S[edition] Innovates With On Screen Art By Big Name Artists


With Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin digital artworks available from £5, S[edition] invites anyone and everyone to become art collectors

This morning, Harry Blain (founder of Haunch of Venison and Blain|Southern) and Robert Norton (former CEO of Saatchi Online) launched an innovative new scheme for selling art – S[edition]; an online initiative to sell affordable digital artworks by some of the world’s leading contemporary artists. Once bought, these limited edition digital artworks can be viewed on-screen, on laptops, mobile phones, iPads, and on TVs – they can even be sent as gifts via email!

In other words, S[edition] is not merely a new way of selling art; it amounts to a radical new way of understanding art as a commodity. This is, they say, ‘ITunes for art’, with purchasers of these limited edition digital artworks able to curate their own art collection on-screen, making ‘art playlists’ for parties etc. in the same way one would with songs.

Nine artists are currently featured on the site, including Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Mat Collishaw, Bill Viola, and Michael Craig-Martin. And another ten are already line up. The platform allows users to follow artists, browse and acquire works, and to download them to digital devices and screens. Each edition is numbered and authenticated with a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

Perhaps most significantly (and certainly most lucratively), S[edition] promises to radically democratize the buying of art, by selling these digital editions of works by big name artists for as little as £5. With ‘millions desperate to become a part of the art community’, Blain and Norton believe they have the answer, opening up an untapped market by welcoming an entirely new economic bracket into the collecting fold.

The cleverness of S[edition] is, on one level, a no brainer: if the technology and the market exists, why not exploit it? With the exponential growth in mobile technologies, and the development of HD screen resolution, Blain and Norton are simply joining up the dots – in their words, such as scheme was ‘not only a possibility or a probability, but an eventuality’.

But will people really be willing to exchange tangible art for digital data?

Of course, when it comes to artists who already work with digital media, S[edition] makes perfect sense. As Matt Collishaw explained this morning, his work is ‘designed in the digital domain, and belongs there’: the work on-screen has a ‘beautiful …, chimerical, spectral quality to it’ that is ‘beyond what print can reproduce’.

Browsing the available artworks, however, the quality disparity immediately becomes clear. The successful pieces are those that explicitly engaged with the medium: Tracey Emin, for example, has created a new set of ‘neons’, but has given them a new lease of life by animating the words to spell themselves out in real time; similarly, Bill Viola’s video works fit the medium perfectly, having been made for the screen and being inseparable from that medium; while Michael Craig-Martin has jumped on the opportunity to ‘take my very flat drawings and make them three dimensional’.

Other works, however, are painfully static or 2D, with some of the artists failing to engage creatively with the proposition. A Damien Hirst skull – the most expensive artwork on the site –, for instance, spins uninspiring against a dull black background, while Noble and Webster lamely offer installation shots of existing work that could easily be obtained via Google image search (i.e. for free!).

But we may forgive these errors, especially while S[edition] is still in a teething phase. The new site may indeed turn out to be an ‘immediate, fun and social way’ for people to build an art collection, while making ‘contemporary art accessible to a whole new world of collectors at prices most people can now afford’. Of course, the philanthropic rhetoric masks an astute business proposition, but as Tracey Emin argues, what is there not to like in ‘the idea of original pieces of art going to people directly for a low price’?

Whether people will, in practice, be willing to exchange tangible art for screensavers is to be seen; art is not necessarily like music or film, with much of it appeal traditionally coming from its materiality. But who knows? It’s a brave new world out there, and woe betide those seditious to the spirit of change. Words Thomas Keane © 2011 ArtLyst

s[edition] launches today at www.seditionart.com, and the free iPad app is available for download at the iTunes store. 

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