Cyber Art Fair Freezes, But Demand is There

james cohan gallery artist beatrice Cyber Art Fair Freezes, But Demand is There   The first-ever online art fair debuted Saturday at VIPArtFair.com, but the launch, by and large, went haywire. Delays and error messages greeted Web surfers during the keenly awaited venture’s initial hours.

Yet the news wasn’t all bad: Even some of VIP’s (for Viewing in Private) rivals and skeptics granted that the tremendous interest generated by the launch indicated that the business model might be successful when the kinks are worked out.

A (live and lush) party sponsored by the fair last Thursday at New York’s Eventi Hotel had drawn hundreds of collectors and dealers eager to at least try out the concept.

In a pioneer effort, top dealers such as Larry Gagosian, Jay Jopling and David Zwirner had signed on to “exhibit” on the site in a one-week cyberspace selling spree that began Jan. 22. It was designed to let invited collectors log on and stroll through virtual booths of art designed by the galleries. They could also take tours through the fair that had curated by collectors or other visitors. The cost was $100 for the first two days and $20 thereafter, but invited guests could log on for free. For much of the weekend, however, VIPArtFair.com simply wasn’t working at full speed. Ironically, some of the more tech-savvy art-worlders, who went online using iPads or through the popular browser Internet Explorer, faced particular difficulties.

The technical problems, organizers said, were due to an “astounding response.” At least anecdotally, that seemed true, with the site’s glitches and the resulting disappointment being a major topic of conversation at some brick-and-mortar gallery openings and art events Saturday.

Co-founders James and Jane Cohan and Jonas and Alessandra Almgren released a apology for the “delays, error messages or slow processing speed.” They’ve also disabled a feature that would have let online guests chat with gallery staff. (Some galleries appeared “unstaffed” over the weekend.) Throwing in the virtual towel somewhat, the organizers said, “We encourage you to reach out to the galleries and individual staff members for all inquiries via email and phone.”
The organizers said the problems have now been fixed.

And they’re debuting a sexy feature that should lure some guests back: Through Saturday, online tours of prominent collectors’ homes will be featured on the site, including a trio of collections in Tokyo, Shanghai and Beijing.

apeers@observer.com