Kenneth Schlenker
Welcome to ArtList
Published in
6 min readApr 1, 2015


🎉 Happy 250th birthday!

Christie’s and Sotheby’s are 250 years old companies that control in duopoly roughly 2/3 of the global secondary art market. They’ve been a duopoly for so long that they’re missing the revolution that will make them irrelevant.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s are the major players in the secondary art market globally. When you are buying an artwork from another collector, second-hand, you’re buying on the secondary art market, as opposed to the primary market (buying work first hand from the artist or his gallery).


Here’s what the world looks like in the secondary art market duopoly:

(a) commissions are 20-50% — paid by the buyer and/or seller. The commission structure is opaque, meaning the buyer and seller rarely know who they are really paying.

(b) no fluidity — the fixed auction schedule means a seller only has a couple of good occasions per year to sell, as for private sales, matching between demand and offer is archaic. You’re relying on brokers who are often fighting internally for each other’s clients.

(c) complexity — valuation, commission negotiation, transportation, photography, invoicing, insurance often require additional custom work. It’s standard to wait several months between the time you decide to sell and when it’s done.

(d) unfair — artists do not benefit when an artwork is resold at auction. Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been consistently fighting an artist resale tax and failed to suggest a strong alternative to it that would benefit the artistic community at large.

The new world order

There’s a revolution happening — technology has made it faster and easier than ever to buy and sell fine art. It also makes the duopoly irrelevant.

“100,000s of digital images emailed to collectors to reserve or even buy works before the official opening.”

The NYT reporting on Art Basel. It could also be said for all gallery exhibitions happening everywhere across the world today..

A rapidly increasing proportion of fine art sales are done by email. The buyer sees the image first on a JPEG (digital image), and in many cases, they will view the artwork in person to confirm a purchase. Everything else — negotiation, payment and shipping is arranged over email.

Galleries now make the majority of their sales by sending “Previews” by email, and take reserves before shows open. On the secondary market, email-lead “Private Sales” are quickly taking over — they add up to 20% of Christies/Sotheby’s overall revenue in 2014, and expected to grow to 30% by 2015/16.

Outside of dealers and auction houses, Instagram is quickly emerging as place where collectors connect directly.

If it’s now easier to make deals happen by email — why do we need Auction Houses and their 20–50% fees?

The obvious answer is access — Christie’s and Sotheby’s employ hundreds of sales people globally who’s job is connect the dots, between what someone is looking to buy and what someone else wants to sell.

Is that enough to justify a duopoly and their poor business practices in the new world order?

In other words — if I am a collector. Do I really want to deal with an auction house? Or I am doing it because there’s no alternative?

It’s easy to throw around the f**** word, but sometimes you just have to.

What next?

Today sent 100 custom made t-shirts to people who we think will like to wear it (for different reasons) including Frank Stella, Richard Prince, Marina Picasso, Roberta Smith, Steven Murphy, Wayde Guyton, Chuck Close, Lawrence Weiner, David Rockefeller, Jerrold Nadler, Sam Francis, Adam Lindemann, Simon de Pury, David Zwirner, Marina Abramovic, Sam Falls, Josh Baer and Thomas P. Campbell.

Most of them have received it, so you may start noticing people wearing it.

Well beyond what we are doing with ArtList, there is a movement of people fighting the domination of the Christie’s-Sotheby’s duopoly — this t-shirt can be their outfit.

It’s not branded with the ArtList logo or anything, because we don’t want people to have to advertise for us.

Update 11/2022. Want a t-shirt? you can now buy your t-shirt here: (limited availability ☺).


We have many talented friends who work or used to work for Sotheby’s and Christie’s — they are extremely knowledgeable, hard working and doing their best. Some of them love our t-shirt. We know first and foremost they care about art, and they care about collectors.

Our T-shirt is not gratuitous, it contains a message.

At ArtList, we think collectors and artists deserve to be treated better.

After all, without artists, there’s no art. Without collectors to support them, there’s no artist.

We think the art market can and should and can be fast, secure and fair for both collectors and artists.

That’s why we created ArtList - the world’s premiere marketplace for private art sales.

We work with thousands of collectors across the world buying and selling some of the world’s most sought after contemporary and modern art (usually worth between $1k-$1m) securely and confidentially. Our mission is to make the global art market fast, secure and fair.

Here’s how it works:


Here’s what we’re doing differently

(a) transparent commission: 10%, flat. This is buyer’s premium. Our seller fee is 0%. If you buy an artwork for $110,000 on ArtList, you know that $100,000 goes to the seller, $5,000 goes to ArtList, $5,000 goes to the artist.

(b) peer to peer: you’re free to list an artwork for sale when you want, and deal with directly with buyers on your own terms. You’re also free to take the artwork down from ArtList when you want. We do not ask for any exclusivity.

(c) secure: as an ArtList user ( buyer or seller), your identity is always protected. We never give it to anyone. If you sell an artwork privately, you get to decide who you show the image to based on a profile we have created and validated for each user. So you always know the kind of person you are dealing with (Certified Collector or Dealer)

(d) fair: We use a portion of our commission to finance artist exhibitions. You can read about our values on our website.

We hope we can show the world that there’s a different way of doing business in the secondary art market, one that treats collectors and artists better.

Head on to to discover artworks to buy, sign up to our newsletter or send us an artwork you would like to sell.

So sorry Christie’s and Sotheby’s, we hope you don’t mind ♥♥♥.



Kenneth Schlenker
Welcome to ArtList

Entrepreneur, formerly @Bird, founder @stellarbaseinc, @artformco and chief host @gertrwde