Look up almost any artist today and the first thing that becomes obvious is how sophisticated most of their websites have become. Most artists’ sites list biographies, CV’s, recent and past work and press coverage, as well as contact numbers – to mention but some of the information available. Web sites have become the visual calling cards of the twenty-first century, a sort-of virtual get-to-know the artist without having to leave the comfort of your home.
It doesn’t have to stop there. A great number of these artists are not only represented by “actual” galleries inhabiting our physical non-virtual world, but are also showcased in virtual showrooms. For artists who don’t have “actual” gallery representation, there is plenty of software that allows them to set up whatever form of virtual exhibition space they may desire.
Virtual galleries aren’t new. What is new is the ever-increasing acceptance of them, both in the public and the private (museums, galleries) sector. Given that E-bay has replaced the garage sale, Craigslist the classifieds, on-line shopping the mega-mall, it’s no wonder that on-line galleries are on the rise. Add to this that our perception of space has changed, as has our expectation of experience. We no longer need the “real” to feel as if we have “experienced the real”. Chat lines, twitter, LinkedIn (of which half the time you wish you could link out), have set up an instant intimacy whereby we’re on a first name basis with “friends” we’ve never actually met but, hey, why shouldn’t they be privy to the minutest details of our lives.
Suddenly, switching the gallery wall for the computer screen doesn’t appear that strange anymore.
Hence the obvious question: Where does this leave the traditional art gallery? If artists can set up their own sites, display their own work (albeit virtually), and further promote their art through twitter accounts and facebook pages are they not, to a large extent, appropriating the role of a good gallerist? Even the argument that one misses the “real” experience (assuming there are still those of us who want the real experience) becomes moot, since all one has to do is set up an appointment with the artist and visit their studio to experience and view the work first hand.
Maybe, but one thing a gallery and museum can still do that virtual galleries, facebook, and twitter can’t do is save time. Advertising and promoting one’s work is a full time occupation, as is managing one’s career. There’s the showing and talking about the work, the phone calls to museums and potential collectors, the sending out of press releases and the putting together of exhibitions and exhibition catalogues – all administrative thieves of time that could, for the artist, be spent creating.
If anything, what we are seeing today is an interesting combination and collaboration of the virtual and the real. The virtual allows the artist a sense of self-direction and empowerment in that they no longer have to wait and hope for some gallery to see in their work what they see. The real (be it in a traditional gallery, a co-op art space run by artists, or participation in various art fairs) not only gives the artist more time, but also provides the artist with a sense of creative pariticipation within a community. In a way, it mirrors our world: All of us potentially global, but we are all inhabitants of our very real and very physically present neighbourhoods. One is simply an extension of the other and vice versa.