In the late 1990s, before the Internet bubble burst, I worked for Looksmart.com an international web indexing directory (#2 after Yahoo!). Part of my job included indexing online art galleries, so I saw a lot then and I have seen a lot of online galleries since. I have listed my paintings in online art galleries and I have even sold a painting through one online gallery.
The internet has proved useful for artist communicating and building communities. Street art would not be such a major international movement without the Internet record of images (for more on this see my blog post Street Art, Digital Cameras and the Internet). The Internet is a great educational resource for artists to learn new techniques from online videos. Art museums have had great developments online; there are some incredible virtual tours of major art museums available. For more read “Why the Google Art Project is Important” by Beth Harris, Ph.D. and Steven Zucker, Ph.D., Deans, Art and History, Khan Academy.
However, the Internet has not yet created any important or significant online commercial art galleries. There are lots of commercial art and very ordinary and amateur paintings for sale online. This is part of the cottage industry model of the Internet where everyone has an online arts and craft gallery selling around the world. Maybe it is possible to have a successful commercial online art gallery, something that made an impact on the art world, but it would need to do more than just connect sellers and buyers, like Ebay, Redbubble or Etsey already does. Jason Farago in “Art.sy and the Myth of the Online Art Market” (The New Republic, 22/10/2012) argues that not only do digital galleries not work and that art world is shutting them out.
Why hasn’t there been a notable or important online art gallery? Online art galleries reveal the ignorance of what is involved in actually running a commercial gallery, it is not just about providing a venue for the buyer to see the art. Although the gallery space is important as art is a tangible object and the art gallery is a tangible space something that cannot be reproduced in the virtual environment. It is about establishing a reputation with buyers, art critics and curators at major institutional galleries. It is about representing artists fully, providing them with assistance in getting commissions and promoting their art. The mediation and selection involved in a commercial gallery is the opposite of the unmediated access provided by the Internet.
(This post is part of my series about Types of Galleries.)