Big Sky gallery one of at least 100 purveyors

By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Retail giant Amazon is jumping into fine art sales, and a local Big Sky gallery is part of what could be a game changer for the industry – if it succeeds.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how this goes,” said Colin Mathews, who with his wife Paula moved Creighton Block Gallery to the Big Sky Town Center from Virginia City in 2010.

Creighton Block is one of more than 150 galleries and dealers tapped to be part of Amazon Art (amazon.com/art), which launched Aug. 6 and gives customers direct access to more than 40,000 works of fine art. The site has works from more than 4,500 artists, making it one of the largest online collections of original and limited edition artwork for purchase directly from galleries and dealers.

Amazon Art is working with galleries of varying sizes from across the U.S., the UK, the Netherlands and Canada. Others included in the venture are Paddle8 in New York, Holden Luntz in Miami, McLoughlin Gallery and Modernbook in San Francisco, and Catherine Person Gallery in Seattle.

“Having a spot in the lineup is like having a taxi medallion in New York City,” Mathews said. “Potentially, I could go recruit any artist who wants to be in their system.”

Creighton Block has three gallery spaces in the Big Sky Town Center – two in the Marketplace Building, and one in the RJS Tower – and it will have more than $1 million worth of Western art available on amazon.com, Mathews said.

Customers can also find unique works of art including photographs from Clifford Ross starting at $200, popular fine art like Andy Warhol’s “Sachiko” for $45,000, historic artwork from Claude Monet including, “L’Enfant a la tasse, portrait de Jean Monet” for $1.45 million, and pieces from iconic artists such as Norman Rockwell’s “Willie Gillis: Package from Home” for $4.85 million.

The new store provides images and detailed information about each piece, allowing customers to learn about the work of art, the artist, the provenance and exhibition history, and browse additional artworks from the artist or gallery. An advanced search tool has filters such as subject, style, color, size, price and gallery. Amazon will take a 5-15 percent commission based on an artwork’s sale price.

Mathews and other industry professionals think lower priced pieces on Amazon will sell successfully but aren’t sure about the high-ticket works.

“The gate-keepers of the art world have long dismissed online sales,” wrote Robert Frank in a July 2 article for The Daily Beast. “No one will pay millions for a painting they can’t see in person, they have long said… But [this] could accelerate a sweeping shift – already underway at the auction houses and some galleries – where the art market is shifting from exclusive galleries and auction rooms to the online screen.”

Already, Mathews says, there has been a substantial move in the Western art world from exclusive galleries to auctions. He pointed out the Jackson Hole, Coeur D’Alene and Scottsdale auctions – “three of the five major Western art actions” – are less than a decade old.

While the rise of these auctions has hurt the gallery business to a degree, Mathews believes it’s provided liquidity in the art market, making it easier for high-end galleries to close a sale. “[Clients] know if they get tired of a piece or change their home, the auctions are outlets to resell paintings, so it’s good for the art business overall.”

Second only to Wal-Mart in worldwide retail sales, according to Forbes, Amazon had $61 billion in online revenue for 2012. Founded as an online bookstore in 1995, Amazon is now a Fortune 500 company that also sells movies, music, wine, electronics, home and garden supplies, toys, apparel, jewelry, health and beauty items, tools, groceries and cars, among other things.

Mathews plans to conduct his shipping with Big Sky Business Service.

“It’s going to be exciting finding out whether people in Germany want to buy Western art,” he said. “The Germans are crazy about cowboys and the old American West.”