Do you dream of owning a Damien Hirst but only have £7.50 ($11.80) in your pocket? Today, your dream might come true. Launched this morning at London’s Arts Club, the new online platform s[edition] is set to shake up contemporary art collecting by allowing art lovers across the world to buy digital editions by some of today's leading artists for prices ranging from £5 to £500 ($7.80 to $780). Released in editions of 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000, the pieces, by the likes of Tracey Emin, Matt Collishaw, and Isaac Julian, have been created specially for the site and only exist in the digital realm. Upon purchase, collectors receive a certificate of authenticity signed by both the artist and a s[edition] representative, and the right to enjoy and display their acquisitions on any device connected to the Internet.
The venture is the brainchild of Harry Blain, the founder of Haunch of Venison and Blain|Southern, and Robert Norton, formerly CEO of Saatchi Online and head of e-commerce at AOL Europe. What the duo has in mind is a complete redefinition of what art collecting might mean. With s[edition], objects themselves become insignificant, but the fundamental principle of ownership remains. Think of it as an "iTunes for contemporary art," said Norton this morning.
Blain presented the project as a "natural evolution" of art, smartly reminding the crowd of croissant-nibbling journalists that artists had always followed technological developments, from woodblock printing to HD video making. s[edition] is also attempting to tap into a potentially enormous market: 500 million people already own a smartphone, and by 2020 there will be an estimated 10 billion such mobile devices. The idea, explained Blain, is "bring the audience which is out there closer to the artists, and [make them] part of the art community."
Selling works is only one aspect of s[edition]. Users, whether they are buying or not, are able to follow artists. The platform will notify them of new publications and shows, and thus potentially send customers to museum and gallery exhibitions as well. s[edition] collectors are also able to contact galleries through the site if they want to buy a physical piece to augment their online collection. s[edition] doesn't attempt to supersede traditional art buying, but it offers another, more affordable way to engage with contemporary art collecting, the founders say.
At the moment s[edition] has just nine participating artists, but Blain and Norton intend to add new artists every months for the next few years. Mat Collishaw, who was present at the unveiling, talked about how, as an artist working with digital imagery, he often feels that the screen is the environment where his pieces look at their best. His two editions, showing a burning orchid and weeds quivering in the wind, make clear references to art history — but an art history transformed, as if seen through a contemporary prism. When the mp3 first came out, people used to claim that nothing would ever replace a good old CD collection. We know what happened next. Now the question remains: is the fiercely materialist art world ready to view art purely as content, the latest app-ready nugget of multimedia?