News From the Field | Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Hirst, Emin from $12.00

With the recent launch of s[edition], the high-end art market is now accessible to the masses, but not without challenging the very notion of art collecting.

The initiative is the brainchild of Haunch of Venison co-founder Harry Blain and former Saatchi Online CEO Robert Norton, and it creates a platform for the electronic trade of high-resolution images and videos by some of today’s most in-demand artists. For the price of a DVD, you can own an image by Damien Hirst; for the price of a tank of gas, a Tracey Emin neon; and for the price of a pair of jeans, a Bill Viola video.

The cooperation of these artists is certainly altruistic, and it also requires a tremendous concession of control in the display of their work. Is the “aura” of the artwork lost when used as a desktop background or screensaver? How exactly will the owners of these images enjoy them?

One thing is certain: collectors of these images can enjoy art with less responsibility for maintenance. Digital works are an anomaly in the art market, being immune to the tangible threats facing traditional art. A collector can neglect an electronic image for months, years, or even decades and find it perfectly preserved—provided one’s hard drive is still operating.

Since the number of editions for each series is in the thousands, rarity is out of the question for collectors. In such an uncompetitive market, the buyers are most likely to be fans, not speculators—but what exactly will they own?

One can easily dispute the difference between a painting and a photograph of a painting. But a screenshot of a digital image and a digital image? s[edition] provides authenticity documents that will be imperative for any re-sale of these works in absence of a digital provenance thumbprint.

Criticism of the company may be more a matter of reluctance to accept a trend toward media that embrace new technology. One imagines the reaction of music lovers to the phonograph or theater aficionados to the motion picture.

For video art, this innovation is most promising, and particularly so for works originally conceived for this format like Shepard Fairey’s Dìa de los Muertos (2008), rather than documentary ones like Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God (2007).

See for yourself here.

Claire Tinguely-Rubin is a Sotheby’s Institute graduate in Art Business and a specialist in Italian contemporary art.

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