Sharing art in an age of technology

Updated: 2013-03-06 11:16

By Liu Lian in New York (China Daily)

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 Sharing art in an age of technology

From right: Wendi Deng, wife of Rupert Murdoch and co-founder of the website Artsy; Melissa Chiu, an Asia Society director and senior vice-president of global arts and cultural programs; and Kenzo Digital, a director and video artist, discuss the popularization of arts among more people by using technologies in New York on Monday evening. Yu Wei / China Daily

Is contemporary art for everyone? Is Chinese contemporary art for everyone?

For Wendi Deng, the wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and co-founder of a new website called Artsy, and Kenzo Digital, a director and video artist based in New York, the answer is yes. The way in which they have each approached the subject, however, strays far apart.

Deng and Digital (whose real surname is not public) spoke on a panel this week at Asia Society, in a discussion about how technology is transforming art creation and collection.

Moderated by Melissa Chiu, the organization's director and senior vice-president of global arts and cultural programs, the discussion touched on the democratization of art and shifting modes of art dissemination. (Digital replaced Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, who was originally scheduled to speak but was absent due to travel issues.)

Speaking about her childhood in post-"cultural revolution" (1966-76) era China, Deng's experience with art growing up was shaped by the images and visual vocabulary of a turbulent time, she said during the panel. Only upon moving to the US in 1988 did she learn that people "lived with artwork at home", she said.

Following her recent entry in the film industry as co-CEO of Big Feet Productions, Deng launched Artsy three months ago to connect galleries and art dealers with potential art collectors.

Comprising primarily contemporary art works from around the world, Artsy offers users free access to 21,000+ artworks by 3,700+ artists from leading galleries, museums, private collections, foundations, and artists' estates, according to the website. The company collects a commission from potential sales that are initiated via Artsy.

"The goal of Artsy is to make all of the world's art accessible to anyone with an internet connection, to enable people to live with art," Deng said. The site will "focus on younger artists and help promote contemporary Chinese art on an international stage".

Notable names on Artsy include heavyweights like Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang and Zhang Huan, although many unknown artists are also included. The site is currently only available in English, but will soon launch a Chinese version to capture Chinese art collectors "who have flocked to the art market to diversify their investments," she said.

The site is a timely investment for Deng. In 2011, Artprice Annual Report listed 45 Chinese artists among the world's top 100 artists.

In contrast to Deng, whose focus is bringing artists and potential buyers together for business purposes, Digital has made many of his artworks available to audiences for free.

Though most famous for his work with Beyonce for her highly celebrated 2011 Billboard performance, he has also made a name for himself with projects including the experimental hip hop opera City of God's Son and his wildly popular 2008 ringtone "Vote Obama." Both projects were available for free download.

Digital, whose great uncle Nam June Paik is widely considered the first video artist, is video director for Paik's studio. He has created video art installations for him at prestigious museums including Tate Museum and the Guggenheim.

Tapping into the tradition of Andy Warhol, Digital is interested in bringing different media into a dialogue and "hijacking the space" with newly-invented visual and acoustic language, he said at Asia Society.

He believes that art itself has transformed into a more democratic space of multiple media and art genres. "Technology helps blur the boundaries of traditional media," he said. His mantra is: "Give for free".

While Deng is also interested in the democratization of art, that only includes access to information about the work - owning a piece of artwork advertised on Artsy still often requires deep pockets. Of course, Digital is only in a position to give away his work for free as a result of his commercial success.

Nevertheless, both Deng and Digital are devoted to changing the way people in China and elsewhere think about the availability of art for the masses.