For the last several decades, the experts at RoGallery have been at the forefront of selling art online. They’ve seen the changing landscape of the digital art world from their 10,000-square-foot gallery in New York’s Long Island City — which itself has undergone a slew of changes since the 1990s. The firm handles all sides of the art business, from buying to selling, with clients including designers, hoteliers, and members of the public who are art-obsessed themselves. We spoke with RoGallery assistant director Jaime Villamarín about the democratization of art, their most unusual purchases, and how casual collectors can start buying too.
RoGallery has been “bringing the museum home” for over 35 years. What are some of the most surprising ways in which the art world has evolved in that time?
The most surprising (and seemingly obvious) thing that has happened in the art world has been the massive popularity of the internet. Before its advent, we primarily sold wholesale to dealers, framers, designers, and walk-in galleries, but the reach of the internet has brought our artworks directly into thousands of private collections. It took off in a way that none of us could have predicted, and as a result it changed the way our business has grown over the years and the types of clients we work with.
You’ve been involved in ecommerce for over 25 years, since you started selling art through your website in 1996. How do you feel about the evolution of selling online?
At the beginning of our journey we were just about the only art gallery selling works online. Now, every gallery must have an online presence, especially since the pandemic shuttered the doors of many street retailers. We are lucky enough to already have a website and strong following, so we were equipped to handle the shift to people shopping almost entirely from home. In the early days we would receive phone calls and emails from people wanting to know more about a piece before purchasing and there would be a lot of back and forth before consummating a deal. Now there is a comfort level for buyers purchasing online. It’s now commonplace for us to come to the gallery on Monday morning with dozens of online orders from the weekend.
Do you think ecommerce has democratized the art world a bit? How have things changed with more people dipping their toes into art online?
The most interesting type of buyer for us to work with is one who is just getting their collection started. In the past, I think that young collectors and first-time buyers felt excluded from the art-buying conversation. That wall has fallen away with digital access to galleries. Art is for everyone, and everyone should have access to beautiful pieces that are within their reach. We pride ourselves on having a collection that appeals not just to seasoned buyers, but also to those new clients looking to begin collecting. It’s exciting for us to interact with this new generation of collectors.
You’re known for serving lots of design trade clients. What kinds of things are designers looking for as opposed to end consumers?
Designers tend to search for artworks that grab your attention, whether that be through size or color. They are less concerned with the “brand name” artists like Picasso or Dali, which tend to draw end consumers more frequently. In the last year we have noticed designers favoring brightly colored abstracts and Pop Art prints, particularly from artists who have created a series of works that hang well together like Richard Anuszkiewicz or Hunt Slonem. Designers are also thinking about the bigger picture of a room (wallpaper, furniture, rugs, etc.) when seeking artwork, so it’s more about how it looks than who signed their name. While private buyers do not always go for the modern masters, we find that the name can be more of a selling point for those collectors.
What advice would you have for the casual art consumer, who’s a bit hesitant about the art world? How should they get started?
First-time buyers should start with something they love. Whether you are drawn to landscapes, abstracts, or still lifes, start by identifying the kind of work you like and go from there. Art is personal, it’s emotional, and it speaks to each one of us differently. Don’t worry about future resale value or if you are making a “good investment.” If you love the piece and you are going to enjoy looking at it every day, then it will be the best investment you can make.
You also have lots of hospitality clients. What kinds of things are they typically sourcing?
We find that our institutional buyers are mostly buying brightly colored abstracts, but we have supplied an entire hotel in Indonesia with just Picasso prints!
RoGallery selectively buys art from designers and from the public as well. Tell us a bit about that…what types of pieces do you typically take in? Any really unusual items over the years?
As long as we have been art dealers we have been buyers. Our director, Robert, actually finds art buying to be more exciting than selling! In the past we acquired many artworks directly from artists, printers, and publishers. To this day we purchase, list, and consign artworks from private sellers. People approach us with all kinds of things including light fixtures, toy cars… we even have a geode! While our focus is definitely on modern and contemporary artworks, it’s important that our collection is wide enough to include all kinds of buyers. Looking for commemorative banknotes? We’ve got you covered. Vintage duck decoys? Look no further! Since we sell exclusively online, we have the ability to show many more works than we could ever hope to exhibit in a walk-in gallery, and I think it also helps us meet lots of different kinds of collectors.
What are some of the best — and worst — art trends you’ve seen over your years in the industry?
The best thing that we’ve seen happen is the recent recognition of how important women and people of color are in the art world in terms of collectibility. Many of these artists are just now getting their proper due as major influences on 20th century art. Some names that come to my mind that our gallery has long championed include Anni Albers, Lee Lenore Krasner, Faith Ringgold, Jacob Lawrence, Al Loving, Leonor Fini, and Marisol Escobar. These museum-caliber artists are finding their way into private collections like never before.
What do you think is next in art, in terms of style, media, and the types of things clients are buying?
I see an uptick in interest in Art Deco artists. From our collection that would include Erte, Giancarlo Impigla, Erik Freyman, turn of the century Art Nouveau sculpture, and vintage French posters.
You’ve been in Long Island City for years — what do you love about the neighborhood? There’s obviously been a ton of development in LIC, especially over the last decade. Tell us a bit about that.
Long Island City was known as New York’s warehouse in the old days, and we basically kept our location incognito for the first 25 years or so. There has been such a huge boom in development in this area, with skyscrapers going up by the water and around major subway hubs, that people are flocking to western Queens in a way they never have before. More locals are finding the gallery online and want to come visit the space in person, which we love. The best part about this neighborhood is its diversity, especially when it comes to food! We have so many restaurants nearby — Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Tibetan, Italian — it’s hard not to feel spoiled by all the amazing options. There is also a really strong sense of community for the people who live in this area, especially since the start of the pandemic. We look out for each other here in Queens, and it’s been really fun to watch the neighborhood grow and evolve.
The last question is the most personal: What type of art do you have in your own home? What are your favorite pieces?
I definitely follow our gallery mantra of buy what you love. I mostly have large, colorful, geometric abstracts by lesser known artists, although my favorite piece is a Pop Art silkscreen “Pac-Man” by Ruper Jasen Smith (Warhol’s printer), who was also an accomplished artist himself.
All images courtesy of RoGallery