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Digital Culture Column

Can a virtual gallery space ever replace a physical one? Will people soon be buying art through facial recognition and Apple Pay? In the first of a diary-style online series, Anna Seaman discusses the impact of digital culture with regional galleries.

Last year, I moderated a discussion about the impact the internet has had on the way we make, view and buy art. The talk flipped from post-internet art and digital culture to photography, Instagram and online auctions. In a decade’s time, talking about this will feel as odd as discussing life before mobile technology for today’s Generation Z but for now, it is a pertinent issue and one that crops up in several conversations. There is no doubt that the internet and social media has had a profound effect on the way the business of art is carried out.

Some gallerists say they prefer the digital space over the physical one for art transactions. This is a massive shift, especially for someone like me who believes that you cannot fall in love with a piece of art unless you are standing in front of it. But, maybe not all art is bought from love alone and, perhaps, the way people fall in love in the digital age is also massively different.

Jal Hamad, the gallery director of Sabrina Amrani Gallery in Madrid told me that a large percentage of sales now come from digital channels.

“We founded our gallery in 2011 and one of the partners comes from the digital world, so we have been involved with digital culture from the very beginning,” he explained. “In the past two or three years, social media and third-party platforms have become a great ‘space’ to showcase works and to engage with our audience.” He added that it is specifically useful for internationally active collectors, who are increasingly exploring third party platforms to discover new artists.

Aleya Hamza, the founder of Gypsum Gallery in Cairo also said that digital culture has had a major impact on the way she runs her gallery but not necessarily as a preference for the real-life space.

“Social media platforms and our website are one of the main ways in which we present our program, especially since we are located in Cairo, a city that is off the beaten art track,” she said. “I think there is still a lot more potential for growth, and I’m excited to ride the digital wave, to use more platforms that are specific to art. I see these platforms as a communication tool and an interface between the gallery, and its clients, but it will never eclipse the personal experience or the tactile and the physical presence of an artwork.”

Many galleries however, are still very much entrenched in tradition and prefer real-time conversations. Franz Leupi, co-founder of AB Contemporary in Zurich said that personal contact is the only way to get to know clients and their preferences. “As we have been of the pioneers for art from the Middle East and Iran region, we have a very good market know-how that clients very much appreciate and almost all our sales are still being made through personal contacts.”

However, the march of time and changing of traditions is something that nobody can stop and it is almost certain that future generations will see the replacement of the physical and real for digital and virtual.

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Through a piece of visual art you can learn about history, politics, religion, love, science, music and a whole host of other subjects including personal stories. For Anna Seaman, as a writer, it is a joy and a passion to set herself the challenge of writing about visual art and the messages that artists wish to convey with their work. Currently, Anna runs her own online portal featuring art-related news, reviews and features (www.annaseaman.com) and prior to that she was the visual arts writer at The National newspaper, whose headquarters are in Abu Dhabi. Anna is from the UK and has been living in the Middle East for 10 years.

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