It is no secret that there was dealer disgruntlement over the first edition of the online VIP Art Fair, which took place over the last week of January. High visitor numbers caused pages to load slowly, and the fair's much-touted chat function was disabled for the duration of the event. Several weeks after the fair closed, there were rumors of an email circulating among galleries that raised the possibility of dealers banding together to ask for reimbursement. Now, VIP's organizers have made a proactive move to blunt the aftereffects of its troubled debut, offering a retroactive 50 percent discount on the fair to all participants. The fair is also fundamentally reorganizing its innovative business model.
To ensure that VIP can move forward both in terms of its visitors' experience and its exhibitors' expectations, fair co-founder Jane Cohan says that she and her fellow organizers — her husband, art dealer James Cohan, and Internet entrepreneurs Jonas and Alessandra Almgren — are looking at ways to keep the site active throughout the year. It's been the goal of the site to "to aggregate the world's great galleries," she said. "If you search for leading galleries online you will be able to find them here, it will be an active directory, sortable by city."
If, for instance, you are planning a trip to Berlin you can map out all the galleries from the VIP fair that are in Berlin. Visitors to the VIP fair last month will also retain access to their list of favorite artworks. "That will help in conversations with galleries," says Cohan, who adds that the film series on private collections made with the nonprofit Art 21 and on view in VIP's VIP lounge (that's right, the "VIP's VIP lounge") will continue to be available to anyone who would like to view them.
That is on the visitors' side. On the gallery side, the fair's business plan is more ambitious. Cohan explains that since the participating galleries put so much work into uploading artwork and creating artist pages for the inaugural edition, VIP is making it possible for these galleries to continue using the private-room feature of their virtual booths year-round, even when the fair is not active. These virtual rooms have artworks embedded with information on artists and supporting materials, as well as scale and zoom features on the images, which make them more elaborate than ordinary jpegs.
In fact, this private room feature is being continued as a standalone service that will be offered to participants in the first edition of VIP free for six months — they will be able to add artworks to the ones they had on view during the fair — but it will also be available for sale to galleries who did not exhibit in the first VIP fair. (A fee structure has not yet been worked out, and VIP plans to roll out this service within the next few months, Cohan says.) "It becomes a useful sales tool, and that's what we want to offer galleries," says Cohan. From the private room feature, it will be easy for new galleries to transition into the fair's next edition, expected for next January.
Cohan and her VIP colleagues believe that as art commerce migrates onto the Web, dealers will want to create an online experience that compliments what they are doing in the brick and mortar world of their galleries. "People in traditional businesses are trying to find the right digital counterpoint," she says. "If you replicate your business online and compete with yourself, that's no good."