How to make the VIP Art Fair a million times better

January 23, 2011 at 11:27 am (Uncategorized)

I know this makes me a total dork, but I was super excited for the VIP Art Fair. I really think that the future of the art world is online, and honestly – I’m tired of waiting for the future to get here. So, dork that I am, I thought this would be a great way to finally get things going.

Except, by now, you might have heard of some of the problems that the fair has had. With a gazillion people logging in at once, it’s slow to load, but I was sort of expecting that. But I was surprised at some of the other things I encountered. I don’t want this blog post to turn into a rant-fest about all my annoyances with the fair, because that’s not helpful and there’s plenty of other people out there doing it already.

So, okay. Instead of dwelling on all that’s wrong with the fair, I talked to my friend Bryan Campen (web guru and Social Media Director at Manifest Digital) about what could be done to make it better. I gave Bryan a pass so he could check it out, and he was also frustrated by it. But instead of just endless bitching, he had some amazing suggestions that I thought would be great to share.

He starts off with, “This should have been deployed with 3d html5 interactive pieces (even just highlighted pieces, not everything).” I have a sense of what that means, but not exactly. But then he goes into a list of ideas that are perfectly easy to understand, even for me:

  • richer web experience, including live video in rotation and easier navigation
  • iPad app plus touch navigation around 3d art pieces*
  • iPhone app, with regular updates on your favorites
  • rolling ticker of purchases, with collectors opting in to tell the online community what they bought**
  • a networking function to create sort of serendipitous interactions between galleries and online audience***
  • kickass community management on the level of some sort of concierge service****

My notes:

* YES. Right now, the fair doesn’t work on the iPad, most if not all smartphones, and Internet Explorer. Come on. That’s just silly.
**YES YES YES. That would help with the #1 question I keep hearing people ask: “Is anyone buying at this thing? Is anyone logged on but me?” Whoa, nobody should be asking that.
***I confess, I have no idea what this means. But I hope Bryan will chime in on the comments and flesh it out a bit because hey, it sounds good.
****YES. Look, you go to a regular art fair and you get the lounge. You get to have some coffee, sit in quiet and collect your thoughts, and people watch and socialize. The “lounge” for the VIP fair is… a “room” where you can see pre-recorded tours of the fair. Which is to say, it’s nothing special at all.

My personal suggestions include:

  • streaming artist videos. If a gallery is showing a video in their “booth,” why represent it with a still (which is what is set up now)when you can show the whole thing? (or maybe just a section)?
  • artists projects designed specifically for the duration/site of the fair. lots of fairs commission an artist to build something in the middle of their atrium or whatever… why not do the same thing with an artist who uses the web as a medium? (also, sound art would be amazing to incorporate into the fair – the point is, make something special so that people have a real reason to log in and be a part of it, other than to simply buy art. ALL of the good fairs do stuff like this – that’s why people go. it’s more than just a shopping mall, it winds up being a fantastic temporary museum.)
  • media partners that actually do things. Last I saw (around 9pm Saturday), their official media partner – the Art Newspaper – had yet to update anything on the site. it’s a little hard to drum up excitement when you’re not seeding the conversation.

And lastly…

A better way to display art in each booth so that the relative size is conveyed without making the work look terrible.

For example, look at how dorky the Donald Judd (to the right) looks next to this Dan Flavin (on the left):

Or, an even more extreme example. check out the booth of a gallery that chose to bring very small works:

Those little dots in the middle of the screen? They’re supposed to be photographs. Yes, if you click on them, they enlarge… but to be greeted by this image of these tiny little dots in the middle of an empty page first thing when you click on a gallery is not good. Honestly, I thought their booth was unfinished or that something was wrong with the coding. Or something.

There’s SO much potential for something like this to be great… please please please can we work together to make it that way? And then can it trickle down to make museum sites and artist’s sites so much better and amazing? Because the web has so much to offer.



  1. Tweets that mention How to make the VIP Art Fair a million times better « working -- said,

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Emily Amy Gallery, Galeri Apik and ArtCat, Artsicle. Artsicle said: Great thoughts. Thanks! RT @amywilson: How to make the VIP fair work WAY better. A polite suggestion: #vipartfair […]

  2. bryan campen said,

    So ok two points…

    I said “This should have been deployed with 3d html5 interactive pieces”

    All I mean is that anyone, on any device, should be able to buy a piece of art, especially if it is a high-end buyer and a high-end piece!

    But what can HTML5 do? Think of Arcade Fire’s Wilderness Downtown:

    Here you have a brilliant use of HTML5 for a band that was supported by Google. You enter your home address from childhood and Google pulls the street images (!) from the house into the music video. Almost magical. Surely there are similar strategies we could use with galleries in a digital setting to create a more intimate setting for colelctors/buyers and the experience of the art and gallery.

    HTML5 means it works across the iPad, iPhone and browsers. It means any buyer on most any platform can purchase from whatever medium they use. On an airplane sitting on a tarmac, at home while browsing before bedtime. Anywhere.

    “a networking function to create sort of serendipitous interactions between galleries and online audience***”

    Managing the online experience as intimately as a gallery experience has to be top of mind for galleries, especially when moving to digital. Most people are tricked into the idea that a digital experience has to be its own thing, be purely digital. But the most powerful digital experiences have some sort of crazy real world tie-back. What if I browsed a gallery piece for an hour on my iPad, rotating it in 3d, and a gallery owner noticed my intense involvement?

    The clear next step would be to reach me in some way–start a chat online, then follow up with a call, connect somehow across the digital and physical world to amplify the experience of the piece.

    Anyway those are my initial thoughts on it. More tomorrow.

  3. peter worrall said,

    VIP should really be talking to us.. the people from down under.. if it’sgood enough for James Cameron

  4. amywilson said,

    Thanks for clearing that up, Bryan. Your suggestions are great.

    In particular, I like the part about the gallery rep getting in touch with the viewer who has spent a long time in their “booth.” People forget (or even disparage) that selling art is so social. But if a collector is going to buy work at *your* gallery over all other galleries, they have to have some sort of relationship with you. Yes, of course people buy art because they love it or because they know the reputation of the artist, but plenty of people put their trust in certain galleries to help guide their collection.

    There’s a million works of art out there and a million different galleries, and if you’re a collector with even $30k to spend, your options are wide open. Don’t you want to know you’re giving your money to a gallery that’s actually going to deliver the art work as advertised, not rip you off, continue to build the artist’s career so that you just made a good investment, help you resell it if you decide it’s no longer for you… and so forth? Because that’s what a good gallery does. It’s not just about putting a picture up on a wall.

    So this suggestion of making it so that gallerists can contact in real-time people who are spending a lot of time on their site is an especially good one. If I was in a gallery and standing before a painting, furiously taking notes for an hour, someone from the gallery would come over to me and ask, Can I help you? Are you a serious collector? A critic? An artist? A psychopath? The gallery is right to be curious.

    The way the VIP Fair is set up now, it captures everyone’s email and profile who stumbles into their booth. If I go into Zwirner’s booth, now he has my info; if I go into James Cohan’s booth, now he has my info. Privacy issues aside, that’s a huge waste of time for the galleries when it comes to follow up, and it results in a bunch of (basically) useless information being generated. Critics need specific kinds of information, as do collectors. Psychopaths need to be shown the door. And that person who strolls in, takes one look and strolls out? He/she probably doesn’t need to be added to your mailing list.

    Peter –
    So, what would your company do differently?

    • peter said,

      Give each gallery a 3d exhibition space to exhibbit in for a start. This automatically imparts size and scale to the viewer.
      I would also make it possible for for dealers to see when visitors entered their virtual gallery and be able to then converse with them in real time, on the spot. I could say more but it’s late here and .. until next time.


  5. Alexis Tryon said,

    Amy – Thanks for the post. I think this conversation about what a great online art experience feels like is important and exciting to see happen. I just posted on our blog to keep the dialogue going and referenced your thoughts:

  6. Open Art Collection « working said,

    […] up all over the place. I’ve definitely noticed, because ever since I posted my article on the VIP Art Fair, I’ve gotten tons of invites to check out the different sites (no complaints! it’s […]

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