Viewing Made Public at VIP Art Fair

Soldat VIP via James Cohan Gallery
Yinka Shonibare, MBE
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (Asia), 2008
Copyright the artist
Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York


Measured by clicks, the newfangled VIP Art Fair appeared to be a hit. Fair organizers reported that 7.6 million artworks were viewed. But in spite of brisk cyber-traffic, the fair wasn’t a selling bonanza. Dealers from Chelsea to the Upper East Side groused they hadn’t made sales, and blamed in part the site’s broken chat function.

But the fair was an unexpected boon for galleries hoping to beef up their mailing lists. “We’ve had a handful of serious inquiries, and a long list of new contact names,” said Barbara Baruch, director of Brooke Alexander Gallery, which posted works by Ellsworth Kelly, Ken Price and Joseph Albers. Baruch was referring to the statistics that became available once a visitor “privately” clicked on a work.

For the hundred-plus exhibitors, each of whom forked over $3,000–$20,000 for variously sized stands, the most valuable commodity won from the weeklong virtual fair may well be the names and email addresses of thousands the visitors who browsed their online booths and whose inquiries were recorded.

Reports of users and visitors’ identities were made immediately available to exhibitors on the VIP site upon entry to a dealer’s booth. These spreadsheets, easily transformed into a .xls file, allow dealers to track who clicked on which artworks—importantly, only in their own booths—and even who zoomed in on a particular piece.

This policy was explained to users who bothered to seek out the site’s privacy policy, linked off of the “Profile” page.

Among the major collectors trolling the site—whose surfing habits were made relatively available—were Greek mega-collector Dimitri Daskopolous, Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker, Houston tech billionaire John Arnold and art lawyer John Silberman.

These contacts were obtained in spite of a diminished ability to chat on the web site. From the at the fair’s opening on Saturday morning, the volume of visitors overwhelmed the site’s servers. The malfunctioning “chat” feature left dealers and collectors confused and agitated.

“I wasn’t sure if they were ignoring me, or if it was my computer,” said Mike Hoeh, a collector who runs the photography website Modern Art Obsession. He said he spent nearly five hours on opening day struggling to navigate the sluggish site, an experience he describes as “almost torture.”

Hoeh purchased two works during the course of the fair. But he selected one by contacting the gallery directly and selecting from private inventory not on display in their “booth.” Because all sales are executed off the platform, and VIP makes no commission on sales, it is difficult to gauge these successes.

“Maybe it was a premature launch,” Hoeh offered.

“There are lots of kinks to get out of it and it probably didn’t go the way everyone was hoping but I think there’s still some potential,” said Chelsea dealer Jack Shainman. The gallery ultimately did not sell anything from their booth, Shainman said, but, “We met some new clients and had activity with people putting reserves on works

Whether those leads will translate into sales is anyone’s guess.