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VIP Art Fair brings art online, Chicago galleries join movement
Traveling around the world, groups of artists, dealers and buyers fill their calendars with international art fairs, each a new platform for reaching global audiences. In February, they find themselves in Madrid, in April a trip to Brussels, then in June they’re off to Switzerland. Now, the gathering place all year-round can be found in the comfort of their own homes.
The world’s first international art fair to be featured exclusively online is the brainchild of James and Jane Cohan and Jonas and Alessandra Almgren, well-known couples in the global art scene. The Viewing in Private Art Fair went live on Jan. 22, after three years in the making. Through Jan. 30, the fair runs on a 24-hour cycle in which art pieces are viewed, discussed, bought and sold from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. As Chicago galleries join the worldwide experience, the online exhibition format opens up global possibilities for local artists.
In preparation for the fair, VIP Art Fair Directors Stephanie Schumann and Noah Horowitz traveled the world to meet with gallery owners. Instead of sending out a call for work, contributors came on board by invitation. By the end of October 2010, they secured participation from 139 galleries in 30 countries, including Chicago-based Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 118 N. Peoria St., and Donald Young Gallery, 224 S. Michigan Ave.
“We got to travel and sit down with the dealers in their own offices and talk about something that is a totally new medium,” Horowitz said. “It’s a completely new approach to the way the art world works. There’s certainly a quotient of dealers who really want to do things face-to-face or interpersonally or really want to be there on site. The Internet—for them—is something they don’t totally understand or can’t quite grasp.”
Horowitz and Schumann admit it may take a while for dealers, artists and buyers to adopt the technology and explore everything they can do with the VIP Art Fair because it is unfamiliar ground. While the site is open to the public for free limited art browsing, paying for a VIP pass allows the more serious buyer to create online tours, use interactive features to better view the art and have access to dealers via Skype, instant messaging and telephone to discuss works for sale. A VIP Lounge is available, where commissioned films of private art collections and artists’ studios are shown in addition to art market news and more information on new works in the fair.
According to Horowitz and Schumann, they don’t intend to destroy the traditional exhibition and art fair process. They look to provide another outlet for galleries to utilize. Through the Internet, galleries are able to expand their business, start conversations with collectors and provide art education to the public, Schumann said.
“We firmly believe because it’s free, anyone with an Internet connection can access the fair from anywhere in the world,” she said. “Because there’s so much excellent educational content on the site, it will be an important gathering place for anyone interested in contemporary art but also curators, collectors, etc.”
Rhona Hoffman, owner of Rhona Hoffman Gallery, said she had reservations about the process, but didn’t want to miss out on a large opportunity if it turned out to be a success. Her gallery’s contribution to the fair is an exhibition solely of Spencer Finch’s work. Finch is a New York-based artist who works in painting, photography, installations and mixed media.
“I think it’s a clever idea,” Hoffman said. “I’m in wait-and-see mode.”
For those already familiar with an artist, the virtual world is a good venue to buy art, according to Hoffman, but she said it would be foolish to purchase a work the buyer is unfamiliar with based on what he or she sees on the computer screen.
“Every monitor is different, and you cannot expect everyone is looking at the same thing no matter how much you tweak it,” said Sergio Gomez, creator of Chicago-based online gallery VisualArtToday.com and director of 33 Collective Gallery, a brick and mortar facility at 1029 W. 35th St. “I’ve met with artists who are concerned about that or concerned about the images being stolen, but that’s the risk you take and that’s a choice every artist will have to make.”
Gomez first forayed into the world of online art when he created an interactive Internet presence for 33 Collective Gallery. Today, the gallery’s artists use this format to showcase art and increase their audience. After new online exhibitions premiere annually, they remain there permanently. Approximately two years ago, he developed VisualArtToday.com.
While creating the site it was important to create a space without the clutter of online advertisements, Gomez said. Because space is more widely available on a website than a gallery, there is no time frame for each exhibition and the images will remain available for public viewing on a permanent basis. To keep the site as true to life to a physical gallery and maintain his vision, Gomez funds the site completely on his own.
Along with every image, it’s important for him to also include artists’ statements and written content provided by a curator or historian—some available in multiple languages to accommodate the site’s varied audience. To Gomez, an obvious appeal for online galleries is the global interaction and diversity that is achieved.
“I don’t think it will ever replace an actual exhibition, but it essentially becomes another tool in which we can make art accessible to more people,” he said.
The Chicago Artists Coalition, 2010 W. Pierce Ave., recently teamed up with Collectrium, a New York-based company that provides technological support for showing art online, to improve its online presence and create a smartphone application. Alyson Koblas, membership and media director for CAC, said the app will be a way for artists to access their online galleries by phone immediately whenever they run into someone who is interested in their work. It will serve as an important tool and accompaniment to online galleries for the general, art-loving public to access, too.
“They even have a function where if you see a piece of art and you have this app you can take a picture of [the art] and [the app] can identify the artist for you,” Koblas said. “I think it’s a couple steps ahead of what most people are working with technologically, but I think it’s really going to grow a lot in the next few years.”
Most frequently, those visiting CAC’s online galleries on their computer or using their smartphone were able to contact local artists to commission and buy specific works. According to Koblas, CAC’s exhibitions stay offline. It better fits their mission to physically engage the community in face-to-face conversations about art.
Horowitz and Schumann see their online venture as a complement to the physical art fairs and exhibitions across the world. Now that the foundation of the new business has been built, they plan to host VIP Art Fairs annually and explore other undisclosed projects utilizing the Internet, Horowitz said.
“It’s broadly available to a general, art-loving public, whether they’re serious collectors or professionally involved curators, or whether they’re simply students or people with a passing curiosity in contemporary art,” he said. “It’s a really incredible and democratic platform.”
To participate in the fair, request an invitation at VIPArtFair.com/Open/Request. Art will be featured online until Jan. 30 at 6:59 a.m. VIP passes cost $20 and limited browsing of the fair is free.