New Tools of the Trade

Nov 9, 2016

We do it almost without thinking about it, but what does it really mean to engage with art in the digital age, when and how did it originate? Our experts explore how technological developments have influenced art, the art market and museums in recent decades.

One of the earliest and most utilized online art companies, known to those both within in the art business and on the periphery is Artnet. Founded in 1989, Connor Williams of Artnet explains that it originally functioned as a “marketplace for prices”, for results from the major auction houses.

Prior to its inception, art specialists or those wishing to research auction results would have needed to use reference libraries, where catalogues with printed results were, and still are, maintained. In the digital age we now inhabit, not having immediate access to this information online is hard to conceive, but in the days prior to Artnet, this time-consuming, hard copy research was the only way to gather reliable data.

Today, data from somewhere in the region of 1,500 auction houses is available on Artnet, with results dating back as far as 1989. Around the turn of the millennium, a gallery network was added, soon followed by Artnet News, and in 2008, with the advent of online auctions, results for these too were included.

We take for granted that this information is constantly updated online, but it requires a constant and ongoing meticulous effort of thousands of people.

Lucy Redoglia of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art confirms. In the art world, museums were early adopters of new technologies enabling the widespread sharing of information related to their collections via the web. This early advancement can be viewed as both a blessing and a curse.

Artdex founder Jenny Park Adam has worked with MoMA on the digital advancement of what used to be hard copy information only. She has experienced first hand the constant need to update to new systems, as earlier technology and methods become obsolete and so the process starts over from scratch.

Despite the effort involved, Williams feels that the positive outcome of this increased sharing of information is that it “creates transparency”, and therefore democratization within the art world. Park Adam agrees that online platforms can bring people together in the virtual realm, in an industry, like many others, where meeting peers physically is becoming increasingly difficult.

And for those who are interested in art, and seeking to make a first purchase, but don't feel comfortable walking into an auction house or gallery for the first time, certain platforms are designed to place the right buyers and collectors together with specialists who can guide them.

Where is the future of technology heading, in a world where we have seen the start-up and decline of many online art organizations and apps in recent years? Our experts agree that continuing to combine technology and art should remain a focus and that the art world is still surprisingly fragmented.

Technology can create consolidation, which in turn will ensure that the realm of art online continues to flourish and gain greater credibility and relevance.

Redoglia's view is that already, social media in the museum world is providing information and virtual access for "those who may never set foot in a museum”. As Park Adam puts it, properly archived information is “helping the physical art world, not replacing" it.

To hear more from our experts, watch the online course New Tools of the Trade now! Watch now!