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THE VIP ART FAIR:
INTERNET DATING?

by Kenny Schachter
 
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Iíll say one thing for New York art dealer James Cohanís new internet-only VIP Art Fair, Jan. 22-30, 2011 -- it was received with great fanfare, as if no one had ever encountered or sold art on the computer before. So I registered, and quickly encountered 15 error messages. Viva la revolution! Maybe the net should stick to what it does best: porn.

After finally gaining access, I found the VIP Art Fair website plodding and a little dull -- good for professionals and hardcore collectors with an art jones, but unrewarding for the eye. I often buy art from jpgs or catalogues, as long as I trust the provenance and condition, but letís be clear: buying and appreciating art are two different animals.

When you boil it down, the VIP Art Fair is like getting caches of jpgs from galleries that ordinarily wouldnít send you any material at all.

Once I got the rhythm of browsing the site, though, I must say it became contagious -- a distraction, nowhere close to seeing the actual stuff, but certainly a good way to kill an hour.

I even bid on something, and at that point began to think that the site was working pretty well. Maybe the internet can provide a new, one-dimensional way to consume art, something like Facebook. But the artwork I tried to buy was on hold and later sold to someone else.

I noticed that sets of ten painted ceramic pots by Ai Weiwei were on offer at both Gallery Hyundai and Galleri Faurschou. The artist splashes vibrant, very modern paint across the tops of neolithic clay vases, which are apparently widely available in China despite their age. When I viewed the first group on Hyundai’s virtual floor I contacted the gallery and queried whether there might be some similar artworks about, as I am aware that Weiwei has made tons -- not as many as the sunflower seeds, but plenty.

The dealer there replied that each work is unique, comprised of a different combination of pottery and painting. Twenty minutes later, however, I stumbled across what appeared to be an entirely identical work while perusing the offerings at Faurschou. When I asked the first dealer if she was aware of the existence of the other, she replied (via email), "nope, which gallery? I did not have much time to look around due to chatting with clients."

The VIP Art Fair, then, has more in common with real life than one might have imagined. And Ai Weiwei is beginning to sound like the Asian equivalent of Andy Warhol, though clearly he courts political controversy instead of celebs. The example at Hyundai, I later discovered, was marked sold at $150,000.

I did find objects to admire: Untitled (1 to 1), a beautiful, austere Paul Thek painting-on-newspaper at Alexander & Bonin; Ray Johnson works at Richard L. Feigen & Co. ($28,000-$38,000); Galerie Bruno Bischofberger -- Iím a sucker for pretty much everything he does; Henry Taylorís crude figurations with blotches of abstraction at Blum & Poe (Miss Kelly, $40,000) and Untitled, the gallery on Orchard Street in New York; Philip Guston at McKee Gallery (Untitled, 1979, $1.5 million; Arm, 1979, $2 million; Pink Sea, 1978, $2.4 million); and a Jim Shaw sculpture of a disembodied leg with a half-eaten foot entitled Dream Object at Metro Pictures ($75,000).

Frustrations did linger, as I found myself playing cat and mouse with an endless dropping of always undesired menus. And please donít even mention my attempts to communicate with the participating galleries, supposedly via "Instant Messenger." The result, far from instant, was never other than another more obnoxious and less functional dropdown menu. Digital Kafka.

Meanwhile, my kids immediately figured out how to communicate with gallery personnel online, though in my name, an unnerving prospect. Itís not enough to waste our entire family resources on internet music, fashion and everything else they covertly attempt to cyber-consume on a practically daily basis.

At times I found myself scanning my screen left to right so fast that I felt like I was at a tennis match. Occasionally the images were incompatible with my computer, so the pictures appeared in microscopic scale -- no favor to my rapidly deteriorating eyesight.

Typically, once the art-fair-week is over, every fair gives a recap, generally accompanied by photos of the crowds and other onsite happenings. Perhaps visitors to the VIP Art Fair should submit pictures of themselves in front of their computers, standing with their Blackberries, dressed in whatever garb they were sporting at the time. Now that would be some interesting internet art.


KENNY SCHACHTER is an art dealer and director of Rove London.