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    Saturday, January 22nd, 2011
    CONTEMPORARY art collectors can readily access what major galleries have to offer this week.  The first on-line contemporary art fair opens at 8 a.m. Eastern (New York) time today.  The VIP (Viewing in Private) fair features 140 prestige galleries from around the world with big names like Hauser and Wirth, David Zwirner, Gagosian and White Cube.  This week they are showing 1928 works of art.
    The organisers are spurred on by the knowledge that the internet is growing. No less than 16 per cent of sales at Christie’s last year were carried out on the internet and half of these were new clients.  The idea came from New York dealer James Cohan. The VIP fair is modelled like most big art fairs.  Work is exhibited in booths.  Click on  a gallery and the art works are shown scaled against a human figure. You can use the zoom to see the details.  All this is free.  If you want more detailed information you must get a VIP pass, at a cost of  $100 for the first two days and $20 for the rest of the week.  The private viewer can enjoy tours and access price guides.  The price range is from less than $5,000 to over a million.  You can contact the gallery owner by text, telephone or Skype.  Deals can only be completed offline.
    Whether this works or not remains to be seen.  Even though imaging is very good I would not like to acquire a work of art I had not seen in a real rather than virtual way. The value of the fair for dealers is possibly in establishing contacts and expanding their reach in a global way. And it does not represent a major investment for dealers.  The cost of a booth ranges from $3,000 to $20,000.  The fair runs to January 30.
    As with the traditional fairs passes are being provided to more than 50 international museums for curators and high-level patrons. Participating institutions include the Whitney Museum of American Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New Museum,
    Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Whitechapel Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, Serpentine Gallery, Kröller-Müller Museum, Mori Art Museum, Tate (American Patrons Group) and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
    UPDATE:  Overloaded servers and sluggish response times have caused much criticism.  Organisers say problems were due to traffic from visitors from 130 countries.  They say these problems are being addressed.  As of noon on January 25  there has been 291,476 log ons to the fair and artworks artworks have been viewed over 4.3 million times.
    When the fair closed it emerged that artworks on the site were viewed 7.65 million times by visitors from 196 countries.  However the technical problems, particularly on the opening weekend, meant that some galleries found the level of sales disappointing.