If technology trends over the past 10 years are even remotely indicative of what’s over the horizon, the following fictionalized account of a future art shopping expedition is much closer to becoming a reality than we might realize. Indeed, some of the smartphone and tablet applications described are already in various stages of development. As tangible assets make up an increasing portion of household wealth and digital technologies continue to quickly advance, we are no doubt on the verge of profound changes in the way art and other fine collectibles are procured, collected and managed. In a sense, the future of art collecting is now.

As you walk into your favorite art gallery, you notice that the interior has been renovated and is now more open and inviting. The bulky sales desks have been removed and more items fill the redesigned interior. You feel as though you were at a museum rather than a store. The sales clerks, once trapped behind the checkout desks, seem more like docents than sales associates; it is relaxing, inviting and beautiful.  

While admiring the contemporary art, you swipe your smartphone across the digital tag attached to each of the pieces you’re considering for the foyer of your resort condo.  With each swipe, your smartphone lights up with an item description, a story about the artist, a summary of its provenance, photos of subtle details, the suggested price and even title and property insurance options.  

You save a couple of the most interesting items to your “Favorites” folder and move on to explore more treasures. Convinced you’ve found the perfect canvas, you confirm the acquisition option, your account is seamlessly debited and the transaction information is sent to your personal property cloud—the online database where the information about all your acquisitions is secured, organized and actively managed. The doyenne of the gallery, after being alerted to your purchase by her tablet, helpfully arranges delivery. You gently tap her tablet with your smartphone and all your contact information is immediately transferred to her logistics and—with your permission—CRM apps.

Your phone chimes, signaling that the item’s transfer to your cloud is complete. You poke at your phone screen and open the app that keeps track of your art purchases. In an instant, colorful, high-resolution photos pop up on the screen of the painting you just bought, along with all the purchase details and documents that attest to its authenticity, provenance and appraised value. Because the app holds the details of your real estate portfolio, it asks where you would like the art to be located. You select the precise property, floor and room in which the newly acquired painting will hang.

Meanwhile, the details of your acquisition have been automatically sent to your insurance broker, who amends your policy with its retail replacement value. Your wealth manager is also notified and adds the painting’s value to your tangible wealth report. Because your advisor will receive automated updates on the item’s market value from your personal property cloud, the next time you meet, she’ll provide you with an up-to-date view of both your financial and your tangible wealth.

Later that weekend, while you are hosting guests at your home, your friend mentions an artwork similar to the piece you’ve just acquired. With your tablet, you launch  an app that enables you to vividly display your recent purchase—minus the purchase price and other private details—and you engage in a lively discussion with your guest about your mutual passion for the genre. You bring up the condo you’re decorating and, using the same app to access data in your cloud, you show your guest a floor plan of your condo that marks exactly where your artwork is located. With just a couple of swipes and pinches, your entire art collection is displayed.

All of this decorating, however, is a drain on your available cash, so you’re considering selling some of your holdings to fill the gap. Christie’s and Sotheby’s have recently completed successful auctions and, according to the tangible wealth dashboard on your table, the fair-market value of a few of your pieces has increased measurably from your purchase price. After opening up an inventory management app, you’re presented with several options to test the demand for your collectibles, and you select the option to invite other collectors to bid on your items in a private exchange. You fiddle with some settings and serious bidders are granted restricted access to the information about your collectibles. This ensures that prospective buyers are fully informed and assured of your art holdings’ value and authenticity.

Furthermore, the embedded persistent unique ID found on your pieces (and registered in a public central repository) acts like a fingerprint—ensuring authenticity and removing uncertainty from the potential exchange. After a few private communications between you and some of the bidders, you receive an attractive offer and agree to the sale.
Now, with your consent, several actions occur that finalize the exchange, including the automated opening of an electronic escrow, the creation of digital documents that attest to the transaction and an instant bid request for packing and shipping services. Finally, with electronic signatures executed via a thumbprint on your smartphone, the exchange is completed and money is placed in escrow, pending delivery of the artwork to the new owner.

Scott Walchek is the founder, CEO and chairman of Trōv, a developer of software that helps people manage their fine collectibles. He can be contacted at www.scottwalchek.com or on Twitter @ScottWalchek.