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According to the savvier members of the art world, the most elite art fairs are no longer held only in exotic locations all over the globe. In fact, the most interesting action is happening on your laptop. Recently, New York’s James Cohan Gallery launched an exclusive online art fair simply titled “VIP Art Fair”—a digitized art fair with all the amenities of iTunes. Similarly, online exhibitions hosted by Paddle8.com are like digital art galleries—simulated, like an extensive catalogue, but arguably more accessible. Such innovations continue to test the balance between the benefits of technology and the age-old tradition of seeing art in a museum. Art fairs online are not only redefining the way the art market works but also diversifying its participants by providing accessibility to novices who may not have access to galleries in New York or Los Angeles. By employing the democratic nature of the Internet, these new art fairs are also increasing the financial nature of art buying, making it even more clearly to an investment strategy.
The most popular online art fair is the aforementioned VIP—or “Viewing In Person”—Art Fair, whose next auction of contemporary art, “VIP 2.0,” will run from February 3rd-8th. VIP’s Art Fair, the acronym embraces the egalitarian ethos of the Internet. Co-founder Jane Cohan of the James Cohan Gallery explains, “Calling the fair ‘VIP Art Fair’ was a bit of wordplay. By shifting our accepted perception of what VIP stands for, we engage this acronym to describe an experience rather than status. The democratic nature of the Internet provides entrance to a world of information, images, people and places all from the privacy of our own environment.” VIP capitalizes on this wordplay to allow both expert collectors and less experienced buyers to purchase art from auctions in the comfort of their homes rather than at brick-and-mortar galleries.
Moreover, VIP has another advantage, as the Internet allows auctioneers to dispense more information about the art without space or time constraints. Viewers and dealers have access to a plethora of information about the 2,000 art works for sale on VIP and can make their purchases accordingly. “Experienced collectors want access to artwork from top galleries without having to leave their homes,” Cohan says. “They also want the same richness of information about the available artwork—perhaps even more information than they would get at a traditional art fair. The aspiring collector wants to engage with and inquire about art in a setting that is private and possibly less intimidating than a gallery.” The increased diversity of possible participants—from seasoned collector to rookie art enthusiast—goes hand in hand with the accessibility of the Internet, which broadens the art market both in audience and in physical setting.
Online art viewing is also expanding, with online art exhibitions that connect viewers and collectors with participating galleries. The most popular example of this is Paddle8, an online exhibition site backed by bigwig curators, including Phillips de Pury & Co. and Christie’s Auction House. The site exhibits 20 top works from a featured curator each month. If someone likes a particular work and wants to purchase it, Paddle8 connects that member with the participating galleries to negotiate prices. Upon purchase of an artwork, Paddle8 provides its members with shipping and handling.
Like Cohan’s VIP Art Fair, Paddle8 strives to broaden the art world’s audience. Co-founder Alexander Gilkes was inspired to launch Paddle8 with co-founder Aditya Julka by the frustrating conventions of the art market. “The art world can be very clubby and esoteric,” says Gilkes. Paddle8 seeks a broader audience of intrepid spirits—academic, curious, and fun. More people—not just elite art scholars—are able to study and enjoy art via Paddle8. Still, the fact that Paddle8 promotes artwork on the Internet does not mean that the artwork is any less expensive than it would be at a gallery downtown Manhattan. It’s no surprise that moneyed viewers arguably rely more on investment tactics than an understanding of art history when purchasing a piece.
The third major competitor in the online art market is Art.sy, the invention of Princeton computer science engineer Carter Cleveland. The “Art Genome Project” is what sets Art.sy apart from VIP and Paddle8. Under advisement from Pandora Radio CEO Joe Kennedy, Art.sy resembles Pandora in its personalized, in-depth search engine, which evaluates art historical movements, formal elements, and content, as tailored to each viewer’s taste. “What’s really wonderful about this model is it’s essentially a way for the commercial component of the art world to pay so that everyone else in the world can experience it for free,” Cleveland explains. More people are buying artwork on Art.sy than collectors who have bought artwork at traditional auction houses in the past.
Like its fellow sites, Art.sy is broadening the art world and transforming it from an intimidating coterie into an open community. The more artwork members search for, the better the results cater to each viewer. Before long, viewers create a personalized gallery similar to an iTunes library. Moneyed members of Art.sy can purchase selected works and instantly achieve the pedigree of a seasoned art collector, with a vast frame of art-historical references. Art.sy marries the Internet and the art world in an unprecedented way by synthesizing the best of technology and tradition, accessibility and unmatched personalization—VIP customer service for a new generation of art collectors.
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