Elena Soboleva is a gallerist in New York with an interest in both Art and Economics. On Monday, January 24th, she braved the freezing temperatures to attend Sotheby’s panel discussion. Here’s her report:
Sotheby’s Art in the Digital Age panel discussion raised the intellectual climate around 72nd street even as the temperatures in the city plummeted to new lows. Set amidst the splendor of neoclassical canvases, drawn from Sotheby’s Important Old Masters Sale that takes place this week, the discussion moved from the academic, to the witty and the trenchant comment. Timed to coincide with the VIP Art Fair happening this week, the event of 200 or so invited guests was held on the seventh floor of the Sotheby’s headquarters in New York.
Lisa Dennison, Chairman of Sotheby’s Americas, introduced the evening with a montage of videos that depicted various incarnations of online art, flashing clips of the Getty online collection, YouTube/ Guggenheim Video Biennial and Lucas Samaras’ work. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik steered the discussion away from hackneyed references to Facebook and Twitter to examine a broader implication of the Internet’s impact on art institutions as well as the artistic output itself.
The panel consisted of the Director of the Metropolitan Museum Thomas Campbell, Google’s VP in charge of YouTube Henrique de Castro and philanthropist and collector Peter Norton. Each offered a different perspective on the digital transformation.
Campbell praised the Internet for ‘demystifying’ the museum and delivering content to an expanding global audience, highlighting the shift from museum’s role as means of connoisseurship to that of contextualization. Much of the evening’s discussion surrounded the idea of whether the digital experience augmented or falsified the individual’s interaction with art – with Norton pronouncing that “if we all learnt art from tiny illustrations in Janson’s – this [online viewing experience] has to be ten times better!”
The catalyst of the night, the VIP art fair, which has not lived up to the expected hype was a subject quietly skirted; though no one denied the many glitches, it was still heralded as the eventual future of art, bound to the exponential curve of innovation. When the focus shifted to the effect of the Internet upon art commerce, de Castro held the key word of the night – liquidity. Everyone agreed that in the art market, a wider audience would not alter the supply or demand but would increase information and create a global exchange.
The night ended with a jovial round of questions and a reception under the shadow of the classic paintings as the black-and-grey-attired crowd sipped Chardonnay and stalled heading back out into the cold. I left the night contemplating the future of online art and wondering how 16th century works like those in Tintoretto’s studio would find a bigger audience and better understanding in a digital art world. Perhaps that would enhance the recognition of these works of skill and grandeur and push their prices well beyond the level of newly minted MFA grads.