VIP 2.0: Online art marketing channel in the making?

INTERNATIONAL ART FAIRS CONTEMPORARY ART GALLERIES INTERNET 

VIP Art Fair 2.0 attracted 135 galleries, 160,000 visits and a staggering 9,050,000 artwork views during its six-day run. A number of galleries failed to sell works, but participants applauded the tweaks to the website interface and the fair’s publicity potential.

Banner for VIP Art Fair, now in its second year.

Immediate sales weak

Following the close of the inaugural 2011 edition the VIP Art Fair, the chief complaint from fair participants was the failure of the website to support the number of visitors the event attracted. In 2012, a reportedly low sales rate meant disappointment for the galleries that paid for “booth” space.

“From our perspective, unfortunately, it was a waste of time,” eminent dealer David Zwirner told Gallerist NY, “[Our] expectations were quite low going into this year’s fair, and frankly, even those expectations were not met. The site worked fine this year, but we didn’t sense any real interest from collectors, nor did we have any real exchanges of any consequence, which makes me doubtful of this platform moving ahead.”

Ignacio Liprandi, owner of Ignacio Liprandi Contemporary Art in Buenos Aires, echoed Zwirner’s sentiment in an article published by ARTINFO,

The fair has been very disappointing for us, not only because we sold very few pieces, but also because not too many collectors contacted us. I don’t think it was our booth, because every colleague I talked to had the same results.

This lack of immediate results may account for the negativity coming from some of the fair’s participants. As Jay Grimm of the Winkleman Gallery told Gallerist NY,

Before a fair starts, any art dealer will say that it’s all for advertising, but when the fair is over, if they haven’t sold anything, they’re pretty crabby. The effort is so high that to make no sales, it’s really dispiriting.

While some gallerists baulked at the high cost of the booth for what might only amount to brand promotion, Borkur Arnarson, owner of i8 Gallerywas more generous in his evaluation. “If you realise that taking part in this fair is the same cost as a big ad in Artforum, it makes sense, but if you are expecting sales, I think some people are going to be quite disappointed.”

It was not all bad news on the buyer front; Meg Maggio, owner of Pekin Fine Arts, pegged average collector spending between USD20,000 and USD30,000. According to ARTINFO, works offered at lower price points sold better than high-priced pieces and three-dimensional art, such as large-scale sculptures and installations. The newspaper reported,

… New York dealer, Ed Winkleman, found out via trial and error that bigger isn’t always better. Paintings, prints and other flat works tend to get the most views because the JPEG view is closer to reality than a sculpture or other three-dimensional work, he explained. “Installation-type works don’t get as many hits.”

Focus on follow-up sales

After the 2011 edition of the fair, galleries noted that VIP was a good platform to connect with collectors, with many selling works months afterwards as a result of the fair. Most of the galleries Art Radar spoke with were cautiously optimistic, despite low sales results, and said that they were likely to return next year.

We received interest and inquiries for all the gallery’s shows. We met online some collectors we knew already, and other collectors who randomly discovered our booth. It is too early to know exactly if all these contacts are going to turn into real sales, but they are all already concrete and promising, especially with the journalists, the art critics, the curators and institutions.

Matthieu Lelièvre, Director, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (as quoted in the VIP 2.0 press release)

A screenshot from the Christine König Galerie, complete with virtual avatar to provide scale.

Many galleries are still waiting to see what comes of enquiries made by collectors during the fair. Rebecca May Marston, Director of gallery Limoncello, commented, “We sold from the follow-up phase last year, so it remains to be seen the effects of the fair for us financially, but we’ve had some nice stuff said in the press and to us about our studio booth so that’s great.”

In particular, some galleries found the fair the optimal venue to début artwork to a new and more international audience.

We have met a good number of collectors and arts enthusiasts who wanted to know who we are and [more about] our latest collaborative project with renowned New York artist, Teresita Fernández. This [fair] an excellent avenue through which overseas galleries can reach out to new audiences, and we are looking forward to the next edition.

Emi Eu, Director, Singapore Tyler Print Institute

U-Ram Choe, 'Custos Cavum', 2011, metallic material, machinery, electronic devices (CPU board, motor). Image courtesy Gallery Hyundai.

Song Dong, 'Breathing Part 1' and 'Breathing Part 2', 1996, color transparencies and compact disk. Image courtesy Chambers Fine Art.

“Real” buyer-seller interaction favoured over online chat

Despite the much-heralded technological improvements at this year’s fair, many galleries stated that collectors still prefer to use more traditional channels of communication. Farhad Farjam, founder of a private museum in Dubai private called The Farjam Collection, told ARTINFO that he found the chat function of the fair “slightly impersonal” and preferred the direct interaction provided by traditional art fairs.

Thomas Keane of ArtLyst speculated that the human interaction aspect of art collection is still deeply ingrained in the collector’s mentality, calling it an “umbilical pull” that drives them to contact galleries outside of VIP’s online system.

‘It’s interesting that most of them look at the booth and then will email directly the gallery for images rather than using the fair back rooms,’ commented Paola Weiss of Bischoff/ Weiss, while Emma Fernberger of Kate Macgarry has had a similar experience: ‘The chat function is a nice addition, but mostly if people are interested in work, they tend to either call or email, as they did last year.’

Thomas Keane, journalist, ArtLyst

Gallerists too preferred traditional modes of interaction. As Yasemin Elçi, Director of gallery X-ist, told Art Radar, “Even though pricing is more transparent to the collectors in the online fair, personal contact does make a difference. It is always more influential to talk to someone in person, rather than on an online platform.” Indeed, galleries conducted many of their sales outside of the fair. “Well, it seems that in most cases you just make the connection online and then the sale occurs through more traditional methods, so it’s not that much different,” David Clements of Chambers Fine Art told Art Radar.

Video and 2D art shine

Video art made the strongest impression this year, a medium that observers felt was uniquely suited to the online fair’s format. Will Brand of Art Fag City said, “We absolutely love that so many galleries, particularly blue-chips like Hauser & Wirth and Marian Goodman, have put full versions of video artworks online for the fair; that, on its own, is worth the price of admission, and how I’m spending my Friday night.”

Since the 2011 edition, galleries have begun to play to this strength of the platform. Elena Soboleva of Art Market Monitor was pleased that “the focus this year was heavily on video art, with premier galleries and emerging art spaces alike.” She continues,

Video is seldom presented at [traditional] fairs, given the cost of space and the fleeting attention spans of the viewers. The ability to play the works full screen and get a survey of where the medium stands at the moment is very effective, and unique to the online browsing format.

Elena Soboleva, journalist, Art Market Monitor

Magdalena Sawon, co-owner of gallery Postmasters, chose to exhibit video art. “I think that this kind of fair is particularly well suited to the idea of presenting media that gets lost at physical fairs,” she told Art Fag City. “You want to represent your true persona at the fair, and online fairs [allow you to] do that.”

Galleries respond to unique features of online format

In contrast with responses to the inaugural 2011 edition, the VIP website design and its functionality received almost universal praise from gallerists in 2012.

VIP 2.0 proved to be flexible and highly responsive to its audience, it’s good interface design and integrated chat messaging system made viewing works online convenient and pleasurable.

Singapore Tyler Print Institute (in an interview with Art Radar)

Teresita Fernández, 'Night Writing (Koh-i-Noor)', 2011, hand-dyed and formed paper pulp with UV ink print and mirror. Image courtesy Singapore Tyler Print Institute.

As in 2011, however, users still experienced some problems when using the chat system. As Yasemin Elçi, Director of gallery X-ist, told Art Radar, “The website functioned very well this year. However, the chat function can still be improved. [In particular], the log-off timers should be extended in order to avoid any disconnection during a conversation with a client.”

Despite this, dealers have begun to embrace the unique features offered by the online environment, something that bodes well for the future of VIP. VIP 2.0 allowed gallerists to remove and replace the art pieces on show in their booths throughout the fair, giving them the ability to adjust their exhibition content to buyer tastes, and artist Terence Koh, represented by Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, staged a 24-hour live performance during the fair that made his gallery the most visited that day.

Did you walk the virtual aisles at VIP 2.0? Reveal your experience in the comments section below.

PR/KN/HH

Related Topics: art fairs, art market, business of art, art and the Internet

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Comments

VIP 2.0: Online art marketing channel in the making? — 2 Comments

  1. Thank you for your comment, Sylvain. Have you read our articles on trends in Asian contemporary art? The first article in the series talks about online sales platforms, you might find it interesting. Artnet’s move into auctions is probably the closest thing out there to a permanent online art district, though it seems they still can’t match transparency of VIP. Art Radar will definitely be keeping a close eye on how these platforms develop.

  2. I like your article because it sums up the pros and cons of the VIP ART Fair
    I totally agree with the different issues put on the table. Personally I found it very pleasant and to have in the same web at the same time all these great galleries was very helpfull. I was frustrated because it did not last enough time. Collecting art is not only based on instant decision like in real fairs and auctions. A permanent VIP fair that you can visit whenever you want and from all over the world can soon become for many collectors the best best to visit
    In other words why not move from an artfair model to an art district model. VIP is already considered as THE REFERENCE as an online place to find good art

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