Friday, November 03, 2006

Virtual vs Real Galleries...some interesting reading

A writer acquaintance of mine kindly sent me an article this makes for very interesting reading, especially if you're interested in online art, so I've reproduced it here to share.......


In an age of do-it-yourself savvy, artists are increasingly taking their careers into their own hands. The question is what might that mean for the future of the gallery and its role in the food chain of artist, media and audience?

Many talented young artists feeling passed over or just plain grumpy about the lack of gallery representation are turning their backs on exhibiting their work in the material world. And according to high profile as well as emerging artists, the virtual world has not been found wanting.

  • The virtual online gallery is always open and sells your work 24/7.

  • The virtual online gallery doesn’t sideline you for "top names".

  • The virtual online gallery does not store your work in the broom closet.

  • The online gallery is administered from home and takes no commission.

How good is that? Very good, as young Australian painter Hazel Dooney recently discovered. According to Dooney, her relationships with collectors are maintained largely online; and in 2005-2006, she generated $130,000 in commissions and gallery advances. For the coming year she is predicting something like a 40-60 percent increase in her income.

Dooney says, "I've worked very hard to acquire contacts both within and outside the art world. Many subscribe …having found their way to my site…(or)… after seeing one of my shows. I now have a mailing list of over 3,500 individuals, galleries, institutions, and press." This represents an impressive achievement in any field let alone the fickle world of art.

But Dooney is equally quick to point out that having a site is no magic pill. "Site development should be constant … if you're not updating your site regularly and seeking to connect it to as many places as possible around the web, then it won't work for you. I upload new images, change the home-page, add news items and features, about twice a week … recently, I offered an "unlimited" edition print that could be downloaded and printed for free…I even offering to sign it if the collector paid the postage!" Dooney is certainly at the entrepreneurial cutting edge of arts practice. And almost every time you access her site, there is evidence of change.

Some art world commentators have suggested that this quiet Internet revolution is beginning to make itself felt as a ground swell in the art world. The phenomenon of sidestepping the material gallery world has already begun to be felt in the UK, Europe and America. Visual Arts pundits have described it as the work of "the ultimate Do-It-Yourself Generation" hell bent on its free-range thing. Where once the shy and retiring artistic-type needed a gallery to promote their work, write their media releases and guard them from the onslaught of press and public - the New Artist has been raised on a solid diet of self-promotion. The new artist seeks autonomy and sees herself as both producer and promoter of her art. And whilst there will always be artists who prefer and flourish within galleries, there will also be those who go about their own business extremely well.

Surprisingly, when asked about the prevalence of Internet know-how amongst her peers, Dooney says; "All young artists, and not a few older ones, use the net, and many have web sites, but the number that really understand and trust its power to dis-inter-mediate the traditional gallery-based art business, and are really exploiting it, are just a handful."

Prior to her show at Mars Gallery in Melbourne last month, Dooney’s previous gallery show was in 2004. "A show that convinced me that the value of a gallery, even a good one, for a young artist, was declining." Dooney's impatience with the argument proffered by galleries of ensuring "exclusivity" is clear. She argues that such notions are obsolete and run "…counter to the paradigm of the web's so-called new economy, in which ubiquity NOT rarity drives value. Warhol understood this even before there was such a thing as the web."

What then led her to this exhibition? "It's very simple: I had new work to show, work that was radically different to my old work, and I wanted as many as people as possible to have the chance to examine it up close…The virtual and the "real"… serve different functions for the artist, and are, in nearly every way, complementary."

The internet, of course, also opens up the potential of a huge world audience. "Using the internet, I could live anywhere I like and I have control over my work," Dooney states. "I have got inquiries from Mongolia and Russia. There are no boundaries with it."

Interestingly the web has also enabled Dooney to get much closer to her audience. "Yes. Absolutely. If only because… (they)…can choose when and how they connect with you, and as long as your site is rich in content, they can explore your work – and you – in much more detail than they could at a gallery…this can also be very valuable."

Typically, and in the absolute vanguard self-promotion is the launch of Your Gallery, the new Gallery Saatchi website in the UK. The website was set up in April 2006 by the British Mega-Arts-Patron and artist King Maker himself, Charles Saatchi: And with all things Saatchi, it too is constantly evolving.

Historically, Charles Saatchi will always be linked to the infamous "enfant terribles" of the 1990’s London Art World: Damien Hirst and the Formaldehyde Shark, Tracey Emin’s equally frightening Bed and Gillian Wearing’s photography to name just three artists who changed the face of the contemporary arts forever. Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the Baltic and a host of other public and private galleries have since shared in the British contemporary arts boom.

The Saatchi online gallery allows artists from all over the world to post images of their work and to sell their works. The site does not charge a commission on the sales generated, and as such it has proven extremely popular with young artists as well as collectors and curators seeking emerging talent. It is reputedly receiving over a million hits per day.

Many of the world’s leading art dealers are regular site visitors and are buying up works from young and as yet unknown artists. Shock waves have apparently rippled through the London Arts world about online purchases of up to $300,000 being made without the artwork "even being seen" (except of course as an emailed jpeg)! As some trend-spotters have noted, this could well be heralding the future of "Mix and Mash" as the do-it-yourself generation calls it. No longer relying on the arbiters of taste, more and more art buyers are simply buying what they like and straight "off the rack" because they can.

There are no curators or restrictions on posting work to the site. This can mean that the quality of work varies. However, an online gallery presence and the popularity of the site could well assist young, emerging and established artists to access new audiences. Artists in the early stages of their career (who are finding it most difficult to secure exhibition space) may well benefit the most from new initiatives of this nature.

The site encourages visitors to discuss and curate the featured artworks as well as pointing them towards new artists. Some contributors to the web log have already begun to curate their own "best of" shows from the available online collection. These personalized "Curatorial Me" shows can be accessed by clicking to the right of the artist’s name and image.

At its best a site like this provides a global platform that enables artists to exhibit their work to a vast international art audience whilst using the world-wide-web in the funkiest way possible. Art is all about exposure and as artists are able to post their own images, resumes and contact details for viewing by dealers, exhibition curators and collectors; their careers may well get that long-awaited boost. The Saatchi site now also accepts video media and children’s artwork.
No one is seriously arguing that the Day of The Gallery is over, any more than the very-long-awaited Day of The Book! Seeing art is an experiential, almost sensual experience. Hazel Dooney is very clear on this, "Galleries are of value because they bring the viewer into physical contact with the work, and that remains very important."

Used in this way the Internet takes on the role of a "Fairy Godmother." As the infamous tool of "the instant hit" it also has the potential to link - the maker and the buyer. Rather than the thief, the stockbroker, his wife, her dealer and numerous agents on commission! In the nicest possible way, there is something almost quaint about it.

The long-term success and vitality of such sites may well make a direct and lasting impact upon access to art and sale practices within the art world. The successful London artist Stella Vine, when asked about the launch of the Saatchi online gallery, said, "I wish this had been available to me when I first started. The Internet has helped the art world to break open… and initiatives like this make it a little less precious and exclusive."

Closer to home artists such as Patricia Piccinini and Hazel Dooney have effectively held "online court" for some years now. Their sites have been comprehensively designed to maximize the viewer’s experience. Highly polished and consummately designed with text and images, sites such as these have a similar feel to stepping inside an exclusive designer boutique.

However, although artists function in a world dominated by the visual they have been slow to take up what the internet offers. Dooney agrees, "It's crazy, really: Artists should be the one's who really "get" this visual medium." One only has to visit the site of a Damien Hirst, Stella Vine or James Sutton to see the how and why of websites as career trailblazers.

Passionate about the rewards of self-management, Dooney reflects, "I am in control of every aspect of what is, after all, my life's work … From a practical point-of-view, freedom from the traditional system has given me, for the first time in my life, a very good living from my art – which, in turn, has encouraged me to become bolder and more experimental in the work itself."
Asked if she has any advice for emerging artists, Dooney does not mince words. "If you really believe in your work… you are probably the best placed person to promote and sell it. The business of art is interconnected with the creating of it, but too often in the past the business…has undermined the artist's creative vision."

So without any further ado, power up that world wide website.

Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy


Anonymous said...

great observations here, and who knows?, maybe it will inspire more artists to work outside a system that ultimately has now real interest or understanding of art outside its speculative monetary value! incidentally, judging by recent prices i've seen attached to Dooney works on- and offline, her income is probably under- rather than over-estimated: and all without significant gallery support!

Anonymous said...

whatever Dooney's doing is working, the prices her works attain on the first, and secondary markets, have more than doubled since this article.