vip art fair fails – or not?

5 February 2011 § Leave a comment

Originally conceived three years ago by New York dealer James Cohan the ‘world’s first online only art fair’ has just closed. Billed as the first ‘to mobilize the collective force of the world’s leading contemporary art galleries with the unlimited reach of the Internet’ its inaugural fair took place exclusively online from January 22-30, 2011.

With further admirable modesty the show was promoted as ‘an unprecedented event’ featuring ‘critically acclaimed artists’ and ‘internationally renowned dealers.’  The ‘revolutionary design’ was promoted as a way to ‘view artwork online as never before.’ ‘Innovative technology’ promised to allow ‘visitors to zoom in to examine details of a painting’s surface, get multiple views of a three-dimensional work, and watch videos of a multimedia piece.’ 

In view of this expansive rhetoric there was only one thing that could possibly happen – and we all knew that it would didn’t we? It crashed. Hoorah! Not completely, but there were a plethora of problems with access speed and error messages, vip passholders couldn’t access dealer’s ‘private rooms’ whilst many galleries had their ‘online chat’ facility, which allowed interaction with clients shut down.

The organisers have said that anyone who paid $100 to enter for the first two days has been refunded and pass holders have been emailed: “If you have experienced delays error messages or slow processing speed while visiting the VIP Art Fair in the first two days, please accept our sincere apologies.”

A number of galleries have complained and said that they would not return although the organisers (of course) claim that it was a great success reporting some good sales: Sadie Coles HQ sold Rudolf Stingel’s painting Die Birne (2002) for a high six-figure price, while David Zwirner sold Chris Ofili’s sculpture Mary Magdalene (Infinity) (2006) in the mid six figures. Alexander and Bonin sold Mona Hatoum’s unsettling 3D grid sculpture Bourj (2010) in the low six figures, while James Cohan sold Yinka Shonibare’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (2008) for something between £25,000 and £50,000. Francis Bacon’s Man at Washbasin meanwhile went unsold to the chagrin of the Marlborough Gallery.

Instinctively many dealers and observers will feel that art should be something sold face to face and there is undoubtedly a good deal of schadenfreude washing around at the relative failure of this first online fair – I personally love the mental image of potentially pyjama-clad sales staff (they needed to man their lines 24 hours) faced with crashing systems in the small hours of the morning. Nevertheless the appeal for dealers in accessing a world-wide range of clients and expanding their databases whilst remaining at ‘home’ must have great appeal and the fair will no doubt iron out the glitches and, sadly, continue successfully in the future.

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