Mobile has revolutionized the way artists and buyers connect and communicate, and the COVID-19 crisis has put the process into overdrive. With in-person gatherings like gallery openings on hold, some of the most renowned events and brokers are looking to mobile and social media to explore, experiment and evolve.

The combination of art and mobile is irresistible. Visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest allow once obscure or niche artists to take their work to the masses. High-powered art dealer David Zwirner, turned to Instagram as far back as 2017 to sell limited editions from artists. But the global pandemic has sent the partnership into overdrive as events that were once held in-person — like exhibitions and auctions — look for online alternatives to keep the business moving.

Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams have all had to cancel auctions and sales. Art Basel — a prestigious global art event — was also canceled, but the web came to the rescue. Art Basel went virtual, with over 4,000 works of art in Online Viewing Rooms (OVR), presented by 282 of the world's leading galleries in June.

While the shift to OVRs isn’t entirely new — Zwirner told Mint that he started online viewing four years ago and has held over 70 virtual events — the shift has accelerated out of necessity. In 2020 it’s not just about replacing the big events; it’s about creating new opportunities for artists to make a living between shows and bring fans closer to the artists.

And like so many other pandemic-related cultural shifts, the mobile meets art movement is here to stay. Zwirner couldn’t agree more. “This innovation has been extremely successful and we plan to use it in a post-COVID scenario as well,” he says.


Galleries are increasingly acting like e-commerce platforms. The Hong Kong edition of Art Basel, boasted almost $1 billion worth of art on the first day of the digital preview. With that success in mind, a second edition for the Swiss installment took place in June, featuring work from galleries including Jhaveri Contemporary, Chemould Prescott Road and Experimenter from India. One of the highlights was David Zwirner’s gallery, Basel Online, a 15-room, online-only exhibition available simultaneously on the gallery’s website and the fair’s viewing room.

These exhibits featured significant works by artists including Josef Albers, a German-born artist known for forming the basis of modern art education in the 20th Century, Jeff Koons, minimalist Donald Judd and photographer Wolfgang Tillmams. Works from favorites including Yayoi Kusama, Carol Bove, and Oscar Murillo were also on display. The response to the 15 rooms was overwhelmingly positive, with Koons’ “Balloon Venus Lespugue (Red)” selling for $8 million and breaking the gallery’s online sales record.

But it’s not all about the big events. Forward-thinkers like Zwirner are fully embracing the digital trend and making it an integral part of their business with two new digital offerings.

The first is Studio, which showcases a rotating presentation of a few new works by the gallery’s artists and is accessible to anyone willing to sign-in by giving their email address.

His other venture, Exceptional Works, will focus on the secondary market, featuring one major work at a time. It all kicked off with Josef Albers “Homage to the Square” painting from 1959, consigned from the collection of Theodore and Barbara Dreier, founders of the Black Mountain College, where Albers taught. This invitation-only event is only open to existing gallery clients.

Studio takes art lovers beyond the e-commerce experience and Into the artist’s studio through photos and videos. When Studio featured American sculpturist Jeff Koons, viewers got a chance to meet the artist, get behind-the-scenes details, and learn about the genesis of a particular work. This demonstrates brilliantly that mobile has the power to not only democratize access to the arts but to bring it to life in new ways for art lovers.


Instagram has proven to be the most powerful of the social media platforms when it comes to driving the fine arts’ transition to digital. Institutions like The Museum of Modern Art and Sotheby’s are two of the biggest art players using Instagram to reach loyal fans and new audiences. The ubiquitousness of the platform however, means that it's also a great tool for individual artists. Ai Weiwei, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst have between 300,000 and 500,000 followers each. Brett Gorvy, half of the Lévy Gorvy duo dedicated to innovation in postwar and modern art, also maximizes impact on Instagram to promote blue-chip works to his 100,000+ following.

But as social media influencers and entrepreneurs across the globe know, Instagram allows even establishing artists to not only reach a huge audience but to act as entrepreneurial “art dealers” themselves. Artists can sell their work and give fans a glimpse into their daily lives to cultivate a fanbase. This process largely bypasses the traditional intermediaries of the fine art world by empowering artists to go directly to patrons who support their work.

As with any social media platform, the real key to success is to drive connection. According to Julia Powell, a painter based in Massachusetts. In an interview with Artsy, an online platform for discovering, buying and selling fine art, she recommends artists use social media and networks to “post high-quality content and to interact with as many followers as possible.” Juliette Hayt, an artist based in New York, agrees. She adds that “well-taken photographs” that show an artist standing in front of their work perform particularly well. But that’s a matter of opinion, it seems.

Australian artist Maggi McDonald, known for her abstract expressionist paintings, believes that users love to see content that shows the intricacies of the artist's process. As she puts it: “Messy studio pictures'' that shed light on how artists create resonate with audiences. While she does use mobile to connect with her audiences, she considers it an investment in her craft and her career. “I’m not an ‘Instagram Artist’,” she said. “I’m an artist [who] uses all the resources I can to get my name out there.”

Transparency and accessibility are proving to work for buyers and sellers. It’s what Julia Dippelhoffer, Co-Founder at The Journal Gallery, told artnet is a “more democratic approach.” This was also reflected in the decision made by Art Basel’s leadership to challenge the norm and display prices in their OVRs.

Mobile, apps, and virtual spaces are empowering artists to share and showcase their work in a multitude of ways. The enjoyment of and access to their work is more open to the world than ever before. And COVID has accelerated this, paving the way for a world of new opportunities to connect audiences and engage them in e-commerce.