New contemporary art fairs are constantly being added to the international agenda in places ranging from the Middle East to Asia to South America, as the art world and number of collectors continues to expand in these regions.
The VIP Art Fair (Viewing In Private) opening later this month, however, is the first truly global art fair - unhindered by constraints such as the cost of participation for galleries or the ability to travel for collectors. This art fair will take place from January 22 - 30 exclusively online.
Visitors will be able to chat with dealers at the various booths (galleries are advised to 'man' their virtual booths up to 18 hours a day to accommodate multiple time zones), enter private rooms for viewings of inventory, collect and share information about the artworks they like, and visit private collections much like at a real art fair. While a purchase cannot be executed online, sales can be initiated on the website and completed by phone or via Skype.
The emergence of an online fair seems to be a logical progression based on the recent web ventures by auction houses, galleries, museums, and collectors. One can now browse upcoming auctions and recent gallery openings online, walk through exhibitions at major institutions with iPhone apps, and catalogue a private collection through an online portal.
However, what is most innovative about the VIP art fair is that it embraces the interactiveness of the web, social media dialogue, and user-generated content. The foresight of the founders, dealers James and Jane Cohan, and entrepreneurs Jonas and Alessandra Almgren, goes beyond simply putting the art fair experience on the web. For an industry that is often slow to adopt new technologies, this is quite an impressive feat.
In addition to the innate accessibility created by an online fair, the VIP Art Fair also offers collectors the ability to gather greater information while attending. If a visitor can go back to the fair website throughout the week whenever he has some free time, and simultaneously research artists while browsing, the ability to learn more about artists and artworks increases exponentially.
Collectors' increased access to foreign galleries and a wealth of information about artists and artworks also applies to their relationship with dealers. Since the site does not support e-transactions, there is a need for contact among all parties attending. The emphasis of the fair shifts from commercial exchanges to communication and relationship building, even if many of these interactions result in a future sale on the phone or in person.
While a digital interaction will never replace the experience of actually seeing art in person, the VIP art fair shifts the balance away from the social and promotional activities that have come to dominate the experience and back to viewing and learning about art prior to a potential acquisition.
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