THE DIGITAL ART MARKET

It’s time we get realistic about making money from selling Internet art – it’s not going to happen. […] This all comes down to a simple square-peg-in-a-circular hole economic dilemma, which is that digital content is indefinitely reproducible and free while physical commodities are scarce and expensive.’ [1] – Brad Troemal.

In 2013, Phillips teamed up with Tumblr and embarked on a groundbreaking auction that challenged this view.[2] Taking the online offline, GIFs, websites and video games went under the gavel and a value that had previously been far removed from media practices was placed on artworks that can be freely accessed online. Paddles ON! showed the art world that art existing in bits and bytes can bridge the gap between the virtual and the real.[3] While the apprehension around this work lingers, its aesthetic, cultural and economic value finally seems to have been observed.

The Internet has disrupted how we experience, share, appreciate and purchase works of art, yet digital art practices have remained on the periphery.[4] As the ‘red haired stepchild’ of the art world, digital and media practices have largely grown up with their own autonomy.[5] Orbiting around its own galleries, museums, fairs, biennales and MA programs, digital art has managed to uniquely position itself.[6] While the commercial ramifications of the medium – i.e. its inability to sell and its technological underpinning – have meant that works as diverse as web-, sound- and moving image had been dismissed from the economy of art, digital art is now being taken to fairs, represented by galleries and acquired by both public and private collectors [Appendix C].

Paddles ON! sparked a greater interest in digital practices, and institutions have since made considerable headway in giving digital art the recognition it deserves. At present there is a conscious effort being made to integrate digital practices into the main contemporary art world. Blue chip galleries, such as Pace, have established dedicated art and technology spaces, while Phillips and The Whitechapel have recently joined forces to commission Fair Warning, a web-based piece by the Swedish artist Jonas Lund [Figure 1].[7] Perhaps most telling of all is that the price of media art continues to rise in value.[8]

lund
Figure 1: Screenshot of Fair Warning (2016) the web-based piece by Jonas Lund jointly commissioned by the Whitechapel Gallery and Phillips Auction. Screenshot taken August 27, 2016.

Unsurprisingly, a medium born from technology is taking advantage of the growth of the online art market. While slow to embrace e-commerce channels, the art market has begun to welcome its digitisation.[9] In the last decade the market has seen a significant increase in the number of e-commerce channels available. From Artsy to eBay, Paddle8 to Christie’sLIVE there are now more channels of distribution than ever before. This last year alone has seen the inauguration of a number of online marketplaces including David Gyrn’s Daata Editions, QuHarrison Terry’s 23vivi, Carla Rapoport’s Lumenus, and Sedition’s trading platform [Table 3]. Taking their cue from the traditional art market, these platforms are providing digital content with the attribution, rarity and security revered by the art market.[10] Embracing the artificial restriction imposed on moving image and photography, new technologies have permitted the commodification of works of art that can be easily copied, downloaded and shared.[11] How this is being achieved and what it means for the art market will be the focus of this study.

To date, the literature around digital and media art has focused predominantly on the dismissal of technology-engaged practices from art history.[12] Highlighting the medium’s correlation with conceptual and performance practices, an extensive effort has been made to integrate digital practices into the art world through its association with these mediums.[13] Owing to the nature of the medium and the inclination of the artists, curators and critics, much of the discussion around digital art takes place online – via articles, digests and forums.[14] Only recently can one observe media art and its collectors receiving increased attention from the arts press; prior to this, discussion around digital practices had been the purview of non-profit institutions such as Rhizome.[15] An affiliate of the New Museum, Rhizome has been facilitating the integration of art and digital technology by preserving, exhibiting and creating critical discussion around media practices since 1996.[16] While there is little doubt amongst media theorists over the aesthetic value of digital art, a tension exists in the literature regarding the medium’s relationship to the main contemporary art world.[17] In Christiane Paul’s 2016 publication A Companion to Digital Art, Edward Shanken’s contribution highlighted the discontent that exists between the main contemporary art world and new media art. Noting that ‘rarely does the mainstream artworld converge with the new media artworld,’ Shanken observes how the new media world, with its digital festivals and trade fairs, is often at odds with the exhibition context of the traditional art ecosystem.[18] In arguing that the art world has not ‘yet successfully expanded its market to include (or exploit) some of the key parallel artworlds,’ the author fails to recognise how these practices, epitomised by the work of Francis Alÿs, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Jeremy Deller, have been embraced by the market through documentation and restaging.[19] By neglecting to address how practices so closely related to media art have been entered into the capitalist model of exchange, Shanken ignores how a hybrid market for digital art has been developing.[20]

Existing online and available to everyone, the digital art market is challenging the ‘conventional mechanisms’ of the art world.[21] While it is widely acknowledged that digital art is collected, the scholarship has tended to focus on the institutional response to the medium.[22] At present discussion circulates around the development of a digital art market but no full body of work exists which addresses how dealers are uniting the supposedly incompatible worlds of new media and contemporary art.[23]

Through a close examination of the market, this study seeks to demonstrate how digital art practices are being integrated into the art ecosystem. Taking the dismissal of digital practices as its starting point, this study will first provide a brief introduction to technology-engaged art. Chapter Two will explore why the medium has continued to exist in the periphery, detailing the challenges that digital art poses to the main contemporary art world. Drawing on the literature around the commodification of film and video, the reproducibility, technological underpinning and the questions digital art poses to value, authenticity and ownership will be investigated. How these barriers to collecting have been overcome by the digital art market will be addressed in the final chapter. A focused look at the online marketplaces Sedition and Daata Edition in Chapter Three will show that the digital has begun to destabilise the art market. Challenging the art markets’ exclusivity through its online presence and accessibility, the digital art market presents a new way of interacting with and purchasing works of art.

[1] Brad Troemel, ‘Why your JPEGs aren’t making you a billionaire’, The Creators Project, (May 14, 2012), http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/en_uk/blog/digart-why-your-jpegs-arent-making-you-a-millionaire [accessed 6/04/2016].

[2] Kyle Chayka, ‘Pricing Pixels: Breaking Down the Barriers of Selling Digital Art’, Complex, (January 22, 2014), http://uk.complex.com/style/2014/01/digital-art-essay [accessed 22/08/2016].

[3] Katheryn Thayer, ‘Going Once, Going Twice: Phillips And Tumblr Put GIFs On Auction’, Forbes, (October 22, 2013), http://www.forbes.com/sites/katherynthayer/2013/10/22/going-once-going-twice-phillips-puts-gifs-on-auction/#4a930db758ff [accessed 17/08/2016].

[4][4] Bernadine Brocker, ‘What does the Christie’s purchase of Collectrium mean for art tech?’, Apollo Magazine, (February 23, 2015), http://www.apollo-magazine.com/christies-purchase-collectrium-mean-art-tech/ [accessed 22/08/2016].

[5] Julia Kaganskiy, ‘We’re spending a week exploring the digital arts market (or lack thereof)’, The Creators Project, (May 7, 2012), http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/en_uk/blog/digart-were-spending-a-week-exploring-the-digital-arts-market-or-lack-thereof [accessed 8/4/2016].

[6] Edward A. Shanken, ‘Contemporary Art and New Media: Digital Divide or Hybrid Discourse’, forthcoming in A Companion to Digital Art, ed. by Christiane Paul (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2016), 5. Available from: https://hybridge.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/shanken_digital_divide_hybrid_discourse.pdf [accessed 28/01/2016].

[7] Ben Davis, ‘How teamLab’s Post-Art Installations cracked the Silicon Valley Code’, artnetNews, (May 26, 2016), https://news.artnet.com/art-world/teamlabs-silicon-valley-pace-show-504815 [accessed 13/06/2016]; Jonas Lund, ‘Fair Warning’, https://fairwarning.tech/ [accessed 26/08/2016].

[8] Rene Chun, These four technologies may finally put an end to art forgery’, Artsy, (July 18, 2016), https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-these-four-technologies-may-finally-put-an-end-to-art-forgery [accessed 17/08/2016].

[9] This is most apparent with the auction house and its embrace of online channels, Hiscox’s Online Art Trade Report and most recently the partnership of Auctionata and Paddle8; see Christie’s, ‘Release: Christie’s International acquires Collectrium, leading digital art collection management solution’, Christie’s Press Center, (February 12, 2015), http://www.christies.com/about/press-center/releases/pressrelease.aspx?pressreleaseid=7740 [accessed 6/04/2016]; Ryan Steadman, ‘Leading Online Art Sellers will Merge’, Observer, (May 12, 2016), http://observer.com/2016/05/leading-online-art-sellers-will-merge/ [accessed 6/04/2016].

[10] Michael Connor, ‘Collecting Contemporary Art Means Collecting Digital Art’, Rhizome, (October 11, 2013), https://rhizome.org/editorial/2013/oct/11/collecting-contemporary-art-means-collecting-digit [accessed 22/08/2016].

[11] Erika Balsom, ‘Original Copies: How Film and Video Became Art Objects’, Cinema Journal, 53/1, (2013), 99.

[12] The core texts around the medium include, but are not limited to; Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook, Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media (Cambridge Mass.:MIT Press, 2010), Lee Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, Mass and London: The MIT Press, 2001), Christiane Paul ed., New Media in the White Cube and Beyond: Curatorial Models for Digital Art (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009) and Paul Brown et al ed., White Heat Cold Logic: Early British Computer Art 1960-1980 (London: MIT Press, 2008).

[13] Graham and Cook, Rethinking Curating, pp. 4-19.

[14] This includes: the Rhizome Community, Github and netime.

[15] Recent articles include: Chun, These four technologies may finally put an end to art forgery’, Kito Nedo, ‘In Profile: Julia Stoschek’, Frieze Editorial, (June 1, 2016), https://frieze.com/article/profile-julia-stoschek [accessed 24/08/2016]; Tom Jeffreys, ‘Can art exist on social media?’, Apollo Magazine, (November 30, 2015), http://www.apollo-magazine.com/can-art-exist-on-social-media/ [accessed 24/08/2016] and Carlos Cardenas, Vincent Justin and Marie Maertens, ‘Reconsidering the Terms We Use to Define Digital Art’, Artsy Editorial, (November 29, 2015), https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-reconsidering-the-terms-we-use-to-define-digital-art [accessed 25/08/2016].

[16] Rhizome, ‘Programs’, http://rhizome.org/programs/ [accessed 22/08/2016].

[17] Dylan Schenker, ’10 reasons why digital art doesn’t need the traditional art market’, The Creators Project, (May 11, 2012), http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/en_uk/blog/digart-10-reasons-why-digital-art-doesnt-need-the-traditional-art-market [accessed 8/4/2016].

[18] Shanken, ‘Contemporary Art and New Media’, 1.

[19] Shanken refers specifically to socially engaged and collaborative works, Ibid., 3; Miwon Kwon examines how site-specific art practices have been integrated into the market, observing that: ‘while site-specific art once defied commodification by insisting on immobility, it now seems to espouse fluid mobility and nomadism for the same purpose.’ She continues by asking: ‘is the unhinging of site-specificity, then, a form of resistance to the ideological establishment of art, or a capitulation to the logic of capitalist expansion?’, Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another: Site Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004), 31.

For further discussion on the commodification of site-specific and interactive practices please see: Charlotte Lee, ‘Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Interactivity, Inter-Media and the Institution – An Analysis of re-authorship and institutional support in the production and commodification of Under Scan – Relational Architecture 11’ (MA (hons) Diss., University of Edinburgh, 2015).

[20] Shanken, ‘Contemporary Art and New Media’, 16; Grant D. Taylor, When the Machine Made Art: The Troubled History of Computer Art (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 52.

[21] Payal Arora and Filip Vermeylen, ‘The End of the Art Connoisseur: Experts and Knowledge Production in the Visual Arts in the Digital Age’, Information, Communication & Society, 16/2, (2012), 5.

[22] For further discussion on institutional collecting habits see: Beryl Graham ed., New Collecting: Exhibiting and Audiences After New Media Art (London and New York: Routledge, 2016).

[23] The different channels available to artists for selling and distributing their works online has been addressed by Pau Wealder in ‘How to Sell Online Art and Make Millions of Visits: A Short Guide for Artists’, http://issuu-downloader.abuouday.com/view.php?url=pauwaelder/docs/pw-howtosell [accessed 20/08/2016].