Art Market

These Streaming Platforms for Art Are Creating New Commercial and Conceptual Possibilities

Justin Kamp
May 18, 2020 11:00PM

Jibade-Khalil Huffman, still from We Don’t Need Another Mural, 2019. Courtesy of the artist, Anat Ebgi Gallery, and Daata.

Quarantine has meant a bevy of changes for the art world, as institutions and individuals alike grapple with the radically new balance between connection and distance. Perhaps the most fundamental change has been the transition of viewing artwork into an experience mediated by screens. From VR gallery walkthroughs and online fair booths to Instagram video works and curated museum TikTok feeds, institutions and artists have found varying degrees of success in recreating the art-viewing experience within the confines of computer and smartphone screens. For some art world players, though, the screen is not confining, but a vehicle for a more fluid form of art consumption as personalized and omnipresent as the internet that enables it: streaming art.

According to Kelani Nichole, founder of the gallery TRANSFER (which focuses on digital, video, and new media art), the main hurdle that streaming has to cross in the art world is institutional failure to recognize its commercial and conceptual value. “The reason so many cultural experiences are falling flat right now is precisely because these galleries, museums, and organizations are trying to ‘translate’ their interests into the virtual space instead of engaging critically with that space, and how it challenges and opposes their brick-and-mortar values,” Nichole said. “Much more necessary and interesting are the attempts to break down the values and exchanges that constitute the contemporary art world, and create new possibilities for connection, idea sharing, relationships, and aesthetic experiences virtually.”

Lorna Mills
All Knight Long, 2015

Some organizations have turned to streaming as a way to better integrate digital and video art with the art market. David Gryn, founder of digital art site Daata, felt the need for a new model of art consumption and collection long before he started the company in 2015. “The digital art world to date is still centered around showing still images of paintings (or similar [artworks]) online and trying to emulate gallery/museum experiences and not create new ones,” Gryn wrote over email. “We launched Daata to suggest a model that could galvanize marketplace interest through the potential of download sales after watching the artworks online via streaming.”

In other words, Gryn aimed to create a framework for digital art collecting that is more in line with the way people are used to consuming other media in their lives, where paid subscription takes precedence over individual purchase. Much of Daata’s traffic falls into three main segments: editions, streaming, and TV, all of which feature original work the company commissions. Editions is the segment most similar to the traditional art market model, where video and digital works are available for purchase for roughly $400 and up. But for a monthly subscription fee starting at $10, users can stream artworks and watch curated playlists, as well as curate their own. Also included in the subscription is the TV segment, wherein pieces play on a continuous premade stream that resembles, well, television.

Eva Papamargariti, still from The Hollow Sound of Longing, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Daata.

Gryn said Daata’s streaming model caters to two audiences: viewers who don’t have a vested interest in ownership of works, and potential collectors who may be otherwise hesitant to buy digital or video works. “Audiences’ understanding that they can buy art online in different forms has been the long-term challenge to date,” he said. “We have always intended Daata to be a very simple solution, much like playing and buying music on online platforms.”

Other companies have adopted a similar, if more thoroughly commercial, model. Sedition, a digital collecting platform that launched in 2011, features a subscription service in which users pay $15 per month for the ability to stream any artwork on the site, but only until editions of that work sell out. This model seems to be a bridge between the scarcity essential to traditional art market sales and the limitlessness that streaming offers. Despite that difference, Sedition’s goals appear to be largely the same as Daata’s.

“We created Sedition to give art lovers like myself the chance to enjoy art outside of traditional spaces,” company director Rory Blain said in a video on the site. “If you think about music or literature or film, then we are all very used to accessing and enjoying those art forms in digital media. We wanted to bring this change to the art world.”

Mateo Amaral, still from Es todo una grabación, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Wrong TV channel.

The company Niio, meanwhile, provides a more boutique digital art service, with subscription plans starting at $99 per month. This more expensive service gives users access to a vast catalog of digital and new media works, high-end displays, collection management solutions, gallery-curated “artcasts,” and, with higher-level subscriptions, access to curators who will help guide users’ collecting.

For companies like Daata, Sedition, and Niio, streaming art is an avenue to a more seamless commercialization of the digital and video art genres: The companies’ platforms draw potential buyers in with access to a wide roster of works and encourage them to live with pieces before ultimately purchasing. And with the pandemic upending normal art market operations, Gryn said the commercial potential of streamable art is more obvious than ever. He pointed to the “sudden emergence” of art world institutions looking for more sustainable and collaborative models to weather the crisis. “We now have a global audience who want to see art online, who are being served art online, and will now be getting used to buying (and streaming) art online,” he said, calling such ways of seeing art “a new normal.”

While these companies look to capitalize on the commercial viability of streamable artworks, other organizations have focused on more conceptual applications of the streaming and TV models. The global digital art fair Wrong Biennial launched Wrong TV on March 21st, in the early days of the worldwide COVID-19 lockdown. The website has four channels that stream curated mixes of video and digital art 24 hours a day, with content including short video works, standalone films, visual artifacts, and guest-curated mixes of internet ephemera.

Marcus Kreiss, still from Supermercat, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Souvenirs from Earth.

David Quiles Guilló, founder of the Wrong Biennial, said Wrong TV was meant as a respite from the constant barrage of pandemic-related news. He wanted to provide a digital art-viewing experience that alleviates the burden of choice that many feel when trying to decide what to consume online. “It’s meant to take away the selecting responsibility, to avoid the Netflix frustration of spending more time selecting than watching, and suffering if the selection does not live up to the expectations,” Guilló wrote over email. “An online exhibition is constructed mostly following on-demand terms like click and watch, scroll; you decide what to click on, and if you watch it until the end or not.” Guilló’s goal with Wrong TV is to take some control back from the viewer— to treat streaming more like a curated museum exhibition than an endless series of choices.

According to Marcus Kreiss, founder of the video art collective Souvenirs From Earth, streaming provides more than just access—it also serves as an archive. Kreiss started the collective in 2001; since 2006, it has aired continuously on French TV, playing works ranging from avant-garde cinema and video art to music and dance performances. Integrating art into people’s everyday lives benefits them and the artists whose works are being displayed. Because digital works do not have the same inherent scarcity as physical pieces, efforts to stream and broadcast art can help ensure those pieces will not live solely in a collector’s home or hard drive.

Advanced Recreative Terminal (ART) device. Courtesy of Souvenirs from Earth.

“If you [make] video art, you might be happy if 2,000 people saw your work at a show,” Kreiss said. “But then it disappears, and then what? This could be online, on air somewhere all the time, and millions of people could see it. Instead of disappearing, the works have a second life on our channel. It’s an institutional work to make this accessible, this richness that is hard to see in its whole.”

This, ultimately, is what is provided by art on streaming platforms and TV—widespread access to an immaterial archive. And while various organizations might focus on the commercial potential of that access or the curatorial possibilities of that archive, the platform they’re experimenting with is more than its component parts.

“It’s not a gimmick, it’s not a way to reach an audience,” Nichole said. “It is a critical engagement with the technologies which now constitute our day to day reality.”

Justin Kamp