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Art Basel’s Online Viewing Rooms are now accessible and open to the public through March 25. The platform launched as a way to support galleries and artists slated to participate in Art Basel Hong Kong, canceled earlier this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Art Basel’s Global Director Marc Spiegler took the time to answer some of our questions about what this new digital foray means for the fair.
WHITEWALL: Can you share some highlights from the new Online Viewing Rooms?
MARC SPIEGER: Some of the highlights include Vitamin Creative Space’s themed booth exploring the interaction between human and the world, including works by Cao Fei, Ming Wong, and Koki Tanaka; Rossi & Rossi’s solo presentation of Iranian artist Sia Armajani; and Agnès Varda’s original prints from the series that she realized in China in 1957, presented by Galerie Nathalie Obadia, among many others. The overall value of works presented is approximately $270 million, each work with an average value of over $130,000, which is an unprecedented figure for an online platform.
WW: What does an online viewing room offer that a fair booth presentation cannot?
MS: While nothing can replace the experience of seeing art in person or visiting a fair itself, we’re confident that our Online Viewing Rooms will open more doors for our exhibitors to showcase their programs to new and broader audiences. According to the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report, 57% of online sales by dealers in 2019 were made to new buyers who had never been to their gallery or met the dealer in person, which speaks to the important role digital technologies can play in further connecting galleries with a global audience.
Just as collectors and gallerists attend our shows to exchange ideas, deepen existing relationships, and to develop new connections, we hope the Online Viewing Rooms will not only extend the reach of our galleries’ presentations at our shows, but also inspire creative conversations around how digital tools can be used to foster a healthy art world ecosystem.
WW: How have you been seeing collectors and galleries embrace online viewing rooms?
MS: We’ve received tremendous support and positive feedback from our VIPs and galleries alike since we announced the launch of the initiative. 95 percent of exhibitors from our 2020 Hong Kong show have decided to participate in the first iteration that opened this week, including many small and mid-sized galleries who are using our initiative as a way to explore the concept of a virtual exhibition and sales platform. Our VIPs across the globe are also excited to access in one digital platform presentations by our galleries, who always curate and showcase the highest-quality artworks to our audiences.
WW: Why is transparency so key on this kind of platform?
MS: Mutual trust is an essential part of the art market. In the absence of face-to-face interactions, building trust requires transparency. As such, it was essential that collectors have access to pricing information, which is unprecedented in the context of an art fair, and gallerists in turn have immediate access to the identity of those inquiring about artworks. Studies have shown that in the online marketplace, works with transparent pricing are more likely to sell, but perhaps more importantly, having the pricing available mitigates inquiries of pure curiosity, which enables gallerists to focus their time and resources on qualified leads and inquiries.
WW: As fairs have been canceled or postponed this spring, do you anticipate increasing programming in the Online Viewing Rooms?
MS: Supporting our galleries is always our primary concern, but even more so during these incredibly difficult times. While social distancing is in place, the digital world will need to play an important role in sustaining these small businesses. We’re already seeing various sectors in the art world developing creative digital solutions to navigate the situation, from museums hosting virtual tours of their collections and galleries presenting online viewing rooms, to new organizations being formed, such as ART Power HK – which provides an online platform for Hong Kong’s various cultural organizations.
As for Art Basel, the Online Viewing Rooms were designed as an accompaniment to the fairs, not a replacement, but we’ll certainly be exploring any and all ways that our platforms can support our galleries during these challenging times.