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Contemporary Digital Art

Conservation, dissemination and market access

Wolf Lieser

Wolf Lieser has been working with Digital Media for more than 20 years. He is the founder and owner of DAM Projects, a comprehensive activity dealing with Digital Art that consists of an online Digital Art Museum [DAM], since 2000, a lifetime-award DAM DIGITAL ART AWARD |DDAA|, since 2004, and a commercial DAM Gallery in Berlin, since 2003. The book “Digital Art” by Wolf Lieser was published in 2009 in 6 languages by h.f.ullmann Publishing. He has given talks at various institutions such as Université Sorbonne, Paris, Kunsthalle Bremen, University of Bournemouth, the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften and Universität der Künste in Berlin, in addition to festivals and conferences.

The Art Gallery in a Globalized market.
Views and perspectives from inside.


If you run a commercial business, you intend to sell a product that is produced as cheap as possible, to as many customers as possible. You are looking for reproducible products for a developed market. That is the difficulty with the art market, as these laws apply here as well. In most cases, we have singular products, though still for a developed market. The effect that this situation has, is already interesting enough for a full research, but I am pointing it out just for introductory purposes.

The art gallery, as we know it from the 20th century has undergone some dramatic changes, which were accelerated by the appearance of the Internet in the 1990s. As you might know you can differentiate between a gallery which operates on the primary market or on the secondary market.

The typical program gallery would normally have a roster of artists that are represented on the art market with the purpose of building their career and placing them on the primary market. A gallery on the secondary market would buy art for the lowest price possible and sell it for the best price that it can obtain on the market. In reality, and that is a well known truth in the art scene, you only survive, if you do both, primary and secondary market sales. This means especially for the gallery on the primary market, you need to have some secondary sales to support your other activities. The program gallery is to some degree an idealized activity, I would like to take a closer look at that.

A brief history

The white cube is only a very recent development of the first half of the 20th century. The first places for selling art developed in the 18th century and we know about famous gallerists in the 19th century, here are a few of them:

  • E.G. Paul Durand-Ruel (b. October 31, 1831 in Paris; d. February 5, 1922), known for hanging the paintings along one line at eye level. Before paintings were presented in several rows, filling the wall, salon style.
  • Ambroise Vollard (b. July 3, 1865 in Saint-Denis, Réunion Island; d. July 22, 1939). Lived in Paris and was the first to present a solo show of Cezanne.
  • Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (b. June 25, 1884 in Mannheim; d. January 11, 1979 in Paris). When he was just 24 years old he opened a gallery in Paris and became famous as the gallerist of Pablo Picasso. He introduced exclusive contracts with several of his artists.
  • Leo Castelli (b. September 4, 1907; d. August 21, 1999). He became famous in New York for representing some of the biggest names in Pop Art and Minimal Art and influenced the career of his artists on a broad scale. He became a role model for the post-war gallery in New York, which was essentially based on a long term relationship between the gallerist and his artists.

These galleries operated more or less from one location. In the last twenty years we have witnessed an accelerated market, with some major players having franchises in several locations.

  • Larry Gagosian (b. April 19, 1945), owns 16 galleries and actually had built his career at the beginning on the secondary market, buying and selling blue chip artist work.
  • David Zwirner (b. October 23, 1964). In 1993, first gallery opens in New York, a further one in London and a new location to open in Hong Kong.

There are a few more gallerists like Thaddaeus Ropac or Sprueth Magers, that maintain galleries at major art cities, like New York, Berlin, London, Hong Kong, Beijing and recently, Los Angeles as well.

It's not by coincidence that this development was paralleled by the public availability of the Internet since the 1990s. The Internet allows us to send and receive information, like pictures very easily on an international scale and is subsequently becoming more and more of a sales platform in the art world.

Digital Art and the art market

The earliest artifacts of Digital Art in the 1960s on the market were plotter drawings, which were based on individual programs, written by the artists and then in the end saved by executing them with the help of a pen plotter. The result was a drawing with different inks on paper. Later on, the first graphic software programs were developed in the 1970s and opened up a new range of aesthetic possibilities.

The next major change was the launch of the open Internet at the beginning of the 1990s that brought about a new art form: Net Art. The possibility of directly reaching a public tempted some courageous artists to create the first online art pieces.

With the new age after 2000 came a young generation of artists, that already grew up with the Internet and who produced a wide range of artworks relating to this new developed digital culture. What was described as post Internet is now mostly labeled as post digital, the digital is now part of our everyday life.

Along with this development came the first hype of artists, that worked or referred to the digital in general in their artworks. Digital Art is now part of the official discourse between galleries, curators and museums.

DAM project

The DAM project was based on my conviction that this field would become the major influence of the art of the 21st century and was already the most fascinating. In the 1990s the online museum was developed and launched in 2000. It became a resource for the study of early Digital Art.

There was no market for Digital Art at that time. Consequently it needed a commercial representation for this kind of work. In 1999 I joined Keith Watson at Colville Place Gallery in London, the first gallery of its kind in London. In 2003 I moved to Berlin and opened DAM Gallery. With interim galleries in Cologne and Frankfurt/Main DAM is still based in the heart of Berlin.

From 2005 to 2011 DAM organized the DAM DIGITAL ART AWARD, a lifetime award for pioneers in this field. We had the pleasure of presenting the award to four outstanding artists: Vera Molnar, Manfred Mohr, Norman White and Lynn Hershman-Leeson.

Present situation for galleries

We have art fairs every week on an international scale. For many galleries it's their major source of income. But needs as well major investments to pay for the fairs, transportation and travel expenses. On one hand, it's the major market place to meet your clients, on the other hand it is a very specific way of presenting your program. The booth at the art fairs is not the place people spend a lot of time.

On the other hand, we have less visitors in the actual galleries. The visit to the gallery is often replaced by visiting the website. Even sales through the web are not unusual anymore. The online presentation becomes increasingly more important than the actual physical presence. This devalues the actual physical gallery exhibition, even so it is a very different experience to see the art for real.

The most affected are mid-size program galleries, which often have difficulties to finance the expensive art fairs and still don't find enough customers locally.


I hope there will be a new appreciation of the gallery activities in your own town, as gallery shows imply a different strategy than an art fair presentation. In a gallery you have time to really get immersed in the artworks. Often you can find a solo presentation that gives you a wide range of different pieces of the artist.

The gallery is still the most important entrance for young artists into the art market! As we have a strong development towards a more regional production, we need to support our local galleries as well with acquisitions!

Wolf Lieser © 2016 FDL