Showing posts with label art sales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art sales. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Delivered a keynote on Automating Culture

A few days ago, I delivered a keynote on ‘Automating culture: How Digital Platforms are Shaping the Art World’ for an international conference organized by Prof. Filip Vermeylen. For about a decade now, we both have been working on the democratization possibilities of the art world through the rise of social media and globalization through the new cultural commons project.

The talk was about how the art world has entered the platform economy. The art industry is being subjected to similar fears and possible opportunities of automation as other cultural industries such as the music, film and the publishing business. Hence, it asks some key questions: Can the traditional art intermediaries still compete in the platform economy as data mining companies enter the fray? Has the divide between the high and the popular culture collapsed as user behavior, platform design and engineering staff circulate between these worlds? Do customers no longer care about the aura of the art piece before buying it online? In other words, algorithms rule today and are they making the art world more democratic?

With the rise of automation and platformization, the International Art Market Studies Association (TIAMSA) second international conference organized itself around the theme and key question of, “Art for the People? Questioning the Democratization of the Art Market.”

The call reflects some of the contemporary issues and debates taking place in the art world nowadays. The art world and the market have traditionally been the domain of the elites and have thrived on exclusivity. However, the art world has arguably become much more democratic in recent years thanks to the digital revolution, the inclusion of emerging economies in the world art market system, and the vastly improved access to art and information. The price histories of works of art can nowadays easily be reconstructed using online databases; the threshold for art buying is significantly lowered by online sales platforms; and new buyers in emerging economies are making the art market much less Western-oriented. Moreover, an ever broader range of artworks in different price categories has put (fine) art within reach of the middle classes across the globe. At the same time, art institutions such as museums are under tremendous pressure to be less exclusive. Some of these democratizing tendencies are of course not new. For instance, publishing houses in Europe started disseminating prints on a massive scale already in the sixteenth century, thereby enabling larger segments of the population to acquire images. Whether or not the internet and globalization are genuine game changers in the contemporary art world, we can assume that new platforms through which art is mediated – both offline and online – are reconstituting the manner in which art is being viewed, valorized, acquired and enjoyed. These developments could have far reaching implications.

TIAMSA’s second annual conference explored to what extent the art market was affected by comparable developments in the past, how it is embracing today’s democratic potential, and at what cost. Are digital innovations, from search engines and big data analytics to virtual auctions, transforming the long-existing modus operandi of the art world and the traditional structure of the art market? And if the art market is indeed living up to its democratic promise, is it also becoming less opaque and therefore more transparent?

This event was held in Vienna from Thursday 27 Sept –  Saturday 29 Sept 2018. It was the result of a joint collaboration of the Belvedere ResearchCenter, the Dorotheum and the Department of Art History at Vienna University. The conference presented a selection of papers approaching the theme from different, fascinating viewpoints, and combined it with two special events, namely a guided tour of Viennacontemporary, Austria’s international art fair, and a tour of the Belvedere Research Center. There was also a round table on the art market and the internet. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Past as a friendly ghost: The art world all over again…

It’s been almost a decade since I left the art world to pursue academia. From convincing CEOs and their interior designer sidekicks to buy a Toy painting from the Warhol series for the children’s room to now convincing students to learn how to communicate when selling themselves and their ideas, things have changed somewhat. But it’s hard to forget the adrenaline of clinching a deal, of convincing your client that a Chagall lithograph was meant for them as you dimmed the lights in the viewing room, got them to nurse some wine and relax on the leather couch in the privacy of the gallery room. In my na├»ve days, I thought information deeply mattered. I thought a buyer would be interested and would demand knowledge on the background of the artist, their historical significance, the artistic significance of the piece to the provenance of the artwork. Yet over time, you get to realize that decision-making is a more irrational process and rationality comes often after the deal is done to justify one’s choice. It has to fit with the art deco theme in the house or perhaps there is a romance with the location of the subject matter in the painting or loyalty towards the nationality of the artist. Indeed, this is information too but of a different sort, less intuitively connected and more personalized to the client. This was the real job of the art dealer, to get to detect the unique information that is needed to make the deal go through. Some called it intuition, some called it a matter of patience and then some called it good listening…the client always tells you if you’re willing to listen. That said, much of such mediations happened face to face. Even at the peak of the dot com bubble in San Francisco in the 1990s, it was a big deal to do transactions over email and the phone. There was fear that the client would slip away, would not need the dealer anymore; that the process of buying was emotive and that was possible more face to face than online. It was about building relationships and virtual connections did not serve well in building trust. Sure, one used the phone and email to keep the client reminded of one’s presence, of diversifying the means through which we could serve as a nagging presence in the back of their minds until they decided on buying the art piece. But there was no question of the gallery becoming defunct for the tradition of selling art. Yet, in today’s information and digital age, has the game changed radically in the art world? Are we still holding onto age-old gatekeepers and their possibly redundant traditions in connecting the buyer to the seller, the customer to the art, the gallery to the artist? How is trust being established as the art world goes online? Will the mass dictate now and the dealer listen? How closed are the gates to the art world and who is entering now? So more than a decade later, I find myself back at the gallery doorstep, contemplating its new fate and the role of art dealers in mediating information within this (once elite?) gated community.