The art world is changing rapidly. As artists continue to push the boundaries of what is art, the traditional role of galleries, curators and even collectors finds itself changing to keep pace. Take the Tate’s opening of the Tanks as an exclusively performance space, and Tino Seghal’s not-quite-as-interesting-as-you-might-think These Associations (http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/unilever-series-tino-sehgal-2012) as a sign of the times. Contemporary art is increasingly becoming about a great idea or a meticulous process - neither of which are easily displayed or collected. This is certainly no bad thing; on the contrary, it poses interesting questions for the art world. Having worked at a very traditional gallery this month that deals exclusively in modern masters and original prints, it is clear that this traditional form is becoming less relevant to today’s contemporary scene and today’s economic realities.
Seeking at all costs to avoid the crushing realities of my unfinished dissertation, I stumbled recently upon an interesting side-project at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts – an excellent place, and at £10 for membership, a snip) called s[edition] (http://www.seditionart.com/about): a place to collect and enjoy art digitally. Available to purchase for a modest fee (at times as low as £5) are works by big name artists. Many works are videos, which might go some way to preserving exhibitions such as Seghal’s as collectible pieces, providing a vital source of funding for struggling commercial art galleries and artists alike who seek to work with performance and installations that are for obvious reasons far less commercially viable.
Some of the works are genuinely great – the Bill Viola sequences and Wim Wenders photographs are personal favourites. All works come in limited editions of between 100 and 10,000, and all works are signed by the artist and authenticated. Once they are sold out, the works can be traded online to other aficionados on the soon-to-be online marketplace. I can think of no other occasion you could obtain a piece by Damien Hirst or Mat Collishaw for under a tenner, but the catch is, do you ever really obtain the
work? Only accessible online, in your own personal digital ‘vault’, these works are billed as free to be enjoyed by you whenever you like, internet connection permitting of course. A strange combination of social networking site, online gallery and ebay, it presents a radical alternative to traditional collecting,
but I can’t quite get on board with it.
It is an interesting idea, certainly. In a time of serious economic hardship for many, this democratic, ‘art for all’ idea is quite refreshing, but a few things hold me back. I think part of the delight of owning an art work is its tangibility – it is yours to enjoy, to walk past, reflect upon it and to fit with your other
possessions. To my mind, I think I would struggle to connect with a work because of this digital barrier. Having to access the works digitally I think risks lessening their emotive capacity. Plus I can’t help but feel that commercially-minded artists already signed up to the program (Damien Hirst springs to mind) are only in on it for a quick buck, rather than perhaps for the interesting questions it raises about consumerism and the links between the real world and the digital one.
Will it catch on? I think in time, yes. Big sponsors are onboard, it has received a lot of press, and the social networking element gives it the possibility to ‘explode’ as we have seen with facebook and twitter. Time will tell. Is digital collecting the future? I’m not so sure, but I can’t wait to find out.