Saturday, May 30, 2020

Gone to the Fair

This month saw the first online edition of Frieze New York. Starting the 8th of May, the week long event allowed plenty of time to visit the two hundred and thirty nine galleries and view more than four thousand works of art. The visit could start by selecting a list of sites according to location (every continent was represented minus Antarctica), section (Spolight, Non profit, Main Galleries, Dialogos, ...), artist gender (Female, Male, Transgender, Non-binary or Other), price bracket or medium.
The registration was free and allowed to enter the "viewing rooms" which also provided direct access to the galleries' websites.
I relish visiting art fairs, Frieze London, FIAC, Miami Art Basel, The Armory Show, this time, I logged into Frieze New York, alone in front of my computer.
Color distortion, loss of texture, fuzzy lines, skewed depth, size, missing shadows and reflections, among the drawbacks of looking at photographs of artworks, the lack of physical interaction is the most frustrating for me. During my repeated visits to the online platform, I appreciated pieces from artists I encountered at previous shows but new ones stayed mute. I most likely would have just given a glance at a painting from Torkwase Dyson featured by Pace Gallery, if I had not seen the exhibition Torkwase Dyson: Black Compositional Thought/ 15 Paintings for the Plantatiocene at the New Orleans Museum of Art before its temporary closure. Looking at the image of a midnight blue and black composition filled with white geometric drawings on the screen, I would have missed the spiritual dimension of her work by skipping the act of contemplation which can only occur in front of the real thing. A photograph of James Turrell's light piece brought back memories of my visit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the adventure of going through the exhibition James Turrell: a Retrospective, bathing in colors, disoriented at times. I kept clicking my mouse for more.
Of course the fair on line has some advantages, especially for collectors, with prices displayed next to most artworks' photographs and I was able to visit daily for a whole week. I even fantasized about owning paintings I could not afford by projecting them on the white walls of my living room, thanks to AR (augmented reality) available on the Frieze New York app.

The new immersive technology (AR) is creeping in the art world making its debut at the fair with its own section called "Acute Art". The  website of the same name was launched timely in March and is described as "a new art platform that transforms the way we collect, trade and live with art". Indeed. After downloading the app and some practice, I was able to experience free digital art samples, small versions of COMPANION (EXPANDED), graffiti (sounds included) from  KAWS and objects from a "cabinet of curiosities" called AR WUNDERKAMMER created by Olafur Eliasson. It was fun to decorate walls with clouds, rainbows, or arrange virtual sculptures of COMPANION on the floor. Like in a magical world, objects would appear and disappear with a glide of my fingers while my eyes stayed glued to the screen of my phone. The business part happens on the website: for 10,000 dollars, I could own a 1.8 meter sculpture (edition of 25) from KAWS, download it on the app and project my newly acquired piece of art in my surroundings. Next, I could send pictures (shot with my phone camera) to my friends and share them on social media. Of course, I would receive a digital certificate of authenticity. Later, when tired of the work or to get my money back, I could sell it again on the site and feed a secondary market. The simple operation offers a way to trade art while bypassing galleries, fairs and auction houses.
How will this new field evolve? Future will tell, but museums have already adopted VR, AR, and we can predict that smartphones will multiply when they reopen. Will artists change their practice to adapt to this new technology?
It's a brand new world, but I can't wait to visit the next fair in the flesh.

photographs by the author:

Painting from Torkwase Dyson at the New Orleans Museum of Art

COURAGEOUS FLOWERS from Olafur Eliasson and AT THIS TIME (EXPANDED) from KAWS in my living room

THE SCOTTS from KAWS in my living room.