So far, virtual art fairs have amounted to little more than overhyped websites with more than a few shortcomings, from faulty search filters to fractured payment protocols. In a lot of ways, recent online viewing rooms would have been more interesting—if not more efficient—as a Tumblr with a PayPal plugin. Historically sluggish to adopt 21st-century technology, the art trade is now quickly moving online and these kinds of growing pains are not only to be expected, but perhaps welcomed as they are spurring quick development among competitors.
Untitled, Art is the latest art fair to announce an online edition, launching this summer using virtual reality (VR) technology to better the user experience. The platform, developed with the Danish art-and-tech startup Artland, uses video game technology to imitate the IRL (in real life) art-fair feel of aisles; the first iteration of the online-only edition will be modelled on the layout of Untitled’s Miami Beach location and feature roughly 40 exhibitors.
According to the fair’s founder, Jeffrey Lawson, what is absent from current online fair platforms is the “element of discovery” that wandering the aisles of a physical event engenders. He adds that the “experience factor” is what makes fairs fun and, using video game technology, Untitled, Art Online visitors will be able to browse booths leisurely, or jump directly to where they want to go on the floorplan, “rather than just clicking through a couple of static pages”.
The technology has been under development with Artland since last summer and the virtual platform, like those developed by Art Basel and Frieze, was meant as a supplement to the Untitled’s physical fair before the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown made online sales obligatory.
Untitled is not the first to draw in video gaming principles—Hauser & Wirth debuted its own bespoke software last month—but it is the first fair to attempt to integrate VR experience with multi-vendor e-commerce. The interface, according to the co-founder and chief executive of Artland Mattis Curth, is “intuitive and interactive”, requiring only a mouse or arrow keys to navigate on a desktop and fingers on a touchscreen. Exhibitors will have the ability to customise their booth designs and re-hang artworks that have sold.