NEW YORK—The debut of the first-ever virtual art fair, the VIP Art Fair (ANL, 12/28/10), which ran Jan. 22–30 and included major American and European art galleries, received mixed reviews from exhibitors and visitors.
Theodore Bonin, a partner in Alexander and Bonin, New York, said the fair was “a very pleasant experience for us, and we would do it again.” What made it so pleasant, he said, was the fact that two past clients of the gallery “logged on to the fair and went to our booth, where they saw works that they wanted to buy.”
Those purchased works were an installation by Diango Hernández (Bonin said the price was between $25,000 and $50,000) and a sculpture by Mona Hatoum (priced between $100,000 and $250,000). In addition, Bonin said, the gallery “received serious inquiries from people in other countries. We had heard of these collectors but had never met them, but we expect something will come out of it.”
Manhattan gallery owner Andrea Rosen complained of repeated technical problems, particularly the crashing of the chat function that would have permitted real-time communication between visitors and gallery staff. “We had felt very optimistic about this and had spent a lot of time and effort updating our booth in preparation,” she said. “But things just didn’t work, and our clients told us they were so frustrated by all the problems.”
New York gallery owner James Cohan, who organized the fair with his wife Jane Cohan, said a third of the dealers did well, “while another third were very unhappy and didn’t see any results,” and the remaining third had mixed results, perhaps making valuable contacts if not producing sales, “like any other art fair.”
“Unfortunately, because of the technical glitches, it can’t be called a complete success,” he said, “but we proved that the Internet can aggregate contemporary galleries and collectors all over the world. It crystallized a moment in the art world, drawing attention to the art world.” He added that participants in the art fair will be surveyed in the coming weeks, and “we will discuss a range of issues” with those participants.
Cohan said that “we are absolutely planning” for another VIP Art Fair next year. “It’s a viable platform that has every reason to thrive.”
According to a spokesperson for the fair, at least 26 galleries reported sales. In addition to Alexander and Bonin, these included: Sadie Coles HQ, London, which sold Rudolf Stingel’s painting Die Birne, 2002, in the range of $500,000/1 million, and an Angus Fairhurst sculpture, I’m sorry and I won’t do it again, 2004, in the range of £150,000/200,000 ($241,500/322,000); David Zwirner, New York, which sold Chris Ofili’s sculpture Mary Magdalene (Infinity), 2006, in the range of $250,000/500,000; James Cohan Gallery, New York, which sold Fred Tomaselli’s Study for Night Music for Raptors, 2010, in the range of $100,000/250,000; and John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, which sold a painting by Beatriz Milhazes in the range of $100,000/250,000.
Among other galleries reporting sales were: Ruth Benzacar, Buenos Aires; Lisa Cooley, New York; Pilar Corrias Gallery, London; Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam; Kate MacGarry, London; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo; Untitled, New York; A Gentil Carioca, Rio de Janiero and Winkleman Gallery, New York.
In a statement e-mailed to ARTnewsletter, Barbara Baruch, director of the Brooke Alexander Gallery, New York, said that the online art fair was “frustrating and disappointing because of all the glitches, the error messages and not being able to maximize the chat feature and private rooms. Much of the work we did was derailed. We had great work that visitors were not able to see.”
On the other hand, she said, “we’ve had some serious inquiries and a long list of new contact names.” She compared the art fair to “investing in an IPO,” adding that “I believe in its potential; it remains to be seen how much it will develop but I think the investment is worthwhile.”
A dealer who did not want to be identified told ARTnewsletter his gallery “might do it again, if we were offered some remuneration for the fair or given a free booth next time.”