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Contemporary Digital Art

Conservation, dissemination and market access

Pau Waelder

Pau Waelder is an art critic, curator and researcher specializing in the interactions among contemporary art, new media and the art market. PhD in Information and Knowledge Society, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). Consulting Lecturer in Humanities, UOC. Editor of Media Art at contemporary art magazine, he has written articles for several other magazines, such as ETC Media (Canada), ArtPress (France), Estonian Art (Estonia) and Artnodes (Spain). Among others, he has curated the exhibitions of contemporary art and new media Real Time (Arts Santa Mònica), Data Cinema (Media Art Futures Festival), Extimacy (Es Baluard) and Metalandscapes (Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró). Since 2011 he works with the curatorial team of the Art Futura festival. (

New media in the contemporary art market:
Access, ownership and artificial scarcity

Since the early 2010s, the contemporary art market has been showing signs of a renewed interest in digital media. On the one hand, several online marketplaces have been launched with the support of investor groups that include leading contemporary art galleries. On the other hand, a growing number of startups have been developing forms of accessing and collecting art in a digital format by means of mobile apps, streaming services and digital frames. Most of these business initiatives have been launched in the past four to five years and are currently exploring models of selling art which have yet to prove their profitability in the context of a market that is changing rapidly, but at the same time holding on to established structures and hierarchies.

The traditional mechanisms of selling and collecting art that have shaped the art market for more than a hundred years are being challenged by the transformations introduced by digital technologies. The Internet facilitates access to a vast amount of data, as well as the possibility of reaching audiences regardless of their geographical location, while everyday devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops provide new contexts in which to experience art, away from the white walls of the museum or the gallery. However, the growing use of digital media in the art market does not imply that the art being sold in art fairs and galleries is radically changing, nor is the way collectors acquire artworks. Instead, other means of selling and collecting art are being developed in coexistence with the conventional forms of trade. This coexistence is not without frictions since, by its own nature, selling art online or in a digital format can lead to questioning or overriding core principles of the traditional art market such as the asymmetry of information, the concept of ownership or the scarcity of the artwork as the basis of its economic value. In this article, I will address the current interactions among contemporary art, new media, and the art market by focusing on how access, ownership and scarcity are being redefined when art is sold and collected on a digital device.


One of the defining traits of the contemporary art market is its asymmetry of information, as noted by sociologist Raymonde Moulin (2010, loc.40-46). The differentiation between art and commerce leads to presenting artworks as cultural goods in commercial galleries, while concealing the fact that they are products for sale. Sociologist Olav Velthuis (2007) points out that the purchase price of an artwork has a symbolic meaning: it identifies the artwork as a commodity and prompts comparisons with other products according to their respective prices. Therefore, in contemporary art galleries prices are usually hidden or discreetly displayed in a sheet of paper at the reception desk. The prices of artworks are directly linked to the reputation of the artist and therefore can only be incremented. Nevertheless, the final amount paid by a collector is oftentimes negotiated in a private arrangement with the gallerist in his office. These complex mechanisms for setting, controlling and displaying the prices of artworks require that a limited amount of people can access this information: one needs to be present at the gallery and ask the owner or a member of the staff to facilitate the price of an artwork. It cannot be done anonymously or remotely, unless through an intermediary. Additionally, it has been widely assumed that an artwork must be experienced in person in order to be appreciated and therefore, bought. These two aspects of the relatively limited access to the information about an artwork (its real, physical features –size, colours, textures– and its price) are among the main reasons why art galleries have been reluctant to expand their businesses online, particularly in terms of developing e-commerce platforms where all the data about the artworks (including their prices) would be available to anyone.

Paradoxically, it is the possibility of making the artworks accessible to a wider range of potential collectors that has driven the contemporary art market towards adopting digital technologies. The Internet, computers and digital devices are conceived as channels and tools for the distribution and display of the artworks put on sale in brick-and-mortar art galleries and auction houses. It is not surprising, then, that when the dot-com bubble was growing in the late 1990s, several gallerists and auction houses sought business opportunities in developing online auctions and marketplaces. These attempts ended in considerable economic losses: in 1999, eBay invested $260 million in developing a fine art section in its online auction platform, which was not successful; Eyestorm Media, a website dedicated to selling editions and original works by artists such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons was launched that same year and abandoned in 2002 with $30 million in losses; art market site artnet also launched online auctions in 1999 and lost around $11 million; finally, Sotheby’s attempted to develop online art auctions through a series of partnerships with Amazon and eBay between 2002 and 2003, but ended up abandoning the project and losing an estimated $80 million (Horowitz, 2012, p.86-88; Thomson, 2014, loc.4195). It can be argued that the negative outcome of these enterprises, in the context of the dot-com bubble collapse and the slow development of e-commerce, (1) motivated the lack of similar initiatives in the contemporary art market during the early to mid-2000s.

By 2010, things had changed again. The 2008 financial crisis had forced the leading art galleries to look for emerging markets and find new ways of reaching potential customers. The prices at the high end of the market soon recovered (Boll, 2011, p.28), while more and more galleries were using laptops and tablets to show artworks to collectors at art fairs. In 2006, prominent art collector Charles Saatchi launched Saatchi Online, a marketplace in which artists could freely display and sell their artworks. The site quickly generated an estimated $130 million in sales per year (Edgecliff Johnson, 2007), which seemed to indicate that selling online was a profitable business. In 2010 the website was redesigned and began expanding its activities with a more direct involvement of Saatchi and his gallery in London. Despite its troubled history, (2) Saatchi Online (currently named Saatchi Art) can be considered as one of the initiatives that stimulated the renewed interest of the contemporary art market in digital technologies and the Internet. Other online marketplaces soon followed.

A year later, gallerists James and Jane Cohan and entrepreneurs Jonas and Alessandra Almgren launched VIP, an art fair that takes place exclusively online. During one week, the (3) website offered registered users access to the virtual booths of established and emerging art galleries in a way that mimicked the distribution of spaces and display of artworks in regular contemporary art fairs. As stressed by its director, Noah Horowitz, the VIP Art Fair “did not aspire to turn the art market conventions upside down but to thoughtfully reposition some notable characteristics.” (Horowitz, 2012, p.101). In fact, the artworks on display were the same paintings, drawings, videos, and sculptures that could be found in leading galleries such as David Zwirner, Gagosian, White Cube or Hauser and Wirth, with prices between $5,000 and $1 million. Despite taking place online, the art fair did not incorporate Internet art until its second edition, when a booth set up by Rhizome included a series of websites by artist Rafael Rozendaal. The main objective behind VIP was to sell art to high-end collectors in what could be a more direct and cost-effective way. An advertisement published in the contemporary art magazine Artforum in September 2012 illustrates the intention to reach this specific range of customers. The images of a high heel shoe, a sports car and an artwork inside a black frame (probably a screen) are placed at the top of the page, over a white background. Below them, a sentence reads “So, you never thought you’d buy __________ online.” At a time when e-commerce was consolidating, the advert addresses the user’s experience of buying more and more products on online stores, and refers to luxury items such as the shoes and the sports car, followed (as in a logical progression) by the artwork. Just as other online marketplaces make it easier for the customer to purchase an item with a single click, VIP enabled the process of buying art without the need to travel to an art fair or walk into a gallery.

However, the VIP Art Fair turned out to be a failed experiment: on the one side, the art galleries felt exposed and uncomfortable at publicly displaying the prices of the artworks. Co-founder Jonas Almgren would later admit that it was a mistake to provide this information: “[the galleries] wanted to keep the opacity around the artworks, the prices and the trades. Transparency was not wanted. The online space would jeopardise their own business” (Wang, 2015). On the other side, the sales were rather modest, most artworks being sold below $50,000 (Thompson, 2014, loc.4275). After its second edition, leading galleries such as David Zwirner were voicing their disappointment of the online art fair, which they considered “a waste of time” (Esman, 2012). By the time of publication of its advertisement in Artforum, VIP Art Fair announced that it would no longer be a temporary art fair, but instead a permanent online marketplace for art. Renamed VIP Art, it offered galleries a centralized space where collectors could access a catalog of artworks on sale and contact them to request further information or buy a piece. That same year, VIP Art was acquired by Artspace, a similar platform founded in 2011 that has since become one of the main sites dedicated to selling contemporary art online. In 2014, it was acquired by publisher Phaidon, enhancing its role as an online resource of information about the art world, thus attracting the attention of art lovers and collectors who may subsequently buy the art (and the books) on sale.

The main competitor of Artspace also provides a telling example of how the contemporary art market has seen digital technologies as tools to provide access to the artworks being sold at galleries. Artsy was originally conceived as a web 2.0 startup by computer engineer Carter Cleveland, who presented the project in a competition organized by the technology blog TechCrunch in May 2010. Cleveland considered that buying art at galleries implied taking too much time to visit one gallery after another without any guarantee of finding what he liked. He also pointed out that art galleries tend to be intimidating to those who are not familiar with the art scene (Siegler, 2010). Artsy was designed to solve this problem, by offering users instant access to a large selection of artworks from galleries on an online platform. The project won the Rookie Award and attracted the attention of a group of investors. With an initial $1,25 million funding and the advice of art dealer Larry Gagosian, Artsy soon became a platform for art collectors and established agreements with 180 galleries in 40 countries (Chayka, 2011). It would now become an intermediary between the art galleries and registered online users. Additionally, it incorporated the feature of recommending similar artworks by using a classification system named The Art Genome Project, based on assigning around 30 to 40 tags to describe each piece. Although this taxonomy was one of the main attributes of the platform in its initial state, it has been progressively sidelined, as the site increasingly focuses on sales and its editorial content.

Artsy and Artspace are prominent players in an online art market that sees the continuous emergence of a myriad new ventures dedicated to reaching collectors interested in buying contemporary and modern art, as well as antiques, either through a gallery or at auction. While this market seems to be limited to artworks priced below £10,000 and still faces resistance from prospective buyers (Gerlis, 2016), it is nonetheless growing, according to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report (Hiscox, 2016), and apparently will continue to focus on the same strategy of taking art from galleries to collectors’ screens. An interesting aspect of the current development of this sector of the market is the growing investment in editorial content, as can be observed in both Artsy and Artspace. (4) These sites offer their subscribers constantly updated information about the art world, in articles and interviews as well as exclusive art fair previews. By doing so, they combine the access to a large selection of artworks for sale with the access to a particular view of the current developments of the art world, driving attention to certain events, galleries or artists. The online platforms can therefore act as intermediaries between the collector and the art world, both in terms of how the art is bought and how it is discovered and valued.


On April 4, 2002, the bitforms gallery in New York presented Mark Napier’s online artwork The Waiting Room, a virtual space that could be shared and modified by up to 50 collectors at the same time. The piece consists of an abstract composition that is exclusively accessed by buying a “share” of the artwork (for $1,000). The buyer displays the artwork using a dedicated screen and computer, and can interact with it by adding shapes, walls, lights and shadows. Each time one of the users changes the composition, the changes are also reflected on the screens of the other collectors. The artwork is therefore collectively owned by all those who have bought the right to access it and modify its contents. Napier’s Waiting Room illustrates that the ownership of an artwork in a digital format can be subject to particular, and sometimes unprecedented, conditions. Although it is not the first online artwork to be sold (for instance, artist Olia Lialina has been selling her net art pieces since 1999), it shows how an artwork made of code can be sold as relatively large edition and how a series of limitations have to be put into place in order to ensure a sense of ownership.

Given that digital files are easily reproducible and shareable, a major concern for artists and gallerists working with digital art has been to clearly establish the ownership of the artwork. Usually, a collector will be reluctant to buy an artwork if she has no guarantee that what she is paying for is the original work and that she will own a unique piece or a limited edition. This has already been an important issue in the market for video art, where different forms of selling and collecting videos have been tested, such as renting and selling videos and films in large or unlimited editions (as Castelli-Sonnabend Videotapes and Films did in the 1970s), or selling the video in a DVD alongside a unique object or printed image related to it (as is the case of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster videos in the 1990s). Artists working with digital technologies, and particularly those who have developed web-based artworks, have experimented with different strategies to sell their art, which mainly aim to transfer the ownership of the work to a collector. (5) When Olia Lialina sold her net art piece If You Want to Clean Your Screen (1998) to artists Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, she sent them the files that compose the artwork, which they uploaded to their own server. The artwork therefore remains publicly available, but is now found on Harvey and Samyn’s website, in a dedicated section titled “Possession.” The ownership of the artwork is therefore implied in the ownership of the hosting server and, in this case, the particular context created by the buyers for the presentation of the artwork. (6)

Most artists currently sell digital artworks by giving the collector a storage device (hard drive or USB stick) in a custom made package or with limited edition object or print. Noticeably, the storage device acquires the quality of an art object, since it must be presented as something different than a regular hard drive or USB stick –just as Barney’s Cremaster DVDs must be clearly differentiated from a retail DVD. Joe Hamilton’s Hyper Geography (2011) [Fig.1] provides an illustrative example of this situation: the artwork consists of a collage of images posted on a Tumblr blog and a video, which was sold as a digital file stored on a USB stick. The storage device was placed inside a wooden frame below a print of a still from the video. Although the USB stick can be removed from the frame to access the file, inside the frame it becomes an object meant to be contemplated, as unique as the artwork itself. Hamilton stated that, while the buyer does not have exclusive access to the artwork (which is available as a Tumblr blog, an online video and a book), she has “an official token of ownership of the work through the framed still/USB drive, certificate and contract.” (7) Ownership can be more easily established, and perceived, when the artwork is embodied in a particular object, and therefore it is not surprising that most digital art being sold in galleries and art fairs is presented as a print, sculpture, or installation, and also “framed” inside a screen that is meant to be solely dedicated to display the artwork.

[Fig.1] Joe Hamilton, Hyper Geography (2011)

Besides the object, the other element that constitutes a proof of ownership and has adopted a particularly prominent role in digital art is the certificate of authenticity. Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who works in a variety of formats including large installations, interactive screen-based artworks, and prints, has developed with his studio a certificate of authenticity that is in fact a unique object: an anodized aluminium ingot with a printed description of the piece, the artist’s signature, an engraved reference number and three watermarks containing encrypted PGP keys, which allow the collector to confirm the authenticity of the artwork. The certificate is meant to be kept in a safe, while the artwork, as a digital file, is provided on a USB stick and can be copied as many times as necessary. The artist stresses that he doesn’t mind if the collector, for instance, prints several copies of the artwork. (8) The certificate establishes its authenticity, and therefore its market value.

Traditionally conceived as the proof of ownership par excellence, the certificate of authenticity is also applied to digital format artworks, albeit in a symbolic form. Sedition is an online platform founded in 2011 by Harry Blain (owner of the Blain|Southern art gallery) and Robert L. Norton (former CEO of Saatchi Online) that sells “digital editions” of artworks by well-known contemporary artists, such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Bill Viola or Lawrence Weiner, as well as emerging artists. The company started selling still or animated images and videos of sculptures, paintings and installations by blue-chip artists in large editions at very low prices (between $8 and $20), and has gradually incorporated videos and digital animations specifically created for the platform by a large number of artists. In exchange for the price of an edition, Sedition gives the buyer access to a copy of the artwork (in an edition of 200 to 5,000) in the form of a digital file that is stored in the company’s server (named “the Vault”) and can be downloaded to the user’s computer (in the case of still images) or viewed on Sedition’s website and mobile apps.

As a “token of ownership” (echoing Joe Hamilton’s words), the owner can also view a digital certificate of authenticity, which is an image displayed on the screen that looks like an official document, with the name of the artwork, the edition number, the name of the owner and the signatures of the artist and the director of Sedition [Fig.2]. In itself, this document has no validity, since it is an automatically generated digital image that could be easily manipulated. (9) Additionally, the owner cannot print this document and is bound to other limitations in the use and display of the purchased edition. (10) Among them, there is the option of reselling the edition, which is limited to artworks whose editions have been sold out and can only be resold in the Trade section, Sedition’s own secondary market. Part of a system that turns ownership into a fiction, since the buyer is actually paying for access to a file and depends on the platform’s records to ascertain this right, the Trade section paradoxically enforces the collector’s sense of ownership, according to Sedition’s director Rory Blain: “...collectors only start to feel a real sense of ownership when they can sell the artwork again, and through the fact that by owning a digital edition they might take a loss or make a profit in the same way that they could in the real world. I don’t like the idea of the commodification of art [...], but we must admit that the possibility of reselling has been a great reassurance to a lot of people who are collecting these digital editions” (Waelder, 2014a, p.54).


However, the limitations in the ownership of a digital artwork are not only about having access to the file. Daata Editions, an online platform launched in 2015 that sells commissioned artworks in the form of videos, net-based art, sound art and poetry, allows buyers to download the limited edition artworks to their computers. Artworks are sold in editions of approximately 20 copies, their price rising from $200 to around $5,000. Although they can reach a more considerable market value than the editions from Sedition, these artworks are transferred to the collector’s computer, and may consequently be copied and distributed. Daata also provides a digital certificate of authenticity in the form of an image, but again neither this document nor the artwork files can be downloaded onto any device that is not owned by the buyer, nor distributed nor exhibited. In both cases, the buyer’s rights over the artwork are more limited than in the case of traditional formats such as painting, drawing or sculpture, but similar to video art.

Despite its ubiquity in the contemporary art world, the market for video art is still reduced, with relatively few collectors interested in actually buying videos. This situation is humorously addressed in the title of the book I Have a Friend Who Knows Someone Who Bought a Video, Once – On Collecting Video Art (Mousse Publishing, 2016), a publication that puts together the recent debates on collecting video art at the LOOP Video Art Fair in Barcelona. In it, experts such as curator Barbara London and film historian Erika Balsom underscore the shortcomings of the current forms of selling and distributing video art, while collector Alain Servais advocates for a new model that ensures the secure distribution and preservation of the files, and also allows for other forms of generating income, for instance through renting or streaming. The model described by Servais actually refers to Niio, an online platform that has been developed over the last two years and is currently in invite-only beta version. Niio provides several cloud-based services for artists and collectors: storage of digital artworks (currently videos, images and browser-based art) in their server; preservation of the files by automatically creating versions in different file formats, and adding new formats as these are developed; secure distribution by means of a proprietary software that plays the file on any screen, adapting the file format to the specifications of each screen; and finally, a system for transferring ownership of the files (either as an individual piece or a limited edition) to other users, thus enabling the commercialization of the artworks. As it focuses on the tools rather than the content, Niio could become the standard platform for selling and collecting art in a digital format, eventually providing the infrastructure that supports other companies such as Sedition or Daata Editions. At the moment, it is one additional solution to some of the problems faced by collectors of video and digital art.

Artificial scarcity

The art market is based on the conception of the artwork as the unique product of an artist’s original idea. The economic value of each piece, therefore, depends on the reputation of the artist (which generates demand for his work) and the scarcity of his production. In some cases, this scarcity is a direct consequence of the technique used in the creation of the artwork: for instance, a painting or a sculpture that can only be made by the hand of the artist. However, when the artist uses a technique that allows for reproduction, as is the case of etching, print, photography, video, or even sculptures and installations based on readymade industrial products, it is typically limited to a reduced number of copies. This allows, on the one hand, to control the artist’s production (in terms of its commercialization, storage, and biography of the artworks), and on the other hand to identify artworks as luxury items that can only be possessed by a few. (11) Artificial scarcity is therefore a common feature of contemporary artworks sold in the market (Moulin, 2010, loc.1341; Velthuis, 2007, p.162), a practice that is coupled with the common conception of the artwork as a unique object, particularly in the context of galleries and art fairs.

As has been previously mentioned, most artists working with new media adapt net-based, software-based, ephemeral and interactive artworks to the requirements of the commercial gallery, in the form of objects, prints or plug-and-play devices that can be hung on the wall. The fetishism that inspires the physical object is made clear in the way storage devices are presented, as is the case of the USB stick that contains the files of Joe Hamilton’s Hypergeography. But, at the same time, digital artworks allow for other forms of distribution that consciously play with scarcity, as we have seen in Sedition’s digital editions (how “limited” is an edition of 5,000 copies?), inspired by earlier experiments at commercializing video art in large numbers for low prices. The recent launch of a series of digital art frames by companies FRM, Electric Objects, Meural, Depict and DAD, many of them in the context of crowdfunding campaigns that took place between 2014 and 2015, introduces another form of experiencing art that also alters how scarcity is applied to the artworks. These art frames are basically screens of different resolutions and sizes that integrate a computer and a wi-fi module, and are encased in a wooden frame. They can be hung on the wall and controlled using a mobile app. In this manner, they create a specific context for the contemplation of screen-based art, in which the screen resembles a framed picture. Each company sells the device in one or several configurations, sometimes with different wood finishes or allowing for both portrait and landscape orientation. The device, therefore, becomes the unique object that allows for a relatively unlimited number of artworks to be displayed in it. Each device also integrates its own selection of artworks (to which the user can add her own), in a curated catalogue of original works as well as reproductions of pieces from museum collections. Choosing one device over another depends on the technical specifications of the screen and its design, as well as the art it gives access to. This implies a different form of scarcity, as the art becomes part of the frame and the services it provides: the artworks may be available in unlimited editions, but are limited to one particular device [Fig.3]. One of these companies, Electric Objects, presents its collection in the form of an “Art Club”, which can be accessed online and displays each piece alongside the avatars of all the users who are currently displaying that particular artwork. In this manner, collecting is perceived not as the ownership of a unique object that no one else has, but as sharing the same content with a community of other people, in a similar way to how music, films and literature are valued.


Following the example of streaming services such as Spotify or Netflix, most digital art frame companies have progressively moved from selling artworks in limited editions to offering subscriptions to their collections and those of museums and archives. Instead of being purchased as individual pieces, the artworks become the content that is accessed through the frame, the numerical scarcity being replaced by temporal scarcity. As previously stated, artworks are no longer subject to a limited number of copies, but they are displayed for a limited time, as in temporary exhibitions at museums. A salient example of this transition can be found in DAD, an online platform and streaming service developed since 2013 by gallerist Carlos Cardenas and entrepreneur Vincent Justin that was launched in the summer of 2015. The acronym DAD originally stood for “The Digital Art Device” and consisted of a digital frame, a media player, a smartphone app and a digital art collection. As with other similar devices, users could display the art on the dedicated screen or on any screen (using the media player), buy artworks in limited editions and store them in DAD’s server. Additionally, they could subscribe to access temporary exhibitions and receive printed catalogues of each curated show. Over the last year, DAD has gradually sidelined its custom devices and adopted off-the-shelf solutions such as the Apple TV player and a Samsung Smart TV, opting to focus on streaming curated selections of videos and changing its denomination to “Digital Art on Demand”. [Fig.4] Currently DAD offers its subscribers a series of online exhibitions which will be available for an undetermined period of time, probably around one year. In contrast, Sedition has launched its own streaming device, ArtStream, which displays a new artwork every week. When subjected to such temporal scarcity, the artwork can only be experienced as ephemeral content on a screen, removing all notions of ownership or exclusivity. Here, art is no longer bought, instead it is accessed.


A work of art designed for reproducibility

Walter Benjamin’s seminal text The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) is among the first to come to mind when addressing the issues discussed in this article. The concept of the “aura” of the work of art has been frequently summoned in relation to the assumption that art can only be truly appreciated (and bought) when it is seen in person. This has constituted a setback for the development of the online art market; it is also behind the idea of the genuineness of the artwork, and the perception that reproducibility devalues this uniqueness; finally, it is strongly linked to the sense of ownership and the fact that most artworks sold in the art market are presented as unique objects. In terms of the most common interpretation of Benjamin’s text, streaming art services shrink the aura of the work of art until it becomes close to nothing.

However, Benjamin also stated that “... its being reproducible by technological means frees the work of art, for the first time in history, from its existence as a parasite upon ritual. The reproduced work of art is to an ever-increasing extent the reproduction of a work of art designed for reproducibility. [...] [T]he work of art is becoming an image with entirely new functions, of which the one we are aware of, namely the artistic function, [...] may subsequently be deemed incidental” (p.12-13). From this perspective, the artwork can be conceived as playing a different role from that of the object exhibited in a museum or an art gallery. It is still the product of artistic creativity and is perceived in terms of its aesthetics or the subjects its addresses, but it is dissociated from the ritual that is an integral element of the art world. Evidently, the digital art frames continue to address traditional notions of art by providing an endless set of images to be hung on the wall, but in time the screen will not need to be isolated from the wall by four pieces of wood, and other forms of displaying digital content will be integrated into our daily environment, be it as media walls or augmented reality devices.

Although they are still being developed, the different forms of selling, collecting and experiencing art described in this article suggest that the contemporary art market is undergoing significant changes. As stated by Olaf Velthuis (2012), the art market is “in stasis and flux”, at the same time adapting to the conditions created by globalization, financialization, and the use of digital technologies, and maintaining its established structures and hierarchies. As we have discussed, the leading art galleries are using digital technologies to sell art in the same manner it has been marketed for over a century, and arguably they have no reason to change their business model. Noticeably, none of the companies developing digital art frames have received the same support from investors that has flown to online marketplaces such as Artsy and Artspace. However, artists are increasingly creating art in digital formats and adopting alternative forms of distribution, while a larger segment of the art audience is accessing forms of collecting digital art. The future of the contemporary art market will certainly reflect the interactions between these two tendencies, the work of art being at times a unique object and others a product designed for reproducibility.


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Pau Waelder © 2016 FDL

(1) An illustrative example of the slow development of e-commerce is that it took Amazon seven years (from 1995 to 2002) to report its first profitable quarter. Ten years later, in 2012, e-commerce sales topped $1 Trillion for the first time.

(2) In 2014, Saatchi Art was sold to Demand Media due to the economic losses it had generated. Its new owner rebranded the site Saatchi Art. Although Charles Saatchi sued Demand Media for the use of his name, Saatchi Art has continued its activities and in 2016 started a partnership with the contemporary art fair The Other Art Fair, also owned by Demand Media.

(3) The domain name of the VIP Art Fair was not renewed after the art fair closed in 2012 (see below) and is now used by a fashion blog.

(4) Although Artspace has recently laid off a large part of its employees (Freeman, 2017), mostly in the editorial team, this seems to be part of a restructuring following the acquisition by Phaidon.

(5) I have outlined some of these strategies in the text How to Sell Online Art and Make Millions (of Visits). A Short Guide for Artists, available in PDF format on:

(6) The “Possession” website was apparently meant to host all net-based artworks bought by the artist duo. Up to this date, only Lialina’s artwork is available on the site as artwork nº1 of the collection. Harvey and Samyn designed a layout that rerecalls a certificate of authenticity, as a playful reminder of their ownership of the piece.

(7) Quoted from an email message by Joe Hamilton to the author.

(8) Personal interview with the artist on February 2, 2014.

(9) Each time a registered user viewed an artwork on Sedition’s website, a preview of the certificate of authenticity was displayed, including the buyer’s name and edition number, even before the artwork was bought. Upon noticing this, in 2013 I took screenshots of these previews in every page of Sedition’s “curated” section. Later on, I put together these fake certificates alongside those of several editions I had bought in a digital book titled $8,793 Worth of [Art], published by Merkske in London. Following the distribution of this publication, Sedition removed the previews of their certificates of authenticity.

(10) Terms and Conditions. Conditions of Purchase. Sedition. Retrieved from:

(11) In this sense, the scarcity of an artwork requires the buyer to be either wealthy enough to pay an expensive piece by a well-known artist, or knowledgeable enough to recognize the talent of an emerging artist and buy her work before it becomes too expensive.