The first India Art Collective online art fair, held from to 19 to 26 November 2011, has drawn to a close. Art Radar reviews the successes and the pitfalls of selling art online while also looking at how this newer initiative compares to 2011’s VIP Art Fair.

Abhishek Hazra, 'The laws change after every seven feet thereby forcing you to pause and adapt yourself to the new laws.', 2006, Ultraviolet ink on aluminum, composite pane. Image courtesy GALLERYSKE; provided by India Art Collective.

Abhishek Hazra, 'The laws change after every seven feet thereby forcing you to pause and adapt yourself to the new laws.', 2006, ultraviolet ink on aluminum, composite pane. Image courtesy Gallery SKE; provided by India Art Collective.

Selling art online in India

India has been selling art online for more than ten years, since online auction house and art resource Saffronart was first established in 2000. According to Saffronart, in 2005 they were responsible for 35 percent of the USD51 million in revenues from Indian art auctions, much of which was driven by online sales. In an interview with ARTINFOSaffronart co-founder Dinesh Vazirani said,

We started Saffronart with the premise in mind that you want to fuse technology along with the art and create something online that will allow people to have reference points, to have images, have prices, have information, and make the whole process of buying online easier.

Complimenting this outreach to new buyers through online mediums is the upward trend of internet usage and access in countries like India. A report in 2010 by the Boston Consulting Group anticipated a drastic increase in internet usage in India, Indonesia, Russia, China and Brazil, raising the number of users to 1.2 billion by 2015. The figures suggest that this is a quickly growing area that will effect online user trends.

Given the size and diversity of a country like India, it is not surprising that art vendors are turning to online channels to reach beyond the established art fair hubs of Mumbai and New Delhi. The ability to target online buyers is also facilitated by a growing middle class in India who have the capacity to purchase works. For Saffronart, the buyers of Indian origin (within India as well as the Indian diaspora) consist of 85 percent of the buyers.

What is the India Art Collective?

While the name brings to mind a grass-roots collection of artists, India Art Collective is in fact an online fair. Held for the first time in November 2011 and planned as a biannual event, the concept behind the fair is to provide an open platform that is accessible to a wide audience and is a cost-efficient alternative to the traditional, physical art fair format. Some of the galleries that participated in this first edition included Chemould Prescott RoadNature MorteGallery SKESakshi GalleryVadehra Art GalleryApparao GalleriesAkar PrakarPaletteLatitude 28Tao Art GalleryThe GuildExperimenter and Kashi.

Inside the India Art Collective, an online art fair launched in November 2011. Image courtesy India Art Collective.

Inside the India Art Collective, an online art fair launched in November 2011. Image courtesy India Art Collective.

In 2011, India Art Collective was divided into three browsing and buying categories based on price: the Signature Series, the Collector Series and the Value Series. In addition, users could also browse by artist, gallery or medium. There were functions that allowed people to zoom in on works, get multiple views for 3D works, watch videos and get the biographical details of the artists and the galleries that represent them. The collective took advantage of the online platform to use slider wall technology, where art pieces were showcased in an infinite wall space and where a scale was given against a human figure.

By the end of the art fair, 30 percent of the galleries had made sales and the organisers were calling it a success. However, it is still a little too early to effectively assess the impact of the fair on the industry. Abhishek Hazra, a Bengaluru-based visual artist, emphasises the need to keep perspective about the impact of the Internet on art sales and the art industry in general:

There is no need to look at this as a celebration of markets online. If you want to use the Internet to share your art non-commercially, there are multiple Web 2.0 options… The beauty of the Internet, at least up until now, is that it allows the co-existence of both market-aligned activity as well as more experimental explorations where the traded currency is not of a financial kind.

The trend of selling art on the Internet is not, of course, isolated to India. As more of the art world is willing to buy online – 28 percent of Christie’s International clients bid online – it is not surprising that organisations are trying to work out ways to capitalise on the trend.

What came before? VIP Art Fair

The world’s first online art fair was held in January 2011 by the US-developed VIP Art Fair. Although the concept was likewise considered a great opportunity, there were many technical problems that hindered buyers. Key concerns expressed by participants – collectors, general visitors and gallerists – included frustrations due to slow loading times and issues with the live chat function not working properly, a function that was eventually shut down completely. The organisers claimed the technical problems were a result of too many users trying to get onto the fair website during the opening weekend. While such high attendance could have been considered some sort of success, many galleries and visitors to the site were in reality put off by the delays and slow internet speeds.

Booth 1 at the VIP Art Fair 2011. Image courtesy VIP Art Fair.

Booth 1 at the VIP Art Fair 2011. Image courtesy VIP Art Fair.

As Alissa Friedman, a director at the New York-based Salon 94 gallery said, the fair did not provide organisers with the returns they had anticipated. “Most of the sales at the fair happened in the opening weekend. The technical faults sapped all the energy out of it. Losing the live chat [feature] made the fair function like a website.”

New-York-based blog Art Fag City stated that it quickly became dull to look at series of jpeg images, partly because it was too difficult to tell what works were selling.

For a walk-through guide of the VIP Art Fair site, watch the video below or on YouTube.

Counteracting alienation

A positive aspect of the online fair, as pointed out by Art in America, is that there is more time to browse the art at length and make more informed decisions. In art fairs there is a lot of information to take in and it can be an overwhelming experience. This leisure to investigate the work in your own time, although seen as a plus for buyers, did not create the feeling of a buzz that you get at a physical art fair. The fairs tried to recreate this buzz by opening the sites up for a limited time, however, at the VIP fair, the sudden influx of visitors that occurred the minute the fair officially opened to the public put pressure on the technical aspects of the website and did not appear to create that feeling of excitement present on the opening night of a physical fair.

VIP Art Fair hoped that their online real-time chat function would allow quick communication between galleries and visitors and counteract this sense of distance, but due to the site’s technical difficulties rendering the function unusable, there is little data available with which to draw up an accurate conclusion on the usefulness of this feature. India Art Collective’s solution involved making the experience more transparent. In a very anti-traditional art fair move, they provided all the prices of artwork upfront, giving the buyer the ability to quickly assess which of the works on offer fit their budget. India Art Collective co-founder and director Sapna Kar explains:

Essentially the entire fair looks like three exhibition halls. The first exhibition hall features work which is below $12,000. The second hall features work which is billed between $12,000 and $45,000. The third includes work above $45,000. So it enables a buyer to browse a fair based on the budget they are comfortable with.

FN Souza, 'Supper at Emmaus', 1975, oil on canvas, 38" x 48". Image courtesy Palette Art Gallery; provided by India Art Collective.

VIP Art Fair and India Art Collective are certainly innovative, but their long-term ability to succeed is yet to be measured. There is undoubtedly a place on the Internet for art: the attractiveness of the medium lies mainly in its ability to enable people and organisations to reach new young international audiences. In fact, there are a number of examples of online art vendors who trade successfully all-year-round: Paddle8, Mischmasch and, to name just a few.

Bikash Bhattacharjee, 'Smiling King', 1994, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 48". Image courtesy Akar Prakar; provided by India Art Collective.

What do you, our readers, think? Does the Internet create enough intimacy and excitement to warrant the development of online art fairs as lucrative sites for trading art? Or is the medium more suited to continuous year-long sales? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


Related Topics: art fairs, Indian artists, art and the Internet, galleries work the web

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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