The effect that the coronavirus has had on physical gallery spaces and exhibitions cannot be underestimated, according to a report published by Art Basel and UBS - “Art gallery sales fell by an average 36 per cent in the first half of this year”. As per the report, “The business model — based fundamentally on discretionary spending and strongly dependent on travel and in-person contact — is uniquely positioned to struggle in the present realities of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The art world’s ability to stay flexible and translate their experience online is becoming incredibly important, and was so before the emergence of COVID-19. The virus has acted as an accelerator, causing galleries and artists to look towards digital pathways to sales. One of the most notable recent attempts at doing so was the inaugural viral edition of the Art Car Boot Fair.
As described on their own website, “The main aim of the Art Car Boot Fair is to be a day when the artists let their hair down and for visitors to engage with art and the artists in an informal way, and to pick up some real art bargains to boot. The Art Car Boot Fair is an exciting and energised one-day event, widely regarded as the most democratic and fun way to buy art.” The twice-yearly event which began in 2004 has given opportunities to emerging artists, helped individuals build affordable collections and presented exclusive works.
Given the influence of the Art Car Boot Fair, especially on the UK market, the organisers felt it paramount that the event went ahead in 2020. In its online incarnation, potential buyers purchased tickets and joined an online queue which allowed them to access the works. This was also meant to serve as a pilot run - becoming a digital counterpart for all future physical events once the pandemic has abated.
Everything was set for the 20th September, with ticketed attendees eager to get their hands on coveted works. However, problems became apparent early on - with the website crashing less than an hour into the event. According to the founder Karen Ashton, the event “suffered a technology meltdown due to extraordinary demand by eager buyers”. There was, for all intent and purposes, a large number of users accessing the site over a short period of time - with artists also uploading last minute images to the server. Given that this was the ACBF’s first online event, they could be forgiven teething problems.
So, the event was cancelled and moved to the 4th October, as the team endeavoured to make the website more robust. All tickets from the original event were to be honoured for the 4th, but the second run didn’t go particularly smoothly either. Users were being kicked from the queue, encountering glitches when purchasing works and website redirects. The resulting Twitter thread was filled with attendees lamenting the process and ensuing chaos.
There is no doubt that the organisers of the Viral Art Car Boot Fair had the best intentions, however, the complexities of organising and executing a large digital art fair were too significant. The fair was extended for a week until Sunday October 11th, allowing a more steady flow of users and giving artists the opportunity to sell their works properly. It was a test of things to come, with a global audience making clear their eagerness to buy from wherever they may be. Digital events will, in time, supplement physical exhibitions - as long as the organisers continue to learn how to manage the complexities.
The D'Stassi Art team.