The trend toward experiencing art as opposed to simply viewing it has proven to be a great way to attract more people into museums and galleries. This is especially seen with record-setting installations like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room for instance, but the question remains whether these crowd-pleasing installations have an effect on the market for technology-oriented works, something that is being tested at some art fairs.
An entire section dedicated to virtual and augmented reality works at Frieze New York this month gave this question a much more serious consideration as it brought this category of art to the heart of its fair, set to take place on Randall’s Island from May 1 through May 5.
Curated by Daniel Birnbaum, director of Acute Art, a section titled Electric will show works from artists whose medium is or mainly involves technology. This includes artists with more traditional backgrounds like painting or sculpture making who recently forayed into the world of VR to create new experiences of their work, like Hans Berg, Anish Kapoor, Nathalie Djurberg, Rachel Rossin and Timur Si-Qin. Kapoor’s piece will be the highly-anticipated and gory VR debut work entitled Into Yourself, Fall while Rossin has transformed a violent video game into a happy peaceful landscape.
“There’s a new generation of artists who can actually write code,” Birnbaum says. “But there are others who want to translate their traditional artistic and intellectual abilities to this new world.”
Since none of the works shown at Electric are available for sale, the section will serve more of an educational purpose than a commercial one. “When a new medium like this appears—and it seems like it happens once or twice a century—no one really knows what to do with it yet,” Birnbaum says, adding that “I’m sure in a few years, it will be more professionalised and commercialised”.
“Many of these younger collectors are coming to the shows because of the VR but are then learning about the artist’s history and their other work,” says Sandra Nedvetskaia of Khora Contemporary, a VR production studio that will be partnering with Hauser & Wirth at Art Basel this June. Khora saw this first hand at the 2017 Venice Biennale when they worked with the Los Angeles-based artist Paul McCarthy to produce a VR experiment and saw “a new wave of people buying the books on his sculptures and other art afterwards”.
A common misconception of VR works are that they are just video works but in reality, they are quite costly to produce and extremely time-consuming to implement. Carla Camacho, a partner at Lehmann Maupin, which represents VR artists like Jennifer Steinkamp, said that “once a piece is acquired, the client has to provide architectural plans so that it can be coded site-specifically.”
Another differentiation in the market for VR and AR works are that they end up being editioned due to the iterative nature of their coding. This keeps their prices lower, often in the $10,000 to $300,000 range, according to Nedvetskaia. “The market is extremely young,” she says. This is likely the reason why an understanding, availability and distribution of these types of works is not yet mainstream and why exposure at fairs like Frieze undoubtedly helps.