Embracing Technology and Online Art
By B Mataua
In this digital age, and excuse the overused term, small business has changed and it seems like the art world has stalled. So what does that mean for galleries and museums? Well, we're forced to innovate, change and adapt to a new global digital world that is filled with trends, influencers and innovators. To be honest, as negative as this may sound, looking online and seeing the rapid change that passes me by makes feel 90 rather than my true number. Not that I hate technology, I like anyone else ooh's and ahh's at the new iphones or samsung phones that come out for me to rush to the door and immediately purchase or upgrade (despite apple stalling in design and features deserving of its asking price). But rapid change has to be applied to the art world in some way and this is how I think it will play out in 5 distinct ways.
1. Online Galleries with AR (Augmented Reality) capability
With high profile thefts and the inaccessibility to sometimes get to all the wonderful galleries and museums around the world, internet access at the click of a few buttons can eliminate that age old problem of access and trust. Even better, Augmented Reality can provide the immersive without taking away from the overall impression that will enhance the individual experience. Showcasing pieces in a 2-dimensional format takes away from the overall experience of seeing an art piece up close. One cant see the texture of the paint on the canvas or scale of the piece in a 2-dimensional format. This limits experience and just makes it plain boring! The cost and overheads of running a museum with the age old system of donors and government support is fast becoming a thing of the past with the AR virtual experience. This not only reduces costs but in addition, eliminates the need for a building, an expensive location and security measures. You can have the whole experience of a museum or gallery in the comforts of your own home. You can even experience it with others by creating online communities. As exciting as this sounds, its still in its infancy and doesn't quite cater to all audiences, but its progressing and exciting to say the least. With the Tate, Metropolitan Museum of Art and more museums taking on board the virtual reality experience, the future is becoming more present every day.
2. Art Galleries will institute drop-shipping business principles
The ease of the internet has also resulted in the popping up of drop shipping fine art stores that are flooding the market with reproductions ridiculously in demand. A significant piece of any art gallery or museum is its store. It gives an end to a cultural experience by providing a memento for memory. However, with an online presence that experience in the end dissipates. It's not the organic end of an exciting exhibition experience, but instead a sterile process of clicks and credit card details with a shipping timeframe that awaits you. Waiting for a package to arrive for me is absolute torture. Also for someone who owns a dog, shipping becomes an even greater challenge (especially if your lovely pooch hates the mailman). So instead of an exciting "trip" it gives me more time to think hmm should i even get this? I mean it was just a cool online exhibition but i don't think i need something to memorialise the moment i can just go back right? The immediacy is gone, so how does one counteract this? Play up your brand and excite the customer on your little niche with digital tricks. But you run into another problem: inventory. Inventory, let's be honest, sucks you have to foot the bill for products that no one might really buy. So what is easier? Drop shipping of course! What is better than doing it backwards? Instead of finding your audience, why don't you let the market find you? Pick a niche and do the market research and provide products that niche is often looking for and do it to order! It eliminates the need for inventory and again, the market is working for you not against you. A great example of this is Artsy Wall, a company that drop-ships fine art to its clients that is completely customer-centric. E-commerce incorporated into an already well-established gallery could mean potential increase in sales and revenue. And I ask you, why not??? I see MOMA not just selling reproduced or creative products that relate to their art market, but also items that are relative and popular. So, I guess in conclusion, the challenge of turning a profit with product sales in the gallery world will be an interesting one to follow. This, might I add, is seperate from providing fine art to art collectors, this only relates to reproductive product sales.
Update: It seems like Artsy Wall is no longer up & running, but the same principles apply even if the kinks haven't been worked out quite yet :).
3. Cryptocurrency "blockchain" technology will aid in policing fake pieces
The problem with the art market at the moment is the driving need of fine art with anyone and anybody pushing to the front of the line to fulfil that need. As a result, fakes are consistently being produced resulting in ripping-off those who are wanting to build a collection from the comfort of their own home. Fakes have been flooding the market in an attempt to fulfil fine art demand. Because of this, the digital age has proved quite a challenge for galleries wanting to transition to a more online presence. The challenges really boil down to trusting the galleries expertise, their product, their service and providing the security in a piece that adds value to a collection, not destroys its validity. I propose the use of cryptocurrency blockchain technology as a solution. Essentially, blockchain technology uses a bunch of nodes or "individual computers" that confirms a transaction is valid by completing a mathematical formula (you could say) and all nodes resulting the "sum" as true. This eliminates the need for trusting one another as transaction is confirmed by a collective. Smart contracts using the Ethereum platform is even better! Smart contracts allow the performance of credible transactions without third parties. These transactions are trackable and irreversible. This can also be applied to an art product where smart contracts determine whether the piece is real and that product will be received with payment. Of course not every new technology is foolproof and with all the bullish changes in crypto of late, this might take some time. Nevertheless, cryptocurrency is here to stay and its benefits and theoretic principles can be applied to products and services in a new exciting way. There is one company attempting this, may be something to watch out for, Maecenas. It is an art investing platform with the link below if you are interested. All I can say is, look out for this space in the future. If Elon Musk can launch private shuttles using SpaceX, this isn't that much of a stretch :p.
4. Galleries will become less about education and more about profit
This, although negative in outlook, is already happening. I remember going to my local museum and it was all about educating the public about historic pieces of art that define not only our generation but our culture and understanding of that culture. However, galleries have popped up all over the world and they are more than about selling art to others. They have become more customer centric and service based. Instead of just providing a space for artists, designers, public programmers and creative directors have come together to create a small business that can provide more than a retail space, but a service industry that looks to artistic forms to create revenue. Art Pharmacy, for example, here in Melbourne provides curatorial services for their artists connecting the artist with the corporate client. Not only do they do this, they additionally provide reasonably priced art works from local artists in an affordable way by providing a sort of afterpay for art. They're an awesome company that is creating a business model that can be sustained in this ever changing digital trend. Despite sounding negative, I think this can become a positive relationship between client, customer and gallery.
5. Social Media will dictate trends
At this point you may be thinking that this one is fairly obvious, and you're right it is! In saying that though, it seems like many galleries are slow to the punchline here. Influencers, trends and social media marketing now rules the internet and the small business in a way that has shaped global thinking. There are social media marketing companies that work with influencers (like Kylie Jenner) who promote products, business, ideas, concepts and more to garner global attention. Apps have been incorporated into the museum experience with QR codes provided as an interactive experience through their app, but that isn't enough. Social media provides for a wealth of valuable data mining that can assist in the direction of business focus, it provides market research and understanding in addition to providing a vehicle for marketing and global outreach. It will be important from now on to keep up with social media, and it is needless to say that does not mean just facebook or snapchat. As much as there are trends, there are social media application trends. Some are definitely more popular than the other or used by different audiences. Banksy, for example, uses his website and Instagram only. He doesn't tend to use Facebook, twitter, tik tok or snapchat. I think thats pretty smart and simple making him easy to find and easy to reach. So choosing which platform you use will help determine your business direction as well. Me, I think i'll leave twitter in the turbulent hands of President Trump.
Needless to say, the digital age has completely disrupted the art world and if galleries aren't quick enough and smart enough to see its innovation, they will quickly left behind. What are your thoughts on the gallery and its future? Or does it even matter, is there doom in the art market world with digital becoming key to generation c? Comment and let me know below.