After leaving a job in Australia’s arts sector and returning home to New Zealand, I relied on social media and the internet to keep me connected to the world of independent artists, curators and new gallery spaces springing up in Australia’s cities.
Frustrated by seeing all the amazing art exhibitions being promoted on Instagram and design blogs, but being unable to experience them in person or to collect the pieces I fell in love with, I looked to see how my problem could be solved without buying a plane ticket to Australia (or London, New York, or Berlin) every month.
When I started researching online, I was astounded to discover there were no platforms that would allow people, like me, to experience the exhibitions of the artists and curators they admire, in an online exhibition format. While there are a handful of online exhibition software solutions out there, they are expensive, designed only for galleries, and often outdated with clunky slow virtual exhibition experiences which don’t do the artworks justice.
What I did find was a plethora of art e-commerce and auction websites from high-end to low-end, but none of them showcased art as part of a holistic exhibition experience. Instead most of these websites were defined by a terrible user experience and made buying original art seem like you were buying a cheap pair of socks. But don’t get me wrong there are some beautifully designed art sales websites out there, but they are focused on promoting their own stable of established artists and big name gallery networks.
By now, not only had I failed to find a solution to my problem, but I had also uncovered a real gap in the market. As we started discussing how a solution could work and the practicalities of an online exhibition platform (luckily my husband is a wiz at developing mobile app and web platforms and was up for a challenge), I realised my idea for The Exhibit solved a lot more than just my need to “visit” the exhibitions I couldn’t get to in person.
An online exhibition platform could shake up the current exhibition model, reduce the cost of exhibiting in a world where artists are increasingly struggling for exhibition funding opportunities and governments are always looking first to the arts for budget savings, make it accessible for art collectors to view exhibitions and purchase artworks regardless of where they are located, give artists and curators a global platform which they can easily leverage with social media, create new ways of collaborating online, provide artists with an alternative to the traditional gallery representation model, and much more.
Add to this that the online art market is growing 25% year on year and buyers are becoming increasingly more confident about making artwork purchases online and I started to think we might really be onto something and there was a potential audience out there. So, we formulated our ideas into a business plan and product development roadmap and then got to work.
What we are aiming to do with The Exhibit
We have designed The Exhibit to be a platform for all; from art enthusiasts, art lovers and collectors to artists, curators, galleries and museums.
With The Exhibit, anyone can take the role of exhibition curator and create their own online exhibitions, whether they’re a professional or amateur artist, an independent curator, an arts student, a gallery, or even a school teacher. Exhibitions can be solo shows, group shows curated by a Curator or Gallery, or self-curated exhibitions of your own work.
This all means that with The Exhibit you will be able to showcase and experience artworks online within an exhibition framework and more easily collect the artwork you love.
Reducing the cost of exhibiting
The primary feature we wanted to achieve was a cost-effective platform where your bank balance didn’t impede your ability to curate or run an exhibition of your own or other’s works.
The Exhibit will allow artists and curators to exhibit art without the overheads of running or renting a physical gallery space. It will also provide artists, curators and galleries with a beautiful and secure e-commerce solution without needing to develop or manage their own.
For these reasons, curating an exhibition on The Exhibit as an artist or curator will always be free.
Removing the need for gallery representation
Because we are redefining the traditionally expensive task of exhibiting, The Exhibit will allow artists and independent curators to have a choice about whether they need gallery representation. The Exhibit will give artists a viable commercial platform which they can control themselves for exhibiting, selling and promoting their own work.
This disruption of the commercial exhibition status quo, shifts some control away from the art dealer, dealer gallery or ‘mega gallery’ and puts it back into the hands of the artist. We are not however saying that art dealers and dealer galleries are a thing of the past, in fact we have created a custom gallery subscription plan on The Exhibit for them, but rather that the relationship between artist and gallery needs has room for modernisation.
For exhibitions which are not self-curated on The Exhibit, artists and curators or artists and galleries will be able to define their own revenue share arrangement for each exhibition. The Exhibit will then divide the sale value of each artwork sold between both bank accounts, making the financial management of each exhibition a piece of cake. This also means that just because one exhibition has a certain percentage split it doesn’t mean the next one has to fall the same way.
We want to get the art world thinking about what aspects could be done a bit differently or with a bit more flexibility.
Embracing a global art world
As we all know, the internet has made us connected no matter where we are around the globe.
By being an online platform, The Exhibit taps into this by allowing artists, curators and galleries to build digital exhibition experiences which are not limited by geographic boundaries or their audience’s physical access to an exhibition venue.
This means artists, curators and galleries can use The Exhibit to build global followings online while allowing art enthusiasts and collectors to view and purchase artwork from exhibitions which they would never be able to visit in person.
Encouraging collaboration and creating new ways of working
The global potential of The Exhibit platform can also be taken a step further, changing the way artists and curators work together. This creates exhibition and collaboration opportunities which would be unlikely to happen offline.
The Exhibit will allow collaborations to take place between artists and curators regardless of their global location. This will mean that artists, curators and galleries will no longer need to be geographically close for an exhibition to take place and they won’t even have to travel anywhere for an exhibition to come to fruition.
The curator won’t need to physically receive the artworks to “hang” an exhibition and artists won’t have to battle with the logistics of getting their artworks to the exhibition venue. Artists can also ship their works directly to collectors without even having to wait for the exhibition to close.
Leveraging social media and online promotion
Social media is another key part of this globally connected online world and artists, curators and galleries are increasingly embracing social media platforms as direct channels to share their art, their techniques and methods, and their exhibitions with their followers.
The Exhibit takes this to a new level by facilitating the promotion of The Exhibit exhibitions on social media. Social media promotion is built into the exhibition set-up process so The Exhibit’s users can post their exhibition directly to their feeds. Each exhibition will also have its own landing page and custom URL where online traffic can be directed.
Website visitors will also be able to share and promote their favourite exhibitions to their own network, further increasing the reach of each exhibition.
A better alternative to traditional e-commerce
The Exhibit has not been designed as just another e-commerce website for art. It is not about listing individual artwork or objects online until they sell, but creating a platform for exhibiting online. Each online exhibit will include all the best features of a physical gallery exhibition (a temporary duration, an opening night, wall blurbs and a title wall) but matched with the flexibility and technological advantages of being digital.
The Exhibit will completely change the way art collectors experience and buy art online. No longer will you be restricted to buying art online in the same way you might buy a pair of shoes. No longer will you be able to see artwork for sale online but completely miss out on the overall feeling and purpose of the exhibition. No longer will you have to miss out on purchasing an artwork for your collection because you can’t visit the opening night in person. No longer will you have to, by shear chance, be online at exactly the right moment to comment “sold” below an artwork image on Instagram.
By creating an online format which allows art collectors to preview the exhibition before it opens, art collectors will be able to experience the full impact of the exhibition, pick their favourites, and be online at the advertised opening time ready to purchase.
Combining the offline exhibition with the online
The Exhibit has also been designed so online exhibitions can run in conjunction with offline exhibitions. Online The Exhibit exhibitions can be used to promote your offline exhibition venue, playing a significant role in attracting wider audiences into your physical exhibition space. It will also give you a beautiful platform from which you can promote your exhibition prior to opening, just like your pdf catalogue does now.
The Exhibit can even be used in the gallery space to provide information to visitors via their smart phones, or as a sales payment platform removing the need for expensive POS equipment.
What The Exhibit isn’t
Finally, we should address what we’re not aiming to do with The Exhibit platform. First and foremost, The Exhibit isn’t attempting to replicate the enthralling experience of visiting an exhibition and standing in front of each artwork in person. That immersive physical experience is not easily going to translate to the online world (…well currently anyway). The Exhibit’s also not positioning itself as just another Art Auction portal or e-commerce platform for Artists to sell their artwork.
Instead, we’re aiming to give artists and curators another tool in their belt to reach their global audience and share their artistic visions online while also allowing art lovers and collectors (including me) to experience exhibitions in an engaging and captivating way, where ever they might be.
Accessibility is frequently tossed around these days as a buzzword in the art world, but The Exhibit has set itself the task of being a truly accessible platform where the user’s ability to exhibit and experience artwork is not restricted by location, wealth, disability, age, artistic experience or art world knowledge. And where else will you be able to visit amazing exhibitions across the globe while sitting on your couch in your pyjamas?
Are there any other problems you currently face when exhibiting, visiting exhibitions or buying art online which you want solved? Please let us know in the comments below.
About the Author
Zinnia O’Brien is a co-founder of The Exhibit. She has a Masters of Museum Studies and has worked in internationally recognised Art Galleries and Museums in Australia and New Zealand. She is passionate about using technology to find ways for galleries, museums and arts practitioners to remain viable and valued in the current under-funded Arts and Cultural environment. Sign up at https://theexhibit.io/ to get notified when The Exhibit launches!