Instagram: New auction house for art lovers? East Hampton’s New Artist Colony

Anyone in the art market who was not already paying attention to the social media platform Instagram had to sit up and take notice in late April after the actor Pierce Brosnan visited the showroom of London’s Phillips auction house in London. Mr Brosnan and snapped a selfie in front of a work he admired: the “Lockheed Lounge”-a space-age aluminum chaise longue by the industrial designer Marc Newson. Then, adding he added the words “let the bidding commence,” and posted it to the 164,000 followers of his Instagram feed.

And commence it did. Later that week, Phillips broke the world auction record for a design object, selling “Lockheed Lounge” for £2.4 million, or about $3.7 million. “It’s hard to make a direct correlation between Pierce Instagramming us and the world record, but certainly it made the lounger more desirable,” Megan Newcome, director of digital strategy for Phillips and based in New York, said. “It was a very exciting sale; we had phone bidders, people bidding online, and there was a lot of excitement around that piece in the auction room. Thanks, Pierce, for the shout out.”

It was not the first time the art market had been influenced by images on Instagram. In the past few years, Instagram it has emerged as the social media platform of choice for many contemporary artists, galleries, auction houses and art collectors, who use it not only it to promote art that they are selling and but also to offer a behind-the-scenes look in art studios, auction houses and art fairs.

How much that actually translates into sales like the “Lockheed Lounge,” however, is still up for debate. Instagram, the which started in 2010, is an online mobile app that allows users to share square, Polaroid-style images and 15-second videos, with has a network of more than 300 million users. Users build up their own social network of followers, and can follow other users, or just “like” images by users they do not follow.

Most important for the art world, users are introduced to artists they might like through a “discover” function. Elizabeth Bourgeois, a company spokeswoman, said that globally, users share about 70 million photos each day via the app.

Simon de Pury, an international auctioneer who has 1,31,000 followers on his Instagram feed, @simondepury, said, in a telephone interview: “So many people are either artists, collectors, or gallery owners or photographers who are using it very actively, soIt allows you to preview exhibitions happening everywhere in the world, and to see the works the minute the exhibitions open, rather than waiting to read about it in a review.” That’s what makes it exciting. “The world’s biggest auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, also use their official Instagram feeds (with 96,700 and 120,000 followers, respectively) to post preview images of select items from coming sales.

The buzz has caught celebrities too with Celebrity collectors and artists are in on the action, too. The pop star couple Jay-Z and Beyonce instagramming their way through Art Basel in Miami Beach a few years ago, posting selfies in front of art they bought or were thinking of buying.

Instagram adopters like the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (with 127,000 followers), the American artist and toy designer Gary Baseman (84,700) and the French “photograffeur” JR (627,000) all keep fans up to date with regularly shared images of new work.

Posting or discovering art is one thing, but the central question circulating around the art world is how many actual art sales are generated by the app. Instagram has no functionality that could make it useful as a direct sales platform, and has no plans to add one, Bourgeois said. But quite often, art aficionados are using the app to preview works of art before they buy.

“When you see something on Instagram that’s hanging in a gallery somewhere and you want to acquire it, you can instantly call up the gallery,” Mr de Pury said, adding that he had made many purchases this way. “I’m sure that a number of transactions are taking place as a result of works being shown on Instagram. I’m sure it’s quite common by now.”

Just how common it is, however, and who is using the platform in this way is matter of much art world fascination. That is perhaps why, this year, art news websites like and were abuzz when it was reported that the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, an avid art collector, had bought a painting called “Nachlass” for $15,000 by Jean-Pierre Roy, an


In 1975, Elaine de Kooning bought a modest house on Alewive Brook Road in East Hampton, New York. The town had long served as an artist colony; Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner produced some of their best-known works there and it was a productive retreat for artists including Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and Willem de Kooning, Elaine’s husband. The house is a classic example of mid-century architecture—polygonal, glass-window plated, retro-futuristic—set in a woodsy area. The nearby town boasts both quaint, peeling little general stores and a Lilly Pulitzer outpost. “There’s nothing that compares to the light here, because there’s water on both sides,” said Chris Byrne, owner and cofounder of the Dallas Art Fair, who bought the Elaine de Kooning house in 2010. “I think that’s why the postwar artists came out here—the migration mirrored the big move from cities to suburbs.”

Byrne liberally gives the house over to artists as a more or less permanent residency with a rotating cast. Instead of offering a stipend, he offers a large studio with its own entrance, two hours from New York City, and the auspicious memory of Elaine de Kooning, who died in 1989 at the age of 70. After her death, the house passed to the sculptor John Chamberlain, and then to the painter Richmond Burton. Byrne bought it for fear that someone else would buy it and “rip everything out to install a pool.” During my day-long visit, Byrne reminded me at least a few times that nothing has been altered since he bought the house, once saying, “It would be sacrilegious to change anything.”“I didn’t really have a sense of what to do when I first got [the house],” he said. “I ran into my smart friend José Lerma and he said he was getting ready for his first museum show. His space is in Williamsburg and he was having a hard time because he wanted to do large-scale paintings and his studio was so small. I was like, ‘Oh, I have this studio, why don’t you use it?’ He was out here for nine months, on and off. He was kind of a guinea pig for this.”Since then, Lizzi Bougatsos, Joe Bradley, Chris Duncan, Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, Kim “Mudman” Jones, Laura and Rachel Lancaster, Sadie Laska, Liz Markus, Scott and Tyson Reeder, and Michael Williams have added to what has become a formidable alumni list. Byrne commissioned the Hamptons-based photographer Walter Weissman, who once took a photo of Elaine herself, to take a picture of each artist in residence, which Byrne laid out on a table for me like a horizontal hall of fame.Byrne travels between Dallas, New York City, and the Hamptons, but his girlfriend, Australian-born artist Amy Pilkington, lives in the Elaine de Kooning house year-round. It can get crowded. Byrne said when Freeman and Lowe were staying at the house, there were “14 people in every room.”Byrne excused himself to go to the bathroom (“He’s going to go smoke a cigar,” Pilkington whispered) and I asked her what it was like to live with a changing group of roommates.

José Lerma was the first artist in residence at the Elaine de Kooning house, since Chris Byrne bought the property.WALTER WEISSMAN/COURTESY CHRIS BYRNE

[Laura and Rachel Lancaster’s] gallerist actually asked me, ‘Are they normal?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, they’re normal!’ ” Pilkington laughed, lighting a cigarette. We were sitting outside on the curb of the gravel driveway. “It was snowing the whole time they were here, back in February and March, and we would always have tea time in the afternoon and [I would] make them a martini at six in the evening, when I could tell they needed a break. It was nice, and very familial. I’d come up and have my robe on and I’d be making coffee and my hair would be insane and I didn’t care. But some of the other artists have not been—well, they’re more in their own world, which is totally fine. I mean, they’re here to make art, not to talk to me.”

The living room is fairly bare, with only a few works of art, a coffee-table book (on Willem de Kooning), a postmodern edition of Camus’s The Stranger (retold in a cryptic series of dots), and a guest book near the front door, next to a small blank chalkboard and a glass cup of chalk. The kitchen, which features a shiny, black cast-iron stove (from Elaine’s time), is the most densely populated area, stocked with wine, cheese, nuts, fruit—nothing very substantial. A rather severe-looking self-portrait of Elaine hangs on a wall nearby. “Her eyes follow you,” Byrne warned me. One of Chris Duncan’s sun-bleached black sheets—the most recent fruit of this residency—hangs in the foyer. Due to the house’s low-ceilinged sparseness, a normal walk through the interior gives one the feeling of zooming forward.Lisa de Kooning, Willem’s daughter by the illustrator Joan Ward, once referred to a cupboard her father built in the ceiling of her East Hampton childhood home as “the door that leads to nowhere.” That was a different house, but the same sort of subtle M. C. Escher quality is present in Elaine de Kooning’s home—the result of many different owners and their respective imprints. “I know the house now,” Byrne remarked, “but even after I bought it, I would think ‘Where am I again?’ ”The architecture that made perfect sense as Byrne led me from one room to the other became difficult to visualize as a conventional whole later on, in a way not unlike Elaine de Kooning’s paintings, where specific features are defined by expression. Pilkington recalled a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., where video interviews of Elaine were on display: “She was like, ‘I was always happy with that line or that form,’ talking about a jacket and a shirt. She would always fall in love with parts of it. She would look at her old drawings and say, ‘There’s enough information here that I can make a painting from it.’ ”The studio, a large, light, slanting room with a concrete floor, flows seamlessly into the main house but has its own separate entrance. Toward the end of the room the floor drops off to reveal a basement area below, where Elaine’s assistants could transfer the art to and from storage. Nearby, a staircase leads to the artist’s bedroom upstairs, a simple, Amish-looking room with a bathroom equipped with a Jacuzzi and a nice big window. “It’s much lower-key, right?” Byrne said. “When people think of East Hampton, they think of the Kardashians or something. But if you go to the Pollock/Krasner house, for example, it’s super modest as well—I think their whole generation was kind of like that.”ALL PHOTOS: KATHERINE MCMAHON

———————–emerging artist, over the phone, after supposedly seeing it on Instagram.