Is the market for internet art just waiting to be tapped? Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery director Robert Hult and artist-curator Duncan Malashock have been working for nearly a year to produce a website that’s respected and profitable. Launched last November with a mandate to premiere new work by artists who use the web as their medium, Klausgallery.net exhibits new shows twice monthly and has already built a robust archive of art by Michelle Ceja, Harm van den Dorpel, Billy Rennekamp, and many more. There’s a lot of worthwhile art on the site, but what’s not on there is how the gallery’s creators are developing their sales. I spoke to Hult recently to get a better sense of this end of the project.
Can you talk about how the pricing models differ from work to work? We price all the .net works based on the artists' previous sales, if they have them, and try to keep them in line with their existing price structure—and I would say in the range of their works on paper or editioned works. For the specifically editioned online works, we offer the html files on a flash drive, either in addition to Public Ownership or only on the flash drive. The video works have a high-resolution DVD option as well. So far we've priced works in the hundreds to low thousands range—some of the artists we've worked with have a long exhibition and sales history, some are straight out of undergrad, so we're still feeling it out.
Can you give a brief definition of Public Online Ownership? Public Ownership allows the owners of the work to host the piece online whilst taking an ownership credit on the browser page. It seems to be the most "monetizable" option.
The Public Ownership model reminds me of the plaques that are on the chairs in theaters, or listing donor names on a wall plaque in a museum. It's not quite ownership; it's a public gift, in the for-profit world. Do you think net art collectors buy with social consciousness? That's an interesting analogy, but imagine if all the park bench donors in Central Park could resell their benches on the private market some day. Maybe Public Ownership is more akin to a Sol Lewitt set of instructions—anyone can follow them and make a wall drawing, but there's only one certifiable "Lewitt"—and the very ephemeral assignment of value is attached accordingly. If you really want to nerd out on the price structuring of non-material artworks, I think one interesting take on it is the "Actor Network Theory," which involves value defined by contextualization within a social schema—in addition to the classic supply and demand type stuff, artificial scarcity, etc. So far, I'm not sure social consciousness is involved in collecting net art one way or the other, but we like the idea of democratizing access to great works of art.
What is your most trafficked show to date? Do sales correspond to traffic?
The page that is called "viewer" gets the most hits on our analytics page—this is the generic label for the index page, and hosts the rotating shows. While the shows are up, an individual page for each piece is also generated with the artist's name attached and these are then archived—and the hits on these register pretty evenly. If I analyze over the entire course of KLAUS.net by date, we've gotten the most hits during our launch (when we sent out an email to our general list), and subsequently we get around 300-400 hits during the launches of each individual piece with a long tail over each two-week period. Some artists make a harder push on their personal Facebook, Twitter or home pages, and that can increase the hits for their particular show. As far as I can tell, sales aren't related to web traffic.
Do you have a sense of what net art collectors look for? Is the answer as simple as good work, or are there other net specific biases that have emerged? Is the best way to sell an artwork through email because you can send a link, or is an in person sale still the best way to sell the work?
Not sure we've seen any patterns emerging on this front yet, and I think the parallel to selling art in general would hold, i.e. there are so many random factors at work in what sells, it's different in almost every case. I would think the best way to sell work in general would involve a personal connection of some form, but the "linkability" and ubiquity of the internet would hopefully contribute.
How does the Klausgallery.net address conservation issues? Do collectors understand that what they purchase may be finite?
This is obviously difficult to answer because of the quickly shifting modes of digital media. I think the public ownership model would incentivize collectors to keep the works posted on the hosted websites but long term that's kind of hard to gauge. The html files on flash drives is tough too, since the techno-obsolescence factor kicks in after just a few years. In some ways, the act of monetizing the work would hopefully be enough incentive to conserve the works, and ideally people will be invested in the works enough to keep them viable for the ages.
Can you tell me what kind of responsibilities the artist and gallery have to the collector in terms of maintenance in your contract? I'm just wondering whether the contracts have stayed the same or changed a lot since 2008. I interviewed Aron Namenwirth back then about a legal contract he'd put together for his gallery ArtMoving Projects, which included a clause stipulating that the artist must provide a backup of the artwork every year, providing a contemporary platform if the old platform becomes obsolete. This was for New Media, not NetArt, but there were a lot of legalities I'd never thought of before.
We haven't contractually obligated anything yet, but I do like Mr. Namenwirth's ideas. Seems to me that preservation is a mutual responsibility, since the ways in which the work needs to be maintained might be befuddling to some collectors, but the artists can't assume indefinite responsibility for their work either. Especially if you think way down the road, a hundred years or more—who can even guess what that's gonna look like.
(Image: Michelle Ceja, "Wet Code"; courtesy Klausgallery.net)