reassuring side.

Can we negotiate on your site, like in an art gallery?

Yes, but ultimately these are a type of buyer who is not particularly looking to save money. Our segment is the sale of works between 1000 and 20,000 euros. On the other hand, slightly “luxury” touches, such as the organization of private exhibitions or the addition of the artist's book to the package, are greatly appreciated. We are hitting a target quite close to that of Farfetch or Vestiaire Collective, where customers can spend astronomical sums at once. It's quite fascinating.

It's a real question to understand how to sell these types of goods online. Digital calls many ways of operating into question, particularly in the worlds of art and fashion.

Yes, the world of luxury is always a little ahead of the world of art. Vestiaire or Farfetch asked themselves the question of how to sell a Chanel bag without in-store expertise, before we asked ourselves the same question for online art. There is also a fundamental question in the broader sense. Whether they are fashion weeks or contemporary art fairs. Digital can make it possible to replace successive fairs to a certain extent. There are many art fairs today, Art Basel, Miami, FIAC, Asian fairs... It's a succession of fairs during which the same artists are presented by the same galleries. Ecologically it is a disaster. I'm not saying that I would like to replace everything with digital, I also love fairs and the physical is irreplaceable, especially for many galleries or spaces which wait for these events to rent their spaces. But the big war machines that present the same galleries every month are a kind of “fast-art”, for which digital can offer an alternative.

The covid crisis has also changed things. Art galleries still operated on a fairly old model, but during covid, online sales allowed many of them to get by. There were no more fairs, no more exhibitions, and most galleries did not have an e-shop module…

And what do you wear to go – anyway – to a contemporary art fair?

When you arrive at fairs people are always in suits. I prefer a denim shirt , or a velvet shirt open over a t-shirt in winter. Always a shirt in any case, I don't really like the idea of ​​being dressed to the nines. We remain a start-up and what's more, I don't want to take myself seriously. It's rare that I wear a classic shirt like today, but tonight, I have an event... "costume" obligatory, so no choice!