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Online-only for innovative art fair

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An art fair billed as the world's first to take place exclusively online is to be held early next year.

More than 139 galleries from 30 countries, including the UK, are taking part in the VIP Art Fair. VIP stands for View in Private, and will run from Saturday January 22 to Sunday January 30 at www.vipartfair.com. Registered visitors will be able to browse works by artists including Francis Bacon, Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Jackson Pollock from their own homes.

Using zoom and streaming video they’ll be able to inspect the works of art close up, while they can also talk one-to-one with dealers through an integrated chat and messaging system that can transfer to Skype or telephone, about particular works. They can also find out more from accompanying video presentations, fact sheets and artist profile pages. Subsequent purchases are by private arrangement with the relevant gallery.

Works are shown in three exhibition halls, and visitors can browse by clicking from booth to booth on a map, sharing their favourite works with friends via email and Facebook. They can also search by price range. Art is presented on a virtual wall in relation to human figures and other works of art in order to give viewers a sense of scale. And social interaction takes place in the VIP Lounge through features including video, tours and news.

The show was founded by James Cohan, owner of the James Cohan Gallery in New York and Shanghai, in partnership with his partner Jane Cohan and internet entrepreneurs Jonas and Alessandra Almgren.

James Cohan said: “Increasingly over the last decade the artworld has gone global, with important events happening around the world. Art collectors from Dallas to Kuala Lumpur can find it difficult to travel to all of the events and yet they don’t want to miss out. Three years ago, when we began conceptualizing VIP Art Fair we wanted to harness the international reach of the internet to give access to the best contemporary art from anywhere in the world."

Our view: Already many art collectors pursue their hobby from a distance, seeing objets d’art only from a distance, through photographs, before placing their bids over long-distance telephone calls or by email. But this online art fair, billed as a world’s first, is set to take that still further. Will enough buyers be willing to bid based on seeing items over a computer screen rather than for themselves?

Currently, it seems buyers will buy a car, but they won’t buy a house without seeing it. So will they buy a work of art unseen? The organisers say: “The idea is that well-informed collectors are empowered through technology to make intelligent decisions.” Galleries and browsers alike will only find out if it works for them by taking part. It should prove something interesting experiment and one that, if successful, has the potential to lead to so much more. At the same time this should also interest retailers who sell luxury goods and want to know if online would work for them.

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