Are we all tech whizzes now in the art world?
This week on ArtEvolve we were joined by Sureyya Wille, a digital strategy consultant currently working with White Cube, one of the world’s leading contemporary art galleries. Together, we revisited some of the predictions made at the outbreak of the pandemic about tech adoption in the art world.
Institutions that had already invested in digital were undoubtedly better placed to hit the ground running during the pandemic, whereas galleries and museums without existing digital strategies were forced to play catch up. The pandemic revealed the vulnerabilities we all have. For the art world, that means an overdependence on physical channels such as art fairs and live auctions. Developing a strong online presence is critical not just for the current period but also for the future.
Online Viewing Rooms
Some galleries were already using OVRs prior to March, but the pandemic has certainly fuelled their growth. Companies that build OVRs, such as Artlogic, saw a huge number of inquiries from all over the world. While uptake has indeed increased, it’s important to note that OVRs could never replace all aspects of interaction and spontaneous communication that come with physical exhibition spaces.
Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality
Seen as a bridge to the real world at a time when physical connection was increasingly difficult, AR and VR adoption was predicted to surge as a result of the pandemic. The reality is that such a widespread increase hasn’t happened.
In terms of VR, factory closures and logistics slowdowns meant that getting headsets onto the market was a challenge and, at times, the technology simply wasn’t available to purchase. Museums, galleries, and other art institutions also had to consider if spending hundreds of dollars per piece of equipment was wise at a time when traditional income streams were uncertain.
AR has the advantage of not requiring additional hardware (we all have smartphones nowadays) but the cost of producing augmented reality experiences in the art world can still be a constraint to small and medium-sized institutions. However, AR is making headway in the art space and, as the tech becomes cheaper, we’ll see it offered more frequently. Galleries could use AR with potential collectors, for example, allowing them to see what an artwork looks like in their own home before they purchase.
Online shoppers demand higher price transparency, and, as exhibitions, fairs, and viewings have all become virtual, we’ve seen many organizations make their prices public for the first time. Though buyers may not be completely comfortable with purchasing sight-unseen just yet, this will no-doubt increase, particularly for smaller sales. The more technology available to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual – digital condition reports as part of OVRs or seeing the artwork at home via AR, for example – the less risky online art sales become.
Organizations have started selling artworks online but there seems to be another area many have forgotten about – gift shops. Considering we’re all spending more time at home – planning renovations, decorating and updating our spaces – the home goods and accessories sold by museum shops and gallery shops could provide much needed income.
For some art institutions, video conference calls were already the norm and many employees worked from home, at least part of the time. Others, who were not using technology in their internal processes before, may have found it more difficult to adapt to new ways of working in such a short timescale.
Thanks to apps such as Zoom and Google Meet, institutions have seen that they can trust employees to work from home just as efficiently, if not more. However, video conferencing does has its limits. Creative brainstorming sessions in which people spontaneously bounce ideas off of each other, is much more difficult through a screen.
With physical spaces forced to closed, many predicted social media would become the new public space of art institutions. In reality, different institutions find their audience in different places. For traditional galleries and museums, their website may be where their online presence is strongest (but Instagram and other channels are still an important sales funnel to gather leads). Other institutions have connected with new and existing audiences via emerging social media channels. Take a look at the Uffizi Gallery’s TikTok for an excellent example of what a museum brand can be today – note the following is high, but more importantly, so is the engagement.
A hybrid approach for the future…
Although the pandemic is forcing the art world to rely on technology greatly right now, a hybrid approach, in which digital and physical complement each other, will be key in future. We may see online audiences joining in-person events, artists supporting themselves financially via social media, and physical exhibition spaces becoming a showroom for pieces that are solely sold online.
A special thank you to our guest speaker, Sureyya Wille, for joining us.