New art-tech venture Dot Dash 3 (the word art in Morse code includes three dots and three dashes), is something like a video game for art collectors. The new technology creates a virtual exhibition space that allows you to visualize artwork in 3D space without ever leaving your desk. The site is ostensibly for art sales, although the potential to create virtual exhibitions could, if the idea catches on (usually a big if in the world of online art ventures), make the technology commonplace on the websites of art institutions everywhere.
The new virtual reality exhibition space (for lack of a better phrase for it) is the brainchild of Larisa Leventon, a former portfolio manager at Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital. With two degrees from MIT and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Brown, she doesn’t seem like your typical art world entrepreneur. However, her time in Cambridge included plenty of art history, and she spent some time taking RISD courses while at Brown. “I seriously considered going to art school instead of studying math,” she told me when we met to talk about her new venture.
The new site is essentially a virtual gallery space created (not just customized, but totally conceptualized) by the artists who show on the site. All of the current shows stick to the standard white-cube configuration of a real-life gallery, but Leventon assured ARTINFO there is potential for much more radical spaces if the artists she works with want to get more creative. It takes a little bit to get the hang of navigation, but it can actually be enjoyable to click through the rooms. Below the interactive graphic — where “framed” JPEGs representing real life paintings and drawings “hang” on the walls alongside GIFs and videos — is a description of the show, written by the artist, a biography, and occasionally accompanying audio. Clicking on a work within the graphic interface brings up more information about it, as well as the price (all of the works are for sale unless otherwise stated).
According to Leventon, the site experience “allows you to get a sense of the artist and the person who is behind the work. It’s not just seeing a list of JPEGs with a hundred other JPEGs … with art it’s important to have that context.”
Unlike other art sales sites, which have tended to bring in the dealer, Dot Dash 3 is totally artist-driven. Leventon and a team of curators vet emerging and mid-career artists (some who have dealers, some who don’t). Once they are chosen, they have the ability to create their own show. When sales are made, the site takes a commission, a small portion of which goes into a fund to support an artist residency at Residency Unlimited in Brooklyn, and the rest goes to the artist.
The interactive site is particularly interesting when it comes to showing multi-media works. In addition to digitally framed JPEGs, which are merely representations of the actual works for sale, the current exhibition also includes video works and animated GIF images on the walls. Both forms seem more naturally placed in this virtual reality than they ever would in a gallery show. The artist Man Bartlett, who is one of the artists with a show currently on the site, agreed in an email to ARTINFO. “I was particularly pleased with how the animated gif display turned out. It is natural in the ‘room’ and yet you could never achieve that effect in person.”
[To be honest, seeing “Light Rule” (2012) in the virtual gallery space marks the first time I’ve ever taken the GIF seriously as an artwork. As a collector, it’s hard to see how you would achieve the same experience after buying the GIF, but that’s for someone else to figure out.]
The question, of course, is will it work? There has yet to be an online sales platform that emulates the gallery viewing experience while disrupting the traditional art world sales techniques. Most do the opposite, with the websites upending the presentation part of the gallery model by listing hundreds of flat, sortable JPEG images by various artists, but essentially just acting as a middleman between collectors and dealers on the sales side (like Artsy, for example).
Dot Dash 3 novel in its aesthetics, but also in its business model, which is one reason to believe it might have staying power. Leventon has a patent pending on her graphic interface, and plans to license it out to others in the art world that might want to create web-based art viewing space. If she is successful in creating revenue from her patent, then the company will have more room to breathe on the art sales end, allowing it to focus on the former rather than the latter.
She told ARTINFO that her goal is to keep work on the site in the affordable range for newer collectors (of the seven current exhibitions up, prices range from $300 to $12,000). “On a social level, I am hoping this brings together awareness of local artists,” she said. “I could have just taken the technology and just shopped the museums, but that part is very important to me.”