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World's First Online Art Fair Opens Saturday

By DNAinfo Staff on January 21, 2011 6:27am  | Updated on January 21, 2011 10:25am

By Jennifer Glickel

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CHELSEA — The work of some of the world's most critically acclaimed contemporary artists is coming to an LCD screen near you.

VIP ("Viewing in Private") Art Fair, the world's first online international art fair, opens this weekend. The one-week, live digital event kicks off Saturday, allowing collectors to view and buy artwork by the likes of Jackson Pollock, Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst, from 139 of the world's top contemporary galleries in 30 countries.

"As the art world is globalizing, artists, galleries, and collectors are expanding around the world," said Noah Horowitz, director of VIP Art Fair, which is based out of Chelsea.

"VIP Art Fair a great way for people to see things that they wouldn't get to see if they can't travel to traditional fairs, like Basel or the Armory show. It also gives galleries the opportunity to meet new collectors from around the world that they may not otherwise have met," Horowitz added.

There have been 12,000 registrants for the virtual fair so far, organizers said, with more expected in the final two days before it opens.

VIP's creators James and Jane Cohan, who run the James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea, aimed to make the site a virtual replication of the traditional art fair. So when visitors log onto the site starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, they will be presented with a map of the showroom with various galleries.

Galleries will fall into one of three different exhibition categories: the Premier section for the most established galleries; a Focus section for galleries that want to present single-artist shows; and an Emerging section for galleries with a focus on emerging artists. Clicking on a gallery's name will bring users to its booth, where they can view pictures and videos of artwork from different angles and with a detailed zoom function — something they can't do with a printed inventory catalog.

The online platform had given galleries a way to display art pieces that would not be part of, or get attention at, conventional art fairs, Horowitz said.

"In our fair, because you're not limited by size constraints of a physical booth and there aren't additional costs to ship and insure wares, we're seeing galleries bring much bigger outdoor art that wouldn't be brought to a traditional fair," he told DNAinfo.

Horowitz also noted that VIP's digital platform was a perfect environment to display video artwork.

"In a traditional fair setting, most people wouldn't stand at a booth for 10 minutes to watch a video in full, but people have the leisure to do that when watching the video from the comfort of their dining room table or office."

The online exhibit is available for free to anyone who registers, but only a portion of each gallery's inventory will be included to free registrants. Users looking for the price ranges for the works or access to 24-hour interaction with gallery staff around the world via instant messaging will have to pay a registration fee for that access.

While the galleries would have staff available to chat with collectors at all times throughout the eight day fair, Horowitz stressed that users would not be able to purchase artwork through the site.

"Exactly how transactions are conducted at the point of sale are entirely in the hands of buyer and seller; VIP simply helps to connect one party to the other," Horowitz said.

"This means that purchases could happen without either side meeting each other in person or without the buyer seeing the actual work in the flesh prior to purchase."

It is this impersonal aspect of the online art market, which includes the online bidding arms of auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's, that fails to seal the deal for some collectors.

"When you're talking about one-of-a-kind pieces of art, it's likely that the consumer is going to want to come in and see that object in person," Michael O'Neal, Christie's Senior Vice President of Digital Media, said of his experience with Christie's digital channel, Christie's LIVE.

Since its inception in 2006, Christie's LIVE has had 22,000 new registrants from around the world, more than half of whom had not had any prior interaction with the auction house, O'Neal said.

Christie's sold $114 million worth of art and antiques online in 2010, he added, but the most popular items sold online weren't art prints — they were watches, wine, and signed pieces of jewelry.