A Sneak Peek at VIP Art Fair: Does Version 2.0 Take Online Art Commerce Beyond Beta?

The Brooke Alexander Gallery booth at VIP Art Fair
(Courtesy VIP Art Fair)

Take one virtual step inside the VIP Art Fair’s second outing — as we did for today's online vernissage — and it will become immediately apparent that the technology powering the experiment in Internet art commerce has vastly improved over last year’s glitch-ridden debut. VIP 2.0 is the closest thing we have to an online facsimile of the gallery-going experience, with cleanly designed, well curated, and informative displays that highlight high-quality art. The nooks and crannies of VIP have largely been swept clean this time around — though there are a few bugs that remain, and a certain number of Easter Eggs for the inquisitive viewer.

Below, our breakdown of the new VIP's strength and weaknesses.


The fair is browsable in a variety of ways, but most users will start by selecting the type of gallery that they are interested in the site’s top menu bar. Like Starbucks, VIP has its own lingo when it comes to the different sizes, though here instead of "Grande" and "Tall," one selected among "Premier Large," "Premier Medium," "Premier Small," and "Emerging" galleries, as well as sections for "Focus" solo shows and "Multiples & Editions" being sold by museums and institutions. Clicking on a section will bring visitors to a page of thumbnails displaying a single work from each gallery, each linking to the individual "booth." There is also a searchable, gridded map of the fair that shows, in relative "size," the booths a viewer has visited or favorited works in — the only thing the schematic lacks is hallways full of vendors hawking $25-a-glass Champaign.

Where images of work in VIP 1.0 loaded in erratic, block-by-block grids, VIP 2.0’s loading process is effortlessly smooth and zoomable in extremely high resolution. Work and artist information is clearly displayed in the lower part of the screen. Video pieces like Rashid Johnson’s “The New Black Yoga” at Hauser & Wirth’s booth work particularly well in the VIP 2.0 environment, with pop-up players that are viewable full-screen, though in somewhat pixelated resolution. (Unlike physical galleries, viewers are free to fast-forward through the videos on display — no more waiting for that arduous long shot to end!) 

VIP 2.0’s chat function, a much-touted feature of 1.0 that never worked out, is intuitive and relatively glitch free. In the screen representing each booth, there is a list of gallery staffmembers on call. Booth "attendants" available for chat are marked with a green dot with the languages they speak helpfully listed. Lower East Side gallerist Rachel Uffner of Rachel Uffner Gallery responded promptly to a chat and wrote that “everything’s been fine” with the fair’s technology so far. Representative of Beijing’s Pekin Fine Arts gallery Meg Maggio was running the booth at 11 p.m. China time. When asked if the gallery would be staffing the chat through the night, she wrote back, “Not 24-7. Who would do that job???”

Visitors can also add the names of other fair attendees as "friends," which are listed in their chat box. Through a conversation with a fair-going companion, ARTINFO discovered, much to our joy, that emoticons are enabled as well, with a set of monochromatic smiley faces available to express art-inspired emotions. Among those we have discovered so far: :) , :( , ;) , :P , :D , ;D , 8) , and <3.

But perhaps best of all: Viewers can also select custom avatar-silhouettes that appear next to the works in the “View Scale” option, familiar from VIP 1.0. So get ready to decide whether you identify more as a “Mr. VIP I” type —  a shabbily dressed slouch — or as “Mr. VIP II,” who dons a snazzy suit jacket (for more on the avatars, see our slideshow above).  


VIP 2.0 still has its flaws. Visitors should be able to bookmark works with the star-marked "Save" function, but the button wasn’t displayed on many works, at least during our time on the site. The zoomed-in artwork view doesn’t include caption information nor are viewers able to page to the next work while zoomed in. Several of the booths were missing the Contact Gallery button, as well, and though chats stay on the page even when browsing to other galleries, it’s not possible to click back to the original booth through the chat window, which is kind of frustrating. When browsing White Cube’s booth, the artwork caption briefly got stuck on Ellen Altfest’s “Rock, Foot, Plant” (2009) while we were viewing other works by Tony Cragg and Zhang Huan, though the problem corrected itself after some more flipping.

All in all, however, VIP 2.0 is lightyears ahead of the original. Our review: :-)

To take a behind-the-scenes look at VIP's avatars and emoticons, click on the slide show