In a world where online shopping has become so prevalent, would you ever buy a piece of art online? According to Artnet CEO Jacob Pabst, why not? The company his family founded has changed how people view and even purchase art, and Pabst still feels like they’re just getting started.
We chatted with Pabst about how far the company has come in the past 30 years, what the next 30 years might hold for Artnet, and getting ready for this year’s Art Basel fair.
Artnet revolutionized the world of art. Tell us about the services that the company provides to the industry?
JACOB PABST: Artnet’s goal has always been to bring transparency and efficiency to the art market. Our first product, launched in 1989, was the Artnet Price Database, which revolutionized the industry by giving people centralized access to artwork price information for the first time. Transparency is necessary for any market to grow, and the art market benefitted from this tremendously. When Artnet was founded in 1989, total worldwide auction sales were just $3.3 billion. Last year, they were $19.4 billion—an increase of nearly 500 percent. The total size of the art market, including gallery and online sales, is estimated to be worth more than $60 billion today.
Over the past three decades, Artnet has launched a full suite of products to continuously improve the way art is bought, sold, and shared today. Artnet News, for example, is the leading daily outlet for news about the art world, while Artnet Auctions is the original online marketplace for art where collectors can buy and sell 24/7. And we have Artnet Galleries, where you can browse tens of thousands of works of art from galleries all over the world.
Your father founded Artnet, and you have been CEO since 2012. How have you seen it evolve during your tenure?
JP: 30 years ago, my father, Hans Neuendorf, could already see how the market should evolve and what it needed to really grow. The only problem is he underestimated the time it would take. He always thought change was right around the corner, but it has taken a long time for both technology and people to catch up with his vision. In just the last couple of years, we have finally seen the art market truly move online, and the success of our two youngest products, Artnet News and Artnet Auctions, embodies that change. It’s an exciting time for everyone in the company to be part of this seismic shift in the industry.
This year, Artnet is celebrating its 30th anniversary. How do you see the company continuing to grow for the next 30 years?
JP: It’s funny, but it still feels like we are at the beginning of something. Like I said, the market was very slow to embrace the advantages of the internet. Our industry is still in transition and only now starting to fully develop online—our vision is far from fulfilled and all our products offer huge growth potential, particularly in online transactions. This is where our business can once more completely transform the market. Art sales will move online more and more, as the benefits are simply too good to ignore. Why wait seven months and pay around 40% fees with a traditional auction house if you can do the same thing in just three weeks at half the cost with Artnet Auctions?
As the industry gets ready to descend upon Miami for Art Basel, what are you looking forward to seeing at this year’s fair?
JP: I'm looking forward to the inaugural edition of Art Basel Meridians, the fair's new section for monumental works, new media, and performance. With 33 projects by major artists from the Americas and over 60,000 square feet of exhibition space to play with inside the Miami Beach Convention Center's grand ballroom, I think it will shake up the fair in a really exciting way.
I'm also very interested to see how adventurous dealers are with their booths in Art Basel's main section. Earlier this month, our News team came away from Frieze London feeling that the majority of exhibitors played it relatively safe. Brexit uncertainty no doubt caused some of that, but I think Art Basel Miami Beach will give us a better sense of how much was influenced by larger factors outside of the UK, such as the state of the world economy in general.
Aside from being an art connoisseur, you’re also a sneakerhead. Tell us about your collection. Do you have a favorite pair?
JP: I like them all! In general I prefer Nike, but a couple of weeks ago I got the new Yeezy Boost 700 in blue which are probably my current favorites. It feels like I have been wearing them for two weeks straight, and I just bought myself another pair in black.
What are your favorite places to view art in NYC?
JP: I live in Chelsea right by all the galleries, so I naturally go there a lot. Other than that I would say the Met is one of my favorites—but it really comes down to the individual exhibitions, which determine where I end up going.
Besides art, what else do you enjoy doing in NYC? Any favorite hangouts?
JP: Pier 40. I play soccer there and I like the entire area by the Hudson River for running. I also really enjoy exploring different neighborhoods in NY and potentially finding new hangouts together with my girlfriend.
Photography by: Courtesy of Artnet