Interviews

How Do You Sell an Animated GIF?

by Hrag Vartanian on March 3, 2011

Lauren Cornell amazed at the great sales at the Rhizome booth at Armory's Pier 94… wanna buy an animated GIF? (click to enlarge)

Last month, we learned that Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City curated a show of animated GIFs and now I’ve discovered that Lauren Cornell, the executive director of Rhizome, is selling these often trippy nuggets of Graphics Interchange Format files at the 2011 New York Armory Show.

Wait, what?

That’s right, Cornell is a pixel pusher. She’s got a bunch of adorable online graphics that flicker on our computer screens and mobile devices available for sale right now at New York’s premiere art fair. Get ‘em while they last.

But there were so many questions swirling in my head about how you can buy pixel-based art, so I had to ask Cornell the big question, how does this work, exactly?

Here is her answer on my little guerrilla interview video during the press preview of the Armory yesterday.

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  • dave o.

    Meme Gallery in Cambridge, Mass. had an animated gif show last year. The whole show is archived here: http://meme.templeofmessages.com/8bitTz/indexMEMEVAULT.html

  • Lindsay

    Keep up, Hyperallergic. Artists have been selling GIFs for years — this isn’t a new revelation by any stretch.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      I think it’s safe to say that 99.999% of the population does not know that, this is probably the first-ever at the Armory, and outside of the fact that there is no norm for selling animated GIFs tells me it’s still not an accepted thing. We’re a general interest art publication, and most of our readers did not know about this. Go, new media artists!

      • Lindsay

        Am I being too optimistic to ask that even a “general interest art publication” do a little bit of research? It’s condescending to refer to these artist’s works as “adorable” – Sara Ludy and Rafael Rozendaal are highly regarded artists in their field. It seems to me that you would be better serving your readership to present a well-informed, thoughtful look at this subject rather than what reads to me like a “Ain’t this craZyyy?!” fluff piece.

        • http://twitter.com/hyperallergic hyperallergic

          Your lack of humor is actually really funny. Maybe Hyperallergic isn’t a good fit for you, feel free not to read.

          • http://tommoody.us tom moody

            Hrag, you should listen to people’s criticism and not just try to be right all the time. Lindsay has some valid points.

          • http://twitter.com/hyperallergic hyperallergic

            There are different types of writing for different things.

          • http://tommoody.us tom moody

            OK, it’s your site, you win.

          • http://twitter.com/hyperallergic hyperallergic

            WOOT! I win, I win. Crack and hookers all around. I’ll even get the party started: http://www.gifsoup.com/webroot/animatedgifs2/1177025_o.gif

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    My first gif sale was 5 years ago.
    Hrag, one of the items Cornell is selling is a web page–it hasn’t been unusual to market those since the dot com era. That was ten years ago. Many museums own websites and internet-specific art.
    As for “taking it offline so the collector can have it locally”–Lauren, Lauren, where have we failed you? No director of a new media website should be promoting work in those terms.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Tom, as you probably heard. I asked her about animated GIFs, it was her choice to choose the website, which I think was a smart choice since it informed general readers that there are other venues to purchase new media work.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Right but your post is titled how do you sell an animated GIF? And she only gives one example. You’re continuing to suggest this is without precedent and that isn’t true.
    In any case, it might be good to have some clarification of what Cornell means by “taking it offline so the collector can have it locally.” Does that mean save a copy to a thumb drive and sell the drive and GIF (with the artist’s authentication) while allowing the work to circulate online? Or does it mean removing it from public circulation to “lock up the rights” for a single (or edition) owner? The latter is kind of the antithesis of both an open source ethic and the democratic appeal of GIFs.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Yup, that’s what the post was about and the point of my interview with Lauren. She chose to take it elsewhere and that’s her prerogative.

      Your comment “you’re continuing to suggest this is without precedent” is confusing. Where am I continuing to suggest this? I say in the post that “I” discovered this. I never say this is the first time it has ever happened.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    She gave two examples so the post should be called “how do you sell software as art?” or something like that. You say there is no norm for selling animated GIFs. How do you know if you just learned about this?

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Did you read the post? “I’ve discovered that Lauren Cornell, the executive director of Rhizome, is selling these often trippy nuggets of Graphics Interchange Format files…” I didn’t say that it was the first time I discovered that animated GIFs were being sold.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    When you say “there were so many questions swirling in my head about how you can buy pixel-based art” this suggests not having had much previous thought or knowledge about the subject. My apologies if I’m reading too much into that. In any event, the question I asked above, about what it means to “take a piece offline,” deserves further consideration and inquiry, I think.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      No worries, I hope you see me as an ally in the field of new media. I simply have many questions that I’ve never resolved.

      When I purchased a new media work last year I was quite surprised that the artist (rather well know) hadn’t thought of many of these issues and it raised many issues — in fact, I stumbled upon them, or so it feels that way — that I haven’t yet resolved. I agree that the offline part is an interesting question but I wonder if that is simply a transitional phase of this as collectors get more comfortable with acquiring online media.

      I’d love if you’d share some links that you think would be of interest to others finding out about this.

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  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    This gets back to a subject Paddy and I have been discussing–the disappearance of links from institutional websites (including Rhizome) that would make it possible to learn about the history.

    Rhizome co-sponsored a show called “The GIF Show,” at a space in San Francisco, in April 2006. The link for the show is dead ( http://www.rhizome.org/events/gifshow/ ) but a reblog post discussing it is still active ( http://rhizome.org/editorial/2006/apr/29/gifs-galore-and-more/ ).

    Here is a Rhizome post discussing a 2008 show in Brooklyn where GIFs were sold: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2008/aug/8/choosy-moms-choose-gif/ (“they were all commissioned on three days’ notice … and are being sold in unlimited editions [accompanied by a personalized note from the artist] for $20″). Probably a bit lower price than what Cornell is asking!

    Some artists convert GIFs to DVD and sell the DVDs as editioned works. Others sell the software on dedicated hard drives. The norm is what works best for the display of the piece, although the bigger norm, I would argue, is staying true to the nature and spirit of the work.

  • Wat Tyler

    I quite liked the post. I’m not familiar with this area of work so the vid was a good intro for me and inspired me to look into it a bit more.

  • http://twitter.com/WayoftheDodo John E. Sullivan

    Wow you guy’s(and gal’s) are a bunch of hate, hate, haters. It’s only animated GIF’s, relax.
    Great vid Tom. (Even cuter gal)

    http://johnedwardsullivan.tumblr.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=34601449 Ryder Ripps
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=34601449 Ryder Ripps

    OH OH OH WE”RE FALLING IN LOVE

    • Hypothete

      lol

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Talked to a couple of my net artiste friends about “taking the work offline so the collector can have it locally.” The drift seems to be, yeah, it sucks, maybe the collectors will have the good sense to post the GIF and put it back in circulation, and ultimately we don’t care how non-open-source Cornell has to be to get people to buy GIFs–it’s important for new media type art to be making inroads in the gallery world. So there you have it.

    • Sara Ludy

      It was my decision to take the gifs offline, not Lauren’s.

      • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

        Thanks for chiming in you two.

        Sara, I want one of your GIFs! They’re pretty lovely, I’ll start saving!!! Though out of curiosity, how do you prefer them to be viewed after they’re purchased.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Sara, why work in the GIF format at all, since one of its main properties is ease of transmission? There’s always a possibility your work will leak back online and be circulated by the unelect. Perhaps you’re adding some DRM code that disables the GIF for all but the collector, as well?

    • http://www.saraludy.com Sara Ludy

      Tom, I respect your concerns about what ‘taking it offline’ ultimately represents in terms of gesture.

      To be completely honest, I have never sold an animated gif nor have I ever thought about selling an animated gif. My participation in the Armory show was an unexpected surprise that took an even more unexpected direction. I did not have much time to consider all the questions surrounding how to sell an animated gif since everything happened rather fast.

      I am constantly adding and removing gifs from my website. It is part of my practice. I knew the gifs existed outside of my personal website by way of them being reblogged and I liked the possibility that I might come across them again. That is what sparked my decision to take them offline.

      Not once in all the speculation did anyone send me an email regarding my decision. A little bit of curiosity towards my practice would of been correct I think.

      Hrag, they are meant to be viewed as you saw at the show, a repeated background image on an html page.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Hi, Sara,
    Lack of curiosity is a two way street, I think. Only a few years ago Paul Slocum was running And/Or Gallery in Dallas and Aron Namenwirth was running artMovingProjects in Brooklyn. I was involved with both galleries as an artist and there was a fair amount of discussion on my blog, Paddy Johnson’s blog, and at Rhizome about the exhibition and, yes, sale of the art by these and other spaces. You may not have been aware of the history but Lauren Cornell certainly is. An email to any of these parties asking “how did you folks do it?” would certainly have been answered.
    Best, Tom

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