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VIP Art Fair Violates Online Privacy, Won’t Load, Deletes Chats?

by Kyle Chayka on January 24, 2011

Today marks the first (and only) full week of the world’s first online-only art fair. Ending on January 30, the VIP Art Fair has already begun to make waves. How is the fair fairing? Well, visitors are having mixed results. Due to heavy traffic the fair’s website has been loading slowly, harshing the buzz on a big opening weekend. You think the oldsters on dial-up will stand for that? Art Review reports that VIP Art Fair might be stealing your email address. Critics and gallerists complains about the molasses-like speeds. I complain about the Tweet-share button. Here’s a post-weekend guide to the VIP Art Fair, including my own initial impressions.

The big news first! Art Review‘s first writing on the VIP Art Fair experience was pretty optimistic, though they noted that the online fair preserved physical art fairs’ capacity for being bewildering to navigate and tough to converse in. The chat function ran slow, leading to a lot of “crossed wires.” They enjoyed the price function, though, which gives even us civilians the chance to ogle a “$500,000 to $1 million” Anish Kapoor piece at Gladstone gallery’s internet booth. Opinion soured, though, when Art Review found themselves being watched by an art world Big Brother: the default privacy setting on the website (for VIP accounts at least) shares viewers’ email addresses with any gallery they choose to visit. So if you don’t want Gagosian sending you emails, be sure to unclick that one. This should definitely be pointed out on the entrance page to the fair, or even upon sign-up.

Artinfo got the scoop on the VIP Art Fair’s offline launch party, which actually isn’t a bunch of nerds around flat screens in a conference hall. There go our LAN dreams. “Does the experience of art lose its serendipity and sentimental romance, like finding mates arguably does when dating goes online?” Artinfo asks. Turns out, it doesn’t matter! There was free booze and computers avaialble to scan a fair preview. Being social in the art world doesn’t require the immediate presence of art, Artinfo implies. Jalloro Creative Agency has a neat round-up of their favorite art encounters in the VIP Art Fair, though don’t look for much commentary there.

Gallerist Magda Sawon of Postmasters gallery had some issues with the fair’s online interface, noting on Twitter that the gallery’s recent online inventory changes had gotten erased. An exchange between Magda and Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City revealed that the fair’s chat window also had some malfunctions: the two couldn’t tell if they had actually communicated with each other.

VIP Art Fair has fessed up to the loading and chat problems on their Facebook, noting that the traffic exceeded their expectations and letting us all know that they’re in the process of upgrading their server capabilities. Check out the comment thread for the balance of critics and supporters.

Winkleman gallery's booth at VIP Art Fair (screenshot by author)

My own experience with the VIP Art Fair has been lackluster, but not unimpressive. The online interface for the fair doesn’t feel as up to date as it should. Director Noah Horowitz pointed out to me that the lack of Flash was a purposeful move towards simplicity, but the total lack of smooth movement between pages and panels of the fair site feels cheap. The images provided by galleries for their art work are certainly high-resolution and detailed, but no amount of pixels can change the fact that the pieces have no depth whatsoever. Photos shot from an angle might help some pieces, but those often aren’t provided in the works’ related media tab found on the site’s bottom menu. The media tab is pretty sweet for videos, though. On Winkleman gallery’s page, high-quality videos of Leslie Thornton’s “Binocular (Python)” (2010) are readily available. It’s a great formal interface for video art, kind of like a gallery-personalized Vimeo.

VIP Art Fair runs into bigger problems, though, when it comes to social media. It’s nice that we can tweet our favorite artworks from inside the site window, but only those who have registered for the fair can see what we’re talking about. It’s a walled-garden gateway that’s annoying, but not unexpected. Open sharing would be great publicity for the fair and galleries alike. Artist Brian Piana summed it up succinctly:

As of 9-10:00pm this past Sunday night, I wasn’t having too much trouble loading works. I expect that problem will only get better, but I’ll keep an eye on it. The site is definitely not easy to navigate nor particularly beautiful, but it is certainly functional. My problem is that in the end, you’re just looking at art on a claustrophobia-inducing screen; it all feels airless. Collectors might buy with a hand-emailed JPEG, but in this (relatively) public gallery space, the JPEG itself feels a little cheapened. Still, collectors aren’t buying straight from VIP Art Fair, they’re negotiating with the real gallery. That might make the difference. I’ve contacted the fair’s PR office for stats on visitors and sales, so watch this space for updates. Also be sure to check out my previous interview with VIP Art Fair Director Noah Horowitz.

Maybe I would’ve preferred a fair text-based art fair adventure game:

You see Mera Rubell. Talk to her? [Y/N]

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  • Anonymous

    Whoa, no idea my email address would automatically be shared. Major faux pas and totally not cool. I’ve already visited pretty much every gallery in the fair.

    In other news, “Mrs. VIP II” sure looks a lot like Work of Art judge Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn to me! -> http://twitpic.com/3t2021

  • Morgan

    The UX is really bad on the site. It feels like so much work to navigate between galleries and hard to have an idea about where you are. Perhaps they carried the analogy of a physical art fair too far by keeping the clunky organization of a physical art fair. I saved artworks, but where did they go? Why can’t I scan through images more quickly? My bias is that art needs to be seen in person; even still, there are a lot of thing vipartfair could have done to make this a compelling experience, which they did not.

    • http://twitter.com/chaykak Kyle Chayka

      For being online, it really is a very slow process to get through the works in the fair. And I totally agree that this could have been a much more compelling experience, slow speeds or not. I mean, I would’ve downloaded a VIP Art Fair application if it meant a better trip through the fair…

  • http://artthreat.net Rob Maguire

    I empathize with @bpiana. I wanted to take a look to see what all the fuss is about, and even signed up — a process that asks for more personal information than should be required. But after waiting 20 minutes for an email confirmation to arrive, I give up.

    If the VIP folks are going to give this a shot again next year, they should seriously consider hiring a UX consultant.

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