How technology is changing art collecting

From online auctions to blockchain: how technology is changing art collecting

It is often said that the best pieces of art are timeless; holding true despite ever-changing fashions and trends.

But while the qualities that appeal to collectors remain, the way that art is bought and sold, valued and protected is constantly evolving, particularly as technology develops.

Provenance and authentication

Art collectors will know the importance of provenance, the ownership history of a piece, which is a key factor in valuations.

Ideally, a work of art will come with details about all owners since the artist made the final brushstroke. This would be particularly helpful if there are concerns about forgeries, to help to verify its legitimacy and protect against fraud. But often provenance can be hard to verify. 

New technology can help here. By recording each transaction and change in ownership on a blockchain - the decentralized ledger technology that underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin - art provenance can be easily traced, ensuring its authenticity. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is also being used for art authentication and the detection of art forgeries; different techniques are used, including one that analyses thousands of brush strokes. Helping collectors to ensure that their pieces are authentic and worth the money they pay for them.

Online auctions

While blockchain and AI may feel removed from many people’s experiences of collecting, digitisation is having a widespread impact in other ways. One of them is the rise of online auctions.

Being able to bid online is incredibly convenient, explains Guy Vaissière, Director, Valuations & Fiduciary Services, Europe at Gurr Johns, one of NFU Mutual’s selected valuation partners. He says: “It doesn’t matter if the auction house is on the other side of the world. You can email them about a lot, request a condition report, speak to a specialist, and bid online.”

Guy points to popular platforms such as 1stDibs or The Saleroom. “These sorts of platforms make buying and selling a lot more accessible,” Guy says.

Data and online valuations

The wide availability of data is also transforming collecting. 

Guy says: “There’s lots of readily available data from auction houses and auction databases. Collectors can go online and look up what similar items have sold for. For example, we at Gurr Johns have developed a price database platform.”

Technology can also help collectors who are looking for work by a particular artist - particularly helpful if you want pieces by a more obscure creator. Guy says: “I collect drawings by George Dance, and I can use auction house websites, or a service like Art Metadata to receive alerts when one of his drawings is coming up for sale.”

Using technology in this way can help collectors expand their cherished collections, in a way that has never been possible before.

The value of your most priceless pieces

Technology often works best when combined with human expertise. Guy says: “An expert can tell you what makes one Monet worth £50m, and another £5m. What are the attributes that create a masterpiece or something lesser?”  

The art market boomed after the pandemic and has since slowed down. Guy says: “Good things will always sell, but the market is more discerning right now and so it’s really important to get good advice and avoid mediocre works.”

An up-to-date insurance valuation can ensure that you aren’t caught unawares by the latest moves in the art market, and avoid being ‘underinsured’ if something were to happen to your collection. 

At NFU Mutual we understand this well. That’s why as part of our Bespoke Home Insurance, we work with several specialist partners who can, for a fee, value your collections.