VIP, the online-only commercial art fair founded by James Cohan gallery in 2011, has announced an injection of $1 million in funding from investors with powerful art and financial pedigrees. The investment comes with an expansion of the company’s brand into three new art fairs, VIP Photo, Paper, and Vernissage, to take place later this year following the flagship VIP 2.0 fair, scheduled for February 3rd through the 8th.
The three new online fairs allow VIP to “showcase a wider range of works at a wider variety of price points” and “help the VIP brand solidify its position as the leader in online art sales,” VIP CEO Lisa Kennedy said in a statement. The first two are pretty self-explanatory: VIP Paper, which will be online between April 20th to 22nd, will focus on works on paper, while VIP Photo, July 13th to 15th, will be a showcase for photography galleries. By far the most intriguing proposition of the bunch is VIP Vernissage, a smaller fair meant to preview the Fall gallery season, which will run from September 7th to 9th.
The new investment, a seeming vote of confident in the whole VIP endeavor, was made by a pair of art collectors: Brazilian Selmo Nissenbaum, partner in Personale Investimentos, and Australian Philip Keir, media and arts specialist and founder of NextMedia. The added capital comes at a key time for the fledgling digital endeavor. Last October, VIP hired Kennedy, an Internet retail specialist, as its first CEO, and has just replaced founding director Noah Horowitz (who left to manage the Armory Show) with art advisor and former Artnet sales director Liz Parks.
With a new team and a fresh infusion of funding, VIP might be able to transcend the technological glitches that frustrated dealers during their first outing. In an email to ARTINFO, Kennedy noted that one impetus for seeking out external investment was to “allow us to re-architect our site and build out our tech team.” VIP has also “enhanced the visitors’s ability to navigate the fair,” adding the options of using a filtered search or taking curated tours of the work on view, guided by prominent art-world personalities.
In the January 2012 issue of Art+Auction, Kennedy explained that the company’s Web hosting can now “respond in real time to any incremental need for server capacity,” and that they have added third-party chat support to help facilitate connection between visitors and dealers. The lack of such a feature was a clear failure of VIP 2011.
In February, the flagship fair will return with participants ranging from blue-chip stalwarts like Gagosian to emerging spaces like the Lower East Side’s Rachel Uffner gallery. An added section of “Editions and Multiples” will feature work on sale from museums and alternative art spaces like Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art and Internet non-profit Rhizome.
VIP Art Fair is doing more visible work than any other company or gallery to create an online platform for art sales, but that platform remains in the draft stages — which makes it all the more striking that it is already expanding the franchise. Still, the potential is staggering. “The space for the contemporary art world online is only just beginning to take shape,” VIP co-founder Jane Cohan wrote to ARTINFO. “The impetus to further develop the event, its capacity, and its reach is ongoing.”