Wednesday, January 26, 2011

VIP Art Fair Failed? Hype Failed Today -- Thoughts on the Collectors of Tomorrow

VIP Art Fair Failed? Hype Failed Today -- Thoughts on the Collectors of Tomorrow

Criticism over the implementation of VIP Art Fair has been growing steadily since its January 22nd launch date. The NYC art world rumor-mill suggests that several art dealers involved with VIP are demanding a refund. On top of that-- there are rumors that collectors who experienced the site will no longer deal with VIP in the future due to frustration. Based on comments I’ve read at Art Fag City-- and a few other art blogs covering VIP-- it is clear that people tend to view VIP as an over-hyped and poorly developed venture. Blind praise is quickly turning into frustrated rage.

VIP Art Fair represented a jumping point for the indoctrination of the viability of e-Commerce meshing with traditional art market structures within the mainstream art world . This idea-- this hope-- was enforced by Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City, New York gallery owner Edward Winkleman, and several other influential art bloggers as well as notable art magazines in print. Many of these art writers have been known to be skeptical of art sites that focus on selling art online in the past. There must have been something about VIP Art Fair that opened their eyes to the importance of exploring online market structures within the context of the mainstream art world.

I suppose what attracted the blunt of these writers to VIP Art Fair--compared to other online ventures they have scoffed at in past-- happened to be the people behind its creation. Mainly the founders-- Jane and James Cohan-- individuals who are close to the pulse of the NYC art world. I always find it interesting how support for an idea from key individuals tends to unlock the perspectives of those who travel in the same circles. That said, name recognition can only go so far.

Due to name recognition alone-- after all, little was revealed about the structure of VIP Art Fair early on-- VIP was able to attract 140 art dealers with over 9,000 works of art listed on the site-- some of which were priced at over one million dollars. That said, name recognition alone does not always amount to a well designed website-- anyone who visits Saatchi Online realizes that in a heartbeat. Name recognition, if anything, tends to spur hype. Needless to say, the hype built up over VIP Art Fair was high-- I suggest that is largely due to the micro-celebrity appeal of the creators of the site rather than the concept. The concept itself is not exactly original.

One thing I found interesting about the blunt of articles written about VIP Art Fair is the blind ignorance that so many writers revealed concerning the concept of selling art online. Most showed little to no knowledge of how long e-Commerce and art have meshed together. Some went as far as to suggest that VIP Art Fair is “revolutionary” for offering art within the scope of e-Commerce. Others defined the site as “groundbreaking” or “thinking outside of the box.”. True, the focus of being an online art fair is interesting-- but aside from that the art dealers involved could have found many of the same capabilities on other art sites.

Honestly, after reading several articles about VIP Art Fair it is clear that a few writers thought this was the first time a site was designed to promote and sale art online. In other words, most mainstream art world writers appear to be clueless about an aspect of the art market that has been around for over a decade in various forms-- an aspect of the market that artists have long embraced. With that in mind, it is almost as if these writers want to change history-- to make art dealers the gatekeepers of the online aspect of the art market.

Did VIP Art Fair pave the way for selling art online? No. I realize that some individuals would like to think otherwise-- but that is simply not the case. Artists-- and even a number of art dealers-- have been selling art utilizing the Internet for over a decade. In that time they have been scoffed at by core circles of the mainstream art world-- called “amateurs” or worse. Furthermore, many entrepreneurs have explored-- and continue to explore-- the potential of creating and maintaining an online path of art marketing. Most of the popular art sites that focus on selling art online have been around long before the Cohan’s dreamed of VIP Art Fair. Most of them have endured the worst form of criticism from the mainstream art world-- in that they were not shown consideration for their efforts. That said, I will say that the hype surrounding VIP Art Fair has proved one thing for certain-- there is a clear line of bias within the mainstream art world.. One that exists physically as well as virtually.

To be fair I will say that the fate of VIP Art Fair can’t be decided so quickly in a negative manner. Good site design often involves a trial run of mistakes and errors. Thus, writers should be cautious of criticizing VIP Art Fair harshly-- especially when one considers that the site was launched less than a week ago. Launching a website can be compared to a trial by fire. If VIP takes it one step at a time they may end up with a winner after the smoke of criticism has cleared.

As it stands, one can assume that VIP has already introduced art collectors who would have otherwise not considered buying art online to the possibility of that process being a viable addition to the global art market. If those collectors can’t find what they are looking for on VIP Art Fair perhaps they will find it on other art sites that offer e-Commerce capabilities or-- dare I say it-- purchase directly from an artist after viewing his or her personal website. In that sense, VIP Art Fair sowed seeds of change within the mainstream art world that may benefit artists overall in the long-term.

VIP Art Fair may have failed in the short-term. However, the implications of what VIP Art Fair could mean toward introducing high profile art buyers to the potential of buying art online is a true success. I’m certain that curious VIP visitors may end up exploring what other art sites have to offer. People also need to keep in mind that a younger generation of art collectors is just on the horizon. I predict that the art collectors of tomorrow will bypass gallery structures all together in order to buy directly from artists online. Perhaps the art dealers involved with VIP Art Fair realize this possibility and are hoping to stake a claim.

In closing, the art collectors of tomorrow will expect the mainstream art world to be ‘connected’-- they will no doubt scoff at art galleries and other art world related ventures that fail to utilize the Internet head-on. They will certainly expect artists to have a personal website. Furthermore, the art collectors/buyers of tomorrow will have been raised frequenting many of the art sites that the traditionalists of the mainstream art world scoff at today. Who knows-- the mega art collector of tomorrow could be a teenager using DeviantArt at this very moment or a baby laying in her crib as her parents peruse VIP Art Fair..

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Brian. As someone who launched a website myself recently ( recently, I appreciate your understanding of the time it can take to get things working at their best. With that in mind, I think the most important part is that tomorrow's collectors will expect more - more choices, more access, and at quicker speeds. I'm excited to be one of many entrepreneurs looking to help grow tomorrow's art collectors.

  2. I'm a social isolate and in today's world without email lists and an ability to 'market'
    and 'sell' it is a wonder I have sold any of
    my paintings (formerly on and later only by word of mouth. Your
    articles have been eye openers, Brian...not
    personality changers, but still incredibly
    enlightening. I recently put some work on a
    high traffic website but now realize that with
    thousands of artists joining every day and over
    a million pieces of art for sale the chances of selling something 'cold' is zilch.
    It appears to me that a missing link is a personal...but knowlegeable... advisor, such as wealthy people have always employed to assist serious collectors in finding art that is 1.) to their personal liking, and 2.) a good value, and 3.) likely to increase in value.
    Are there people like this to help winnow down the millions of works available online? I thank you for your articles.