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Solway Tries Something New

By Steven Rosen · January 25th, 2011 · The Big Picture

This week through Sunday, Carl Solway Gallery is one of just 139 prestigious galleries from 30 countries (and the only local representative) involved in an international experiment to see if virtual, online-only art fairs can sell contemporary work. Based on technical problems early this week, that experiment has some room for improvement.

The VIP (Viewing in Private) Art Fair, online at www.vipartfair.com through Sunday, is trying something new, and is going against conventional art-world wisdom to do so. The presumption is that contemporary-art collectors go to actual art fairs to see the physical objects they buy. And, not incidentally, they want to attend the “real” art-festival circuit for the dynamic social interaction and great parties. There are as many as 50 major international art fairs, such as Art Basel Miami Beach

So can an exclusively online art fair work?

“The Internet allows us to do a lot technologically in terms of image processing — we’re a lot further along than we were when had we had the crash of the last dot-com bubble,” the festival’s co-director Noah Horowitz says.

The fair was organized by the owners of an established gallery — James and Jane Cohan of the James Cohan Gallery in New York and Shanghai — and two collectors, Jonas and Alessandra Almgren.

(Jonas has a Silicon Valley background). Galleries pay to exhibit; the fair is counting on immediate online sales but also relationship-building on a global scale.

Solway has what’s called a Focus Booth, featuring works by one artist. In Solway’s case, it’s Columbus-based Ann Hamilton. Known for her conceptual installations, she has been the U.S. representative at the Venice Biennale and has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. Solway is offering (for $6,000-$9,000 each) eight of the digital-photographic prints of books she displayed at a recent show at his West End gallery.

“She’s a major international artist and we’re very proud to be developing this relationship with her,” Solway says. “This is a way to announce this to the international art world. If people are interested in Ann Hamilton, they should come to us.”

The fair was supposed to work like this: Anyone can visit and view the “upfront” art at participating galleries for free but they need a special $20 VIP pass to instant-chat with individual exhibitors (the pass cost $100 for last weekend, the fair’s first two days). Via the chat system, VIP pass holders then could get authorization to visit each gallery’s “private rooms” with more art.

Alas, a publicist explained to me on Monday after I had trouble on the site that the fair was forced to disable the chat system (and with it access to online private rooms) in order to keep the overall site operating in the face of all the traffic to the “upfront” galleries. It hopes to have the system back to normal later this week. I don’t know what that does to the fair’s economics — galleries had bought booths and visitors VIP passes based on having that special, selective access.

It also deprived Solway, for at least a few days, of allowing access to his private room featuring a $250,000 Hamilton installation called “Aloud.” (He also has other private rooms.) There, online, he had an interactive image of the piece, which consists of 174 digital photographs of the open mouths of wooden figures collected in a Stockholm museum. Hamilton wants the entity that buys the work to agree to have live performers sing to the photos.

“So it’s something for a museum,” Solway says. “And how does one, even if you’re a gallery in New York, reach museums worldwide interested in Ann Hamilton so they know what might be available for their collections? This is why we’re doing this.”

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosen@citybeat.com



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