UNTITLED Art Fair Tests Digital Engagement, Draws Buyers with New Virtual Reality Format

The booth of Altman Siegel at the Untitled, Art fair online.

UNTITLED, ART fair closed its inaugural online edition this past Sunday, the first VR art fair of its kind to come to the art market. Led by founder Jeffrey Lawson and director Manuela Mozo, the international fair, which stages live annual events in Miami and San Francisco, hosted 40 vendors from across the United States, South America, and Europe via the online platform from July 30th to August 9.

Executed in collaboration with Danish startup Artland, Untitled’s online fair was shaped by digital software and e-commerce features that allowed viewers to explore a simulation of traditional booth installations. The virtual setup enabled collectors to purchase works by means of a buy-now selling platform as well as negotiate through the fair’s digital chat feature.

According to fair representatives, on the event’s public opening day, one in ten users engaged a transactional feature on the platform, among which are Buy Now and Make an Offer functions, as well as the dealer’s chat bot, which supports sale negotiations and client inquiries. Untitled and Artland representatives claim the statistic is higher than the industry standard for e-commerce engagement. Fair representatives note that this key indicator demonstrates the scalability of the digital platform and is critical to informing improvements for the fall edition. “This engagement underscores our belief that collectors will make purchases online when they see something they love in an engaging context, and that the ability to converse in real time is something that was sorely missed by collectors as fairs went virtual,” said Lawson.

“We have developed cutting-edge technology that allows us to meaningfully tap into new audiences and to present an authentic, high-level experience that was not possible before,” Lawson continued. On the fair’s opening day, the platform saw high engagement among early participants and VIP users, but experienced technical glitches early on. “We expected a few hiccups as we opened our virtual reality doors to the world,” confirmed Lawson, noting that the 24-7 virtual buying experience through the platform and app are in their inaugural phases and still developing. “It will only get more sophisticated, refined, and interactive as we continue to build on and improve the technology with each iteration of our online fairs,” said Lawson.

Detail of Dana Robinson, Scenes of Importance. Gouache, collage, acrylic, and gold leaf on wood panel, Courtesy Selenas Mountain.

As international and regional fairs continue to roll out new digital formats, dealers are adapting as well. “Of course, a physical experience is always great, as it gives you personal contact and interactions, but we think that a mix of both is the future for the art world,” said Max and Julia Voloshyn, owners of Voloshyn Gallery, in a statement regarding the new format. In other online fair iterations, vendors have reported digital presentations can limit the ability to accurately represent the works on offer. In a statement on the VR experience in UNTITLED, Evan Reiser, associate director of Bortolami Gallery, noted the platform provided collectors “the opportunity to consider each work in three-dimensional space, in true scale, and in context to one another.”

Despite the seasonal lag, UNTITLED garnered transactions among both established and emerging dealers. Frederik Schampers, director at Galeria Nara Roesler, reported the sale of two large Vik Muniz works on the fair’s opening day, with asking prices around $60,000. Bortolami Gallery confirmed that it had placed artwork by each of the artists on view in their booth, from small framed drawings to large paintings. Highlights from the showcase included Rebecca Morris’s Untitled (#07-20) from 2020 that had an asking price of $60,000 and Ivan Morley’s thread and ink on canvas offered at a price of $75,000. Elsewhere, the fair’s Charitable Artist Edition, co-produced in an edition of 50 by Artspace & Phaidon, with proceeds benefiting the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), sold out. Portland-based Upfor gallery sold three editions by Los Angeles–based multimedia contemporary artist April Bey, whose works were priced between $3,500 to $25,000.

New York’s Charles Moffett gallery sold six works by another Los Angeles–based media artist, Bari Ziperstein, at prices between $2,500 and $3,000. Los Angeles contemporary gallery Gavlak sold a 2020 abstract work on paper by Andrew Brischler titled BREATHE IN BREATHE OUT (Mahogany/Yellow), for $6,300, with negotiations pending for works by Candida Alvarez and Nancy Lorenz. “As a younger experimental gallery, it was great that UNTITLED, ART Online provided us with this virtual platform,” said Michael Fleming, cofounder of Queens contemporary gallery Selenas Mountain, “especially at a time when presenting and selling artwork is so challenging due to the pandemic.” The gallery presented works by two of its emerging contemporary artists, Chicago-based Yvette Mayorga and New York–based Dana Robinson, at prices between $1,400 and $7,500. By fair’s end, the dealer had placed four mixed-media works by Dana Robinson with buyers.

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