09th Feb 2011
The 2011 VIP Art Fair was the first major art fair to be held on the web. It will be remembered in the history of art as the first time that highly valued primary market Contemporary Art was openly sold via the Internet by internationally renowned art galleries.
Art Sales via the Internet
Of course, artists are selling art via their websites and community sites like Etsy and 20 x 200. Secondary dealers have used eBay for many years, and then other auction sites, like artnet.com, plus their own gallery web sites to successfully sell art.
Major primary galleries, including probably all that participated in the VIP Art Fair, have used the Internet to show art and attract collectors via their individual websites. Most galleries also send JPEGs via emails to prospective collectors; but this takes place in private, whereas the sales from the fair were generally reported in the press.
The VIP Art Fair also broke barriers of time and distance opening the visual information of viewing a major Contemporary Art Fair to anyone, in any country who had access to the Internet. The real and best success of this fair may be truly known ten or twenty years from now when young people who attended the fair, which was free, who would normally not be able to attend such a fair otherwise, become artists, collectors, curators, enthusiasts, etc., thanks to this strong encounter with the Contemporary Art world.
Viewing the VIP Art Fair’s booths and art, plus readily available information (sometimes better in relation to an artist than what the gallery normally includes on its website) was also a boon for current collectors, artists, curators, critics, educators and students, etc. Plus, again the fair was free and could be viewed by anyone with an internet connection, even while in the warm cozy comfort of home.
According to Jane Cohan, who along with her husband James is the founder of the VIP Art fair, “The galleries showed leadership and courage in joining VIP Art Fair to launch a new global paradigm for art conversation, exposure and commerce.”
VIP stands for Viewing in Private, a concept that grew out of the James Cohan Gallery ‘s “private viewing gallery”, where the gallery shows specific work to specific clients, streams video and even curates small online shows to clients who are sent a special access code.
While nothing is better that seeing an artwork up close and personal, the VIP fair allowed galleries to show different views of a work. This is especially helpful for sculptures and for 2 D works that include fine details like strokes or collaged items. In addition, the fair featured pan-gallery capability, Artist Pages with biographies, pictures and videos. This is more information than can easily be found about an artist and their work at a gallery show, and is certainly more conveniently perused from one’s own Internet connection than from printouts read sitting on a gallery’s bench.
Participation & Sales
Predominantly the fair was populated by booths of distinguished galleries, many of whom will also be showing at Art Basel 2001, such as: Ruth Benzacar Galería de Arte, Cheim & Read, Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, Xavier Hufkens, Luhring Augustine, Timothy Taylor, Marlborough, Pace, White Cube, and David Zwirner. The presence of such galleries drew collectors and future collectors who were directed to contact the galleries via phones manned for the occasion
Several media sources have reported on the special attendance garnered by the booths selling works by emerging artists. Savvy collectors are always looking to discover the next art stars before they make big, which can be as lucrative as having a super winning lottery ticket. I hope this aspect of the fair continues and becomes widely recognized as it will help lure more collectors, galleries and emerging artists who otherwise have to schlep over to satellite fairs away from major brick and mortar fairs in Basel, Miami, NYC, London, etc.
Top tier galleries such as: James Cohan Gallery sold a Beatriz Milhazes for more than $200,000, Sadie Coles HQ sold an Angus Fairhurst bronze sculpture for between $241,000 and $321,000, David Zwirner Gallery sold Chris Ofili’s “Mary Magdalene (Infinity)” for $375,000. Rudolf Stingel’s 2002 work, “Die Birne,” priced between $500,000 and $1 million by the London dealer Sadie Coles HQ, was the most expensive of the confirmed sales
This helps every artist who sells their work, both original and reproductive, or takes commissions over their websites or through art websites that features fine art. When a collector hesitates to buy art over the Internet rather than from a studio visit (usually not practical due to distance) or through a brick and mortar gallery, the strength of the online VIP sales mentioned above can be pointed out.
Despite early technical glitches, which did and can befall interactive sites like Facebook, Twitter and even Amazon in its beginning, the VIP Art Fair attendance was strong. It was common for dealers to see over a thousand hits per image. When art or an artist is well viewed it usually results in future sales, as there is a clear correlation between the amount of recognition (fame) an Contemporary artist enjoys and sales, including price. This is why some artists who are never well reviewed (if ever reviewed by major critics) make fortunes and are even included in ArtReview’s 100. Once again this is good for all the artists represented at the fair, plus artists who have websites and exposure as collecting online becomes accepted by collectors.
So, was the VIP Art Fair a success?
Ed Winkleman, who is the owner of the fair participant Winkleman Gallery, blogged “I took a straw poll among other dealers who participated this year, and the vast majority I spoke to agree with me that it’s definitely worth doing again next year….that it seems destined to become a strong supplemental part of our overall outreach efforts. No one expects it to replace real-world art fairs, but in January, when most of the Northern hemisphere is risking serious travel delays due to weather, it brought us a very nice influx of new business and potential for more.
Julia Joern, of the David Zwirner Gallery, which is also one of the founding galleries told me, “We believe in the platform and hope they work out the kinks for next year because we definitely want to continue to be a part of it.”
Jane Cohan said, “Despite some painful technical setbacks that impinged on our vision for the fair, we all have much to be proud of in having attracted 41,000 registrants from over 190 countries who collectively viewed over 7.65 million artworks over nine days. On these measures alone, our inaugural effort confirmed the value and potential of the VIP Art Fair. Reports from our galleries of sales and new contacts prove that the fair was a catalyst for collectors and curators to engage with galleries and therefore can be considered a success by the standards of a traditional fair. We look forward to working with our galleries to expand the platform for VIP Art Fair 2.0.”
Very few, if any, ground-breakers in the history of Modern and Contemporary art were received with immediate success. Wealthy collectors tend to be conservative, not early adopters who are more likely to be risk takers, entrepreneurs and artistically avant-garde. That the VIP Art fair enjoyed the level of sales it did, is surprising, something to cheer and a harbinger of what will eventually broaden and change the way that Contemporary Art, and fine art is collected. Everyone who participated and attended the inaugural VIP Art Fair helped create a new step in both art and web history.
Judy Rey Wasserman is an artist and the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory and also the branch known as UnGraven Image Art. Download a free copy click: Manifesto of Post Conceptual Art– A Painting’s Meaning is Inherent in its Stroke.