Board is an open platform which shares your translations of contemporary art in the formats of text or image. Everyone is invited to participate and post their contributions either in English or Korean, or both languages.
‘보드’는 동시대 예술에 대한 당신의 생각과 해석을 텍스트나 이미지 형식으로 포스팅해 공유하는 공간입니다. 누구나 참여할 수 있는 열린 플랫폼으로 영어나 한국어, 또는 두 언어 모두로 텍스트와 이미지를 기고할 수 있습니다.
Last February, I contributed a short article titled Circulation of Art in the Digital Age to the DDDD, an online platform that examines a distribution of art in the digital space. As this article, which deals with distribution of artworks in non-traditional media and online viewing rooms, was written before the COVID-19 became pandemic, it does not cover the boom of online viewing rooms that have emerged afterwards, and those viewing rooms that art fairs have provided. Thus I would like to make an addition to the writing by researching the state of affairs since last February.
I ended the article saying that we should keep trying to find a new way to institutionalize art with challenges online, even if change will not come immediately, and sometimes small attempts may feel futile. Nevertheless, things were quickly changed in unexpected ways; the WHO announced the COVID-19 outbreak could be characterized as pandemic; social distancing was strongly advised; and art institutions and galleries were closed. In consideration of the current situations, the news that Venice Biennale will be postponed to a year later is not a surprise, yet it was a big issue that Art Basel Hong Kong announced to launch online viewing rooms instead of the fair that was supposed to take place at the convention centre. Now online becomes an only platform that surpasses a physical limitation, not a secondary platform. A lot of online museums and viewing rooms have emerged. Online is not anymore an alternative form suggesting nonmainstream views, but is proactively utilized as media representing the existing institution. With this in mind, this writing attempts to offer an opportunity to conceive how we need to develop online content by investigating online viewing rooms as a specimen among diverse online platforms. Also this reflects the Floorplan’s consideration on how it presents its online platform, and shows that everyone can post their contributions on any subjects like this writing.
Online Viewing Rooms Provided by Art Fairs
As its first kind, Art Basel in Hong Kong held the fair merely with its online viewings from 18 March to 25 March 2020. While the attendance at last year’s Art Basel in Hong Kong was about 88,000, this year 235 galleries – around 95% of the fair’s original roaster – have showcased and more than 250,000 visitors have explored their online viewing rooms. However, the online viewing rooms by Art Basel Hong Kong left a lot to be desired, perhaps because it was the first trial and prepared in a short time. Technically, the site was down for the first 25 minutes, and in terms of its design, it was overwhelming to see all those 235 galleries, placed in a three-column structure, with an endless scrolling. Although the site provided some search functions by gallery names, artists and categories, the website design of Art Basel Hong Kong seemed regressive for a visitor who has already experienced online viewing rooms provided by other galleries such as David Zwirner or Gagosian. How many would really be patient to explore all those galleries by scrolling down? This structure also made me assume that the gap in sales between mega galleries, renowned artists and others would be even bigger in the context of this kinds of online viewing rooms.
Once one clicks and enters into a gallery page among those galleries spread out on one paged screen, a short introduction popped up and then could see about 10 presented works. The prices of some works were open and some only showed their price ranges. If one is interested in purchasing an artwork, it was made through clicking the “Inquire” button and providing personal information, which would connect to a salesperson of the gallery. Like other existing online viewing rooms, they operated in a kind of hybrid format using digital platforms, but still required human interaction and support.
Another online viewing rooms, provided by Frieze, opened from 5 May to 15 May 2002, about two months later than Art Basel Hong Kong’s, and it certainly seemed to be supplemented by the previous model. It provided more convenient website design and diverse content in the relevant sense. On the left of the site of Frieze’s, where more than 200 galleries have participated, they were categorized by “Galleries,” “Non-Profit,” and “Special Programming.” And each category randomly showed different galleries at a different time. Meanwhile, there were also several search categories such as location, section, artist’s gender, price and medium on the right side.
Perhaps, with these options, it would not be possible to overcome the limit that is most choices focused on famous galleries and artists. Yet they probably offered an opportunity to explore the different viewing rooms better. In addition, unlike each gallery showcased about 10 works at the Art Basel Hong Kong online viewing rooms, galleries could present more artworks, about 30 pieces, and some galleries showcased a sole show at the Frieze’s. Furthermore, it provided diverse programs; non-profit institutions, such as London’s Institute of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel Gallery, Serpentine Galleries, Printed Matter, Inc., and Queens Museum in New York, have participated; and as for special programs, artist David Shrigley collaborated with the Champagne company Ruinart, and Acute Art, which presents VR(Virtual Reality) or AR(Augmented Reality) Art, showed a film by Bjarne Melgaard, a Norwegian artist.
What Sold at the Viewing Rooms Provided by Art Fairs
As for Art Basel Hong Kong’s online viewing rooms, more than 2,000 artworks presented by 235 galleries were on view, with an overall value of about 270 million dollars, on an average value of about 130,000 dollars. It is a big change from the past, just one or two years ago when David Zwirner and Gagosian have introduced online viewing rooms, that it was known “sweet spot” for selling online hovers around 20,000 dollars.
When reviewing the information of sold works at the online viewing rooms, this change seemed obvious. At the Art Basel Hong Kong’s online viewing rooms, David Zwirner has sold Marlene Dumas’ painting Like Don Quixote (2002) at 2.6 million dollars, and Luc Tuyman’s Trees (2019) at 2 million dollars; Hauser & Wirth has sold Josef Albers’ painting at 600,000 dollars; and Carmen Herrera’s painting was sold at 850,000 dollars by Lisson Gallery.
The same tendency applied to the sold works at the Frieze’s online viewing rooms. Even when a few days left to the closing day, I checked about 10 works, which their prices range from 50,000 to 550,000 dollars, were already sold out at David Zwirner; Gagosian made an issue by selling Cecily Brown’s painting at 5.5 million dollars; besides paintings, Hauser & Wirth has sold sculpture and installation by Simone Leigh’s at 110,000 dollars, and Jenny Holzer’s at 200,000 dollars. Additionally, I saw some works by Korean artists including Do Ho Suh and Chung Chang-Sup were sold at Lehmann Maupin and Axel Vervoordt Gallery.
It seemed most sold works were paintings except some installations by renowned artists such as Antony Gormley and Isa Gensken. I suppose it is because the images of two-dimensional works are better presented on the screen, but also it seems to verify a saying that artworks with traditional media are sold more during the economic slowdown. Another interesting aspect when examining the sold works was that many of the newly produced works, made in 2020, were sold, even though it was probably difficult to see them before the fair. To be honest, I assumed that most sold works were on view in advance, so that collectors could purchase them at expensive prices. However, it seems a lot of works were sold only by presenting themselves as images on the screen. For instance, new works produced in 2020 by Marilyn Minter and Alake Shiling were sold at 120,000 dollars and 200,000 dollars at Salon 94; Pace Gallery has sold Nigel Cooke’s Oceans (2020) at 250,000 dollars and Kohei Nawa’s 2020 pixel installation at 750,000 dollars; Lisson Gallery’s new piece by Rodney Graham was sold at 170,000 dollars; and David Zwirner has sold new works by Suzan Frecon’s at 400,000 dollars and Mamma Andersson’s at 400,000 dollars. Especially, I found out that many of the sold works at the Hauser & Wirth’s were produced in 2020 and some work images on the viewing rooms seemed to be just taken at the artists’ studios. These sold works include George Condo’s, which was sold at 2 million dollars, and works by Paul McCarthy, Mathew Day Jackson, Rashid Johnson, Loma Simpson and Rita Ackermann. Does it show how collectors respond to the work images on the screen? Or are they just because these galleries and artists are highly trusted by collectors?
Of course, it cannot be said that online viewing rooms have become a new platform that can replace art fairs, especially only with the information announced by the fairs or galleries. Also, the number of sold works cannot be indices of how the viewer has interacted with the online viewing rooms. Those mega galleries mentioned above are influential and capable of selling artworks at cocktail parties before the VIP preview of art fair even without artworks’ presence. I suppose most galleries have struggled with poor results compared to the “real” art fairs. Even Dominique Lévy, co-founder and partner of Lévy Gorvy, has said that online viewing rooms are “an interesting experiment that doesn’t work. (…) Unless there’s a form I don’t know about, I don’t believe that an online Art Basel has a future.”
Diverse Experiments in Forms of Online Viewing Room
Although online viewing rooms have become an instrument of releasing a new work of an artist, or of showcasing artworks in high-res images, perhaps in better quality than human sight, I do not believe they can replace “real” experience with an artwork. Nevertheless, there have been many attempts to develop the full potential of online viewing rooms by introducing diverse experiments in their forms. For example, as a pioneer of online viewing rooms, David Zwirner has introduced various content. Since its first imposition of online viewing room in 2017, the gallery has recently diversified its content and its viewing room has become more than an access to the world and to artworks’ transparent information; “Studio'' provides a view which let user approach to a space of artist’s creation and their results; and a group show Side by Side, collaborated with other gallery Victoria Miro, is presented both on the online viewing room and App for smartphone. In addition, the gallery provides its online viewing room for free for other small galleries, which cannot afford their own and are located in different places including New York, Los Angeles, Paris and Brussels, then present them together based on their locations. It will help the whole industry in this difficult situation, however it will also offer an opportunity for David Zwirner to gain access to valuable client data of other galleries.
Another mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth is also making a proactive move to utilize digital technology into the art business. The gallery and ArtLab, its technology and research team, have introduced a gallery in Menorca, Spain, with VR exhibition before its physical opening in 2021. The VR exhibition, presented on the gallery’s website, gives a well-presented spatial impression, but it is hard to find a differentiated aspect from other VR shows that we could have experienced, for instance, VR service provided by Google Arts & Culture since 2011. Since it is said that the project is ongoing, I hope to find a better representation of artwork in the near future.
Following the launch of online viewing rooms by Art Basel and Frieze, “Untitled, Art,’” another art fair with two annual fairs in Miami Beach and San Francisco, announced that it will introduce the first VR art fair this summer with online platform Artland. According to Mattis Curth, co-founder and CEO of Artland, this virtual fair that will be made of architectural modeling can be viewed on the computer screen and tablets, as well as through VR goggles if the user has one. Unlike the online viewing rooms were provided for free by Art Basel or Frieze, Untitled will sell booth spaces by the size, and offer the “Buy now” button for a purchase besides the “Inquire” button, which requires human support. I really wonder if this virtual tour will provide experience beyond online as its slogan claims.
In this evolutionary flow of online viewing rooms, there are also disappointing cases. Kukje gallery in Korea launched its online viewing room “Kukje On”, which it explains as “the third gallery” following the branches in Seoul and Busan. As for its inaugural edition, Kukje On showcased 22 works by 10 artists the gallery represents and their images and information. Yet it does not demonstrate the strength of online viewing rooms, accessibility and transparency, at all and it just adds up another category that is not differentiated from the existing content; it seems lame for the move of one of “international” galleries in Korea.
As seen from the above cases, the development of online viewing rooms has been recognized for the last years in the context of the commercial side of the art world. Furthermore, taking this COVID-19 pandemic as a momentum, the digital transformation is happening fast and this will be accelerated. Online has become the only platform to overcome physical barriers and it will probably be the only medium to be used when another unexpected situation will happen again in the future. In this sense, online viewing room, as one of the digitized formats in art, can be a guideline for those who investigate how to present art online and develop online art content.
When exploring diverse online viewing rooms as a researcher, not a collector, I felt bored to see the information or work images listed without variation. Even though those images are selections for sales that galleries carefully choose to achieve their goals, the images of artworks online are merely representation of real artworks, as performance of objecthood, and reveal their limits to look like them “real.” Therefore, instead of providing images of artworks looking like real or replacing the real exhibition by showing the curator tour video, taking online as a stopgap or an access to “real,” it is required to examine the features of the online interface and develop various online-specific content. I would say the following online-specific content could be good examples; presenting a curated exhibition with digital art works; providing a new content as Hirshorn Museum presents on youtube by documenting the diaries of artists who are quarantined; or diversifying the categories in an effort to provide content interfacing with the user’s various choices would also be a case in point.
Perhaps we will not be able to go back to “before.” We may have similar everyday lives like the past. However, we will not be able to go back to the same before as we have experienced the different lives during the pandemic. That being so, I believe now we need to conceive a way to represent art and artwork online beyond the limit as a substitute of “real”; furthermore, I hope the online platform of the Floorplan would be used as a space for those discourses.
In addition to my article which was written last May, I would like to add that the next version of Art Basel Online Viewing Rooms, presented from 17 June to 26 June 2020, seems much more developed than the last version in March. Besides the viewing rooms of the participating galleries, it categorizes the ways to present different artworks into “Galleries,” “Editions,” “Features,” and “Statements,” and provides various events to explore its online content including a curator’s tour.
- Sutton, Benjamin. “What Sold at Art Basel in Hong Kong’s Online Viewing Rooms.” Artsy. 26 March 2020. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-sold-art-basel-hong-kongs-online-viewing-rooms. Accessed on 19 May 2020.
- Schneider, Tim. “Is Everything We Know About E-Commerce Wrong? How David Zwirner and Gagosian’s New Initiatives Break the Rules.” Artnet News. 9 July 2018. https://news.artnet.com/market/zwirner-gagosian-online-viewing-rooms-1313270. Accessed on 19 May 2020.
- “Art Basel’s digital-only edition fails to impress influential art dealer.” CNN Money Switzerland. 30 April 2020. https://www.cnnmoney.ch/news/art-basels-digital-only-edition-fails-to-impress-influential-art-dealer/?cli_action=1589942414.221. Accessed on 20 May 2020.
- Kinsella, Eileen. “Untitled Is Bringing the First-Ever Art Fair to Take Place in Virtual Reality to Your Screen This Summer.” Artnet News. 18 May 2020. https://news.artnet.com/market/untitled-new-virtual-reality-art-fair-1863774. Accessed 20 May 2020.