March 31, 2020

Digital Art Viewing and the Researcher

As COVID19 sweeps the globe, the art world is adapting to the unprecedented, widespread closures, cancellations, and postponements of cultural events. 

Two weeks ago, TEFAF closed early due to the growing concerns of the coronavirus after an exhibitor tested positive. Artnet News has created the ever-growing “Coronavirus Cancellation Watch: An Up-to-the-Minute Guide to How the Global Health Crisis is Rewriting the 2020 Art Calendar”. Many of us are taking to computers to peruse museum collections and exhibitions from the confines of our homes. Yet, in the face of a pandemic, the art world continues to move forward. 

Last week marked the launch of Art Basel Online Viewing Rooms (VIPs first and plebeians second), putting forth around 2,100 works of art, from 234 galleries, valued at a total of $270 million. While Art Basel operates predominately within the contemporary art market, the launching of online viewing rooms presents a number of questions: how will this influence ensuing art fairs for all eras of art? What effect will such remote viewing have on provenance-related research?

Think of all the wonders you can see and research from the comfort of your own couch! Granted, I believe the art-viewing experience is greatly diminished when it takes place through a screen rather than in person. However, these online viewing rooms will democratize the art fair circuit, allowing a greater number of people to “attend” fairs that they otherwise may never have the opportunity to see. 

More importantly, online viewing rooms will create a digital, provenance footprint for all works of art that are “displayed”. With a simple click of the mouse, a researcher will have a treasure trove of information at their fingertips: gallery/dealer, provenance (if listed, of course), high-resolution image(s), size, etc, all of which facilitates the provenance research process. Ultimately, an increased digital presence will bring augmented scrutiny. More concerns may be raised regarding questions of authenticity or provenance. 

As more information becomes easily searchable and saveable, we can hope vendors will augment transparency surrounding their art objects and collectors will demand provenance before purchase. While the art market will undoubtedly remain exclusive, online viewing presents a unique opportunity to reform art market practices. In the meantime, art collectors should follow ARCA’s recommendations or seek the advice of qualified researchers in order to mitigate or avoid the risks of buying art objects without clear title.

By:  Aubrey Catrone ARCA Alumna, 2015
Proper Provenance LLC

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