Wednesday, January 26, 2011

We have seen the future and it is virtual

Until 30 January the VIP Art Fair - the VIP stands for Viewing In Private - will be doing business. Has this first online-only contemporary art fair been a success? There was a bit of a stumble at the first hurdle: the site crashed when huge numbers of people visited (or at least attempted to) on the first couple of days, but technical problems aside, the real proof is going to be in the selling. Still, nothing wrong with the line up of galleries which include leaders like Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth and White Cube. 

So what’s the experience like? Pretty primitive in this first outing. For a start it’s relatively tricky to get into the Fair and even once inside you have to do quite a bit of mousing around and click through three pages before you get to see any art. You might think an upside would be the chance to finally get to find out what all those big-ticket items really cost, but no. You can get a price at real world art fairs (if you have the nerve) but in this virtual world you are fobbed off with a ‘price range’ and those 'ranges' are as often as not a huge stretch. A range of $250,000 – $500,000 is fairly typical leaving you not much the wiser. Maybe it means the actual price is somewhere in the middle or perhaps that there is a special low price for highly esteemed collectors, a middle price for well-known collectors with cash, and a high price for mutts who amble in with deep pockets.

On the first couple of days dealers were available on chat and indeed we got to ‘chat' with someone at Gagosian who was very friendly. Unfortunately that function has since been removed because the demand was so high it was slowing down the site. That probably tells you something about what art fair visitors really want - personal contact and inside information. The site also offers a lounge, publishers' booths and videos although, with a few exceptions, most of this was the sort of stuff you can get online any old time. 

But on balance VIP did feel like the future. The future in much the same way early laptops and brick-sized mobiles phones did back in the day. Awkward and a bit cumbersome but, once you'd had a taste, impossible to live without.

Images: Top left, London gallery Herald St’s 'booth' at VIP. Bottom left, their presentation of Michael Dean’s concrete sculpture Untitled (analogue series), 2009 priced between £5,000-£10,000 and bottom right shown to scale with the help of a shadow-on-demand.