ABOUT COLLECTING DIGITAL ART — Conversation with the Founder

As an independent art advisor, how would you describe your curatorial Style?

I think with the years of my experience in the art world, working with artists, listening to their ideas, spending so much time in their studio looking at paintings, sculptures, I’m really just being so enthusiastic for whatever way they found a path to express their ideas. There was a time when an artist can only be a painter and if you made sculpture, somehow it took away from your painting. If you were making sculpture, you certainly didn’t do performance or work with paper or photography. The art world was very segmented.

And what’s happened in the last 15 years is loosening up of all these boundaries. I can tell you this is a very free thing for artists today to be able to do videos, digital artworks, also do paintings, sculptures and functional art. It’s fantastic. It’s really the art of our time to have this moment that they have all the avenues for their creativity. And that’s really where I’m coming from. I love painting. I love sculptures. I love all these traditional forms of art. I also love innovation and I like to see how artists can think about how to express their ideas today with the tools they have today. I found that inspiring. The aesthetics is based in the history of painting and sculptures and art that I have been looking at of the last 50 years. But it’s also looking at what’s happening now. And what’s happening now is that we live in a digital culture. Artists are expressing this in their work. I find that extremely exciting. I do look for certain aesthetics. It can’t just be technical things for me to be excited. I need to have more visually and conceptually. I understand why some people like very technical-oriented work, but that is not for me.

What drives you to video and digital art? 

I’ve always been involved in emerging art, the art of our time—paintings, sculpture and performance. I had an interest in video art in its early emergence, which was so prescience for the media- based art being made today. Media based artwork pushes the boundaries of what we think of as traditional artwork. Digital art is a very flexible medium and offers many tools for various forms of creativity. There is camera-based video, computer code and algorithm digital art, digital art using animation and digital artworks that use all these tools – for screen based presentations, or for projection into a space, creating an immersive experience. And there is net art which has been an important development in tech based artwork. Digital artworks are stylistically as varied as any painting can be and conceptually as groundbreaking. Digital based artworks are some of the most inspiring and creatively ambitious art being made today. 

What is your view on artwork made with VR or AR?

There are some apps that do that now. Put an artwork on your wall and see what it looks like beforehand. There are a lot of different very innovative apps that are trying to help people and embrace art in different ways. I think it’s fascinating. They are tools for people to be more engaged. I love that. 

We want ArtPlay to be this place for people to discover the connection between art and technology. So we are gonna be developing solutions that really make sense to our members. We love all these new tools that artists have to make new works. And we want to find a way for collectors to support the work and to live with it. But some of them are still very experimental and they are not necessarily for home use. They are more for institutional purchase. Because they take a lot of support by conservators and all of that. We will see the future when brings it to a more domestic scale.

I like to see how artists can think about how to express their ideas today with the tools they have today.
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What is your advice to new collectors in the art market?

For collectors, it is very exciting to buy and live with art from young artists and see their career and market rise over the years. Sometimes those works go up in value but they bought the art ideally because it spoke to them personally and aesthetically. For many, a connection to the artist’s ideas and a sense that they have collected those with a unique voice that pushed the dialog of art forward was, you could say, the driving force behind many of the most important art collections of the 20th century. The art world in the past 10 years, however, has become more about the market, with money being the dominant conversation around art rather than ideas. With emphasis on the market, investors look for forgotten artists or marginalized groups of artists where they can see their money get a good return. Buying art as an investment is fine especially if one is interested in highly vetted works that sell on the resale market at auction but speculating on emerging artists is a tricky game. One must have a deep knowledge of art, galleries around the world, the resale market and understand the collective consciousness in the art world that determines what’s important and who the next art stars will be. This is not for the faint of heart.

For people starting out with limited budgets and those who understand that media-based art work is a new area of collecting, where historic works are still available to purchase at affordable prices, this is the time for you. You must also consider that the artists coming out of art school are digital native. They may be making paintings and sculpture but they are also making digital art. For me the most interesting works in a young artist’s show, can be the digital artworks but because there is very little infrastructure in place to support and sell the work, these works are shown sometimes only once in a show, where they might have been purchased by an institution, then never seen again. 

I think with media-based art, because there isn’t the pressure of the market, there’s a chance for people to experience new works that are in many cases much more affordable than a painting. It really depends on the artist and what level the artist is in their career. Certainly, there are plenty of videos that I’ve bought for collectors in the range between $25,000 – $50,000 and they are now worth hundreds of thousand dollars. So, there’s many different levels of entry points for video and digital art, For new collectors, I think digital art is a great way to start collecting and learning about art. 

How do we live with these works, how do we preserve and archive them, and what’s the best way to present them?

You have worn many hats in the art world, as a gallery owner, art advisor and appraiser of contemporary art, why did you become so passionate about this project? 

This project really started out as a problem to solve for my clients. As an art advisor, I worked with a group of collectors for many years, attending art fairs and exhibitions all over the world, and I find that some of the most interesting emerging art is media- based art. It was so frustrating to find that some of the media based works that interested me and my clients were also challenging to collect— how do we live with these works, how do we preserve and archive them, and what’s the best way to present them?
A client of mine wanted to build a very large video wall in their home to view their video collection, so I researched and met with different tech companies. Many of them are doing a good job in creating beautiful monitors, but there were no systems for collectors to manage digital art. In the process, I found a tech company in Los Angeles that created software for a Hollywood studio in order to send high resolution digital content to screens around the world. They helped me create a secure cloud based archive for digital art collection. Over the years, more clients started asking for something similar, I realized that this is an important issue that the art world is facing and became obsessed with solving some of the other challenges around collecting and preserving digital based artworks.

I felt that was a new generation of digital native artists are now using computers to make art and we need to have a structure to present the work and to sell it. These artists need to find a way to support themselves and the current system wasn’t helping. I wanted collectors to have faith in the future of these works and for artists and galleries to have a better way to present them to collectors. At first this was a problem to solve for my clients but it then turned into a bigger question around the future of collecting media-based art.

What are the challenges collectors usually face when collecting media based artwork?

Many galleries today show previews to collectors by sending them a link on Vimeo to watch on their laptop. It’s important for an artwork to be seen as the artist intended – in most cases – and that is not by viewing it on a cell phone screen or laptop. Ideally, these works are meant to be seen in a large scale format either projected or viewed on a high resolution screen. They are not screen savers. So one challenge is to send a preview to a collector directly to their screen at home.

Another challenge was to make collectors feel secure about buying a digital artwork when the formats kept changing. The clients wanted to live with them as they do with the rest of their collection. Therefore, we really needed a collection management system to do that. They asked about the future. Will I be able to look at this work in 5 years? The question about formats and preserving and protecting the content needed to be solved. The most important step is to migrate the content from unstable formats and digitized them to an archive in the cloud. Most of my clients had boxes of DVDs, Blu-rays, thumb-drives, hard drives which can degrade over time and are incompatible formats to view on one set of equipment. It was frustrating that many of the works couldn’t be viewed anymore.

ArtPlay is a perfect solution for these challenges. One of my long time collector was a museum trustee with 1000s of artworks in his collection and a shoebox full video art on DVDs and different formats he couldn’t play. When we digitized his collection and put it in the ArtPlay cloud, for the first time he was able to create a playlist for an evening of watching video art. He was thrilled. As soon as he had ArtPlay he bought three more media-based artworks to add to his collection.

What is the future for digital artwork? Let’s say what’s situation would be like in 5 years.

I think it’s going to be very main stream. I don’t think people are going to have as many insecurities. Our future will have digital works everywhere, screens everywhere, and the possibility for all these new technologies. Artists are innovators, always looking for new technologies and ways for their expressions and ideas. I only see that increasing. Now that we have a way to distribute media based content, a way to forward to a client, a way to archive it, thinking about the future in that way, I believe, as time goes on, we’ll find ways to archive regenerative works, computer-based works and other formats as well. It is a matter of time really. I think there are more confidence now in the market that we have a way forward.