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Will S[edition] Become the App Store of Digital Art?

by Alicia Eler on June 5, 2013

Elmgreen & Dragset's "Powerless Structures, Fig. 101" (ed. of 5,000) is one of the works available on the s[edition] digital platform. (GIF'd by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

Elmgreen & Dragset’s “Powerless Structures, Fig. 101″ (ed. of 5,000) is one of the works available on the s[edition] digital platform. (GIF’d by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

CHICAGO — The stories we experience online, the people we meet, and the information we discover, offer us new ways to fall in love with the image, the autograph, and even the art object. But what of purchasing art that really only does exist on the internet or in a digital format?

Today, a new expanded version of s[edition] launches and it will allow artists working with a wide range of digital technologies, including moving image, motion graphic, photography, generative art, illustration, and design, to be able to upload their work to the s[edition] platform and start selling their works to people around the world.

Founded by Harry Blain, who is also the founder of Blain|Southern, and Robert Norton, former CEO of Saatchi Online, this new site offers people a way to collect limited-edition digital works by well-known blue-chip artists, top-tier digital artists and other artists should they be accepted onto the platform. S[edition] gives the price and edition upfront, acting more like an eBay-type space than other ecommerce sites, like Art.sy or Artspace, which act more like an online white box that asks users to contact the gallery or chat with a specialist to complete the purchase of actual, physical objects. The biggest challenge for s[edition] buyers, though the site prefers to call them collectors, is that the art stays on the platform, offering a walled garden for these digital collections, rather than an open field that digital artists and collectors are more accustomed to.

Angelo Plessas. "Portrait #3." Image via s[edition].

Angelo Plessas. “Portrait #3.” (screencapture via seditionart.com)

Artists who sell work receive 50% commission on works, which is congruent to the artist-dealer rate. Users are also offered $10 to use toward a purchase if they invite their friends to join, too. For artists working in the digital realm, a site like s[edition] could be a major game-changer — if it ends up being profitable. But first an artist must be accepted onto the platform, suggesting the approval process may be more akin to the Apple app store, with it’s rules and guidelines, than anything remotely like the anything goes domain of eBay.

The s[edition] platform also gives artists the opportunity to create profiles, describe artworks, and set their price and edition size. According to the platform, “Artists launch their works by inviting friends, fans and collectors to their exclusive 24-hour online private view, giving them preferential access and pricing.”

“As a digital-based art maker, it is more difficult to retain ownership of works, including single copies for collectors,” says Chicago-based artist James Green. “All of this is happening while you are placing your work on the easily sharable internet for exposure.”

Angelo Plessas. "Portrait #3." Image via s[edition].

Angelo Plessas. “Portrait #3.” (screencapture via seditionart.com)

Theodore Darst, another artist working almost exclusively in the digital space, notes the ongoing monetization problem that digital artists regularly grapple with. Often times when digital artists want to get paid for their work, they start making objects. S[edition] may offer a solution to these common problems if they don’t mind the limitations of mobility.

“I liked that the site’s curators seem to have gone out of their way to include some work by a bunch of first-tier digital artists such as Ryoji Ikeda, Angelo Plessas, and Rafaël Rozendaal to balance out the work by Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin that they are promoting as the main draw,” Darst said.

Hubs like Rhizome ArtBase offer an online archive of digital art, but this space functions more like a living museum. It is not a space for sales. Is it time that the art world finally catches up to other evolving digital art spaces, democratizing the art buying process, deleting the middleman, woman or person, and making virtual editions for sale?

Green asks: “If we hold digital collections of music, movies and books, who’s to say we can’t do the same with art?”

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  • Jordan R

    I think it’s an interesting idea for a platform to distribute small digital works, but I’m not sure what I think of the watermark. Might they explore other ways of preventing duplication? — Apple does a mighty fine job of that.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      There are no watermarks on works that are purchased.

      • Jordan R

        Okay… So, this could be quite cool.

  • http://www.anthonyantonellis.com/ Anthony Antonellis

    Something about this just rubs me the wrong way

  • http://www.artatbay.com/ Danny Olda

    They don’t offer GIFS which sucks. Also the videos can’t be viewed outside their site or app. It doesn’t sound like collecting as much as it sounds like art-Netflix.

    • Jordan R

      Depends on how the app can be accessed. If you can get the image onto a flat screen, it seems like a legitimate way to acquire work. Some sort of download should be an option in case the company disappears and purchased work can no longer be accessed. Content delivery options are pretty vague, and formats varied from piece to piece.

      • http://www.artatbay.com/ Danny Olda

        I guess that would be my main concern: what would happen to my ‘collection’ if s[edition] disappears? Would they just rot like bad links? Maybe digital art not only needs a new approach to collecting, but also a new conception of ownership.

  • Mike Star.

    The time is ripe to create the iTunes of digital art. I’m just hoping s[edition] is not the one to seize that opportunity.

    s[edition] is being modeled as a money machine for the few suits in charge. The 50% commission is way too inflated for a digital art gallery, and there is no mention of sharing resale revenues with artists (it only states that the company will impose an unspecified commission on resale transactions). Nothing in the Terms & Conditions explains what happens if operations cease. There’s only the blanket save-our-ass clauses: “we reserve the right to withdraw or modify all or part of the Services or s[edition] where we have legal or commercial reasons to do so” and “we cannot guarantee continuous, uninterrupted or secure access to s[edition] or any of the material that appears on it.”

    No surprises here as s[edition]’s two HMFICs have a history of exploiting artists for their private business interests (e.g. Blain selling Hauser & Wirth to Christie’s; Norton being brought in by a VC firm to turn Saatchi Online into an ecommerce platform and raise millions in investments). That’s fine, they seem like dandy capitalists, but why not promote sedition against s[edition]? (I cringed when I wrote that pun, yet can’t bring myself to erase it.)

    I’d like to see an organization or collective, one that serves artists instead of investors, create a rival platform/marketplace. Imagine it: there would be a reasonable fee per transaction (say 10%) that supports upkeep of the site and marketing campaigns to draw traffic; collectors could resell their purchases using the platform, and there would be a commission attached to each transaction, the majority of which goes back to the artist; prices and sale history would be transparent to all; and there would an invisible digital watermark in order to link individual digital works to its Certificate of Authenticity and track potential infringements to the artists’ copyrights. In case the platform fails, there would be a full contingency plan in place for collectors to safeguard their work and enjoy in perpetuity.

    I’m sensing this is a worthy cause. Should we start the Kickstarter on this? Maybe there could be some backing from Hyperallergic?

  • The_real_jd_hastings

    Haven’t professional photography outlets and stock photography firms been dealing with digital rights management for decades?

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