First things first: it works! After a first year badly marred by technical problems, VIP Art Fair 2.0 has had a clean launch in 2012 and elicited only minor complaints from the dealers and visitors AFC spoke to today. Navigation works, chat works, more than one person can log on at a time – it’s a fantastic reversal, because it means we can talk about art. Today we'll have some first impressions and look at which galleries are adapting best to the VIP format; over the weekend, we'll look at our picks for the best (and worst) booths in show.
- One surprise with VIP 2.0 is that the blue-chip galleries aren't pulling punches: 25 of the 135 galleries in the show have works priced above $500,000. That's a vote of confidence in the fair's potential to rope in the sort of collector likely to drop half a million dollars online, but it's also smart accounting: more expensive works tend to be larger, and therefore more costly to ship to a real-life fair. For some of these works, it's less expensive to show them at VIP than it would be to have them installed in a physical gallery, and it gets the image in the heads of collectors just the same.
- Getting users to return to a gallery after their initial visit has been one of the bigger issues facing VIP. The ability to swap works in and out of the booth at will – without shipping costs – is potentially a fantastic selling point for the fair, but it will fall flat if visitors don't know a gallery has been rehung. This year, there’s a “New on the Wall” sidebar that’s not only useful for gallerists, but interesting for visitors – new works going up might mean pieces are selling, which is an interesting enough possibility to keep me glancing over every few minutes. Any system that makes users want to look at more merchandise is a successful one, and VIP’s solution might even be better than the Armory- and Basel-standard system of putting the bathrooms fifty booths away from wherever you happen to be standing.
- By putting some real effort into getting visitors to come back, Galerie Thaddeus Ropac has made itself into a clear standout. They're rehanging their gallery in full each day according to a schedule of single-artist shows, and have thrown in just the right amount of spectacle and salesmanship. The first three days include a show put together by Sofia Coppola, a 24-hour performance by Terence Koh, and a “preview” of a show scheduled for one of their Paris galleries this spring. It's smart, and it’ll keep visitors coming back.
- Gagosian brought a booth of new Damien Hirst spot paintings in huge, cheap editions. Whatever your feelings on Hirst, it's an excellent way to approach the VIP Fair, because it plays to the worries of collectors buying online: there aren't any condition problems, because it's new, and there aren't any quality problems, because it's nearly identical to the other spot paintings. Plus, by bringing Hirst prints at a lower price point – $3,000-7,000 – they appeal to a huge body of collectors priced out of the market for unique Hirst spots. Again, good business.
- Limoncello, as a younger gallery, is in a different situation: if they're going to attract attention buried in the “Emerging” section of the fair, they'll need to make a scene. Last year, they did that by de-scaling their works, making them almost invisible in what we're pretty sure was a way-too-smart reference to Gene Davis's Micro Paintings 1966 exhibition; this year, they're getting around the booth size limits by making each “work” a photograph of an artist's studio, with the “details” as individual works. There’re also a few nice Easter eggs: one studio, according to the silhouette scale, is apparently building-sized, and another has our silhouette looking out on another silhouette looking at a gallery. Will it sell art? Who knows, but we’re having fun anyway.
- The “Editions and Multiples” section of the fair is the only one that disappoints. Most of the booths there are occupied by either nonprofits – the Whitechapel Gallery, Serpentine Gallery, and Fruitmarket Gallery from the UK, Independent Curators International and the Renaissance Society from the States – or art journals, like Parkett and Texte zur Kunst. The art is decent, on the whole, and ludicrously cheap thanks to large edition sizes; a sizeable minority of the booths, though, don’t seem to have any way to actually buy the works. We’re looking at you, Serpentine, CCA (of San Francisco), Ullens Center (of Beijing), and Fondation Cartier (of Paris). Frankly, for these booths, I don’t know what the point of exhibiting at the fair is, particularly if you’re pricing works in the $100-300 range; shouldn’t that require more sales? Extra demerits for Rhizome, which manages to be a website selling websites but apparently didn’t bother to have someone manning a chat client for a few days.
- We absolutely love that so many galleries – particularly blue-chips like Hauser & Wirth and Marian Goodman – have put full versions of video artworks online for the fair; that, on its own, is worth the price of admission, and how I’m spending my Friday night. It’ll be a real shame to see these works disappear again after the show.