Petra Cortright & Rafaël Rozendaal

Auction House Phillips Enters the Digital Age

Jennifer Maloney, Wall Street Journal, September 2013

Petra Cortright - Steve Turner Contemporary Gallery

The brick-and-mortar auction house Phillips is going down the rabbit hole of digital art.

At its first-ever digital-art auction on Oct. 10, Phillips will offer up, among other things, a website, a YouTube video and digital files that could be displayed on a range of devices at the discretion of the buyer, from smartphones to wall-mounted screens.

The auction’s organizers, Phillips and the blogging service Tumblr, say they’ve had to tackle unusual logistical questions as they prepare to sell works that, in many cases, live online—and will continue to exist there, even after they are purchased.

Some of the pieces come with stipulations. For example, artist Rafaël Rozendaal‘s website, ifnoyes.commust be kept visible to the public, and the owner must renew the domain registration annually.

Meanwhile, Phillips must take into account the formula that Petra Cortright uses to price her webcam videos. The value of each one is tied to the number of people who have viewed it on YouTube.

Her video, “RGB,D-LAY,” which shows separated red, yellow, green and blue images of the artist pulling her hair above her head, was priced at $1,409.75 Sunday, with 5,639 views.

The sale, which will allow in-person and online bidding, will feature artists who already have made a name for themselves as well as those who have cultivated followings on Tumblr or YouTube but haven’t yet tapped into the mainstream art market.

While Phillips and other galleries have showcased digital works, this experiment by one of New York’s top auction houses signals the growing interest of mainstream collectors in digital art. In a bid to capture the attention of young collectors or established ones exploring new media for the first time, the 20 works on offer are priced between $1,400 and $18,000. The auction proceeds will benefit the artists and the nonprofit organization Rhizome, which commissions digital artists and archives digital art. Phillips will not take a cut.

“At one point, digital art was a sort of niche,” said Michael Connor, editor and curator of Rhizome. “But it is now so ubiquitous, it has thoroughly invaded the contemporary art landscape. It is also pushing contemporary art in new directions.”

Online bidding begins on Oct. 1, and will be suspended shortly before the live auction begins at Phillips’ Midtown location on the evening of Oct. 10. Once the live auction begins, buyers may place bids in person or by phone.

Lindsay Howard, the auction’s curator, used a broad definition of digital art to include works by artists inspired by the inner workings of computers or the Internet, as well as those who use the web as a distribution platform. Some of the works are static images, while others morph on their own, or change in response to input from the viewer. Still others are physical objects created or inspired by technology.

Digital artists already are commanding significant prices and attention from the contemporary-art world. An untitled inkjet-printer painting by Wade Guytonfetched $1.1 million at Christie’s in February. Cory Arcangel, whose work includes computer-generated projects, video, music composition and sculpture,had a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2011.

Others have built their audiences online through sites such as Tumblr, which has become a popular platform for artists to present their work. Some are even using Tumblr as their medium of choice, said Annie Werner, Tumblr’s arts evangelist.

They include Joe Hamilton, who created a collage called “Hyper Geography” through a series of Tumblr posts. A video version of “Hyper Geography” will be offered in the auction.

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