Electronic Museum

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I don’t much like to buy shoes online. The color can be different in person, and the shoes may not fit right. But more and more art buyers are buying works valued in seven figures via email, the New York Times reports. Buyers make their decisions based on JPEG images, or compressed digital photographs. Many are motivated by a sense of urgency, partly generated by other buyers’ virtual purchasing habits, which eliminates time spent on transcontinental flights.

Many buyers use JPEGs at some point in the buy-sell dance. But some by-pass the dance altogether. As the Times piece delves deeper, it suggests that the latter are brand name-seekers. As a result hot new artists, like Claire Sherman, who graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago 2 years ago, are particularly likely to sell their works sight-unseen.

In another interesting twist, the prestigious Gagosian Gallery recently posted JPEG images of an exhibit on a password-protected section of its website, and emailed the password only to posh buyers. No newcomers allowed.

The funny thing about JPEGs is that they reveal no texture, and the color of the works can be altered significantly depending on the computer monitor. Can you imagine buying, say, a De Kooning—well, at all, but especially without seeing the brushstrokes? Will the advent of the JPEG lead artists to forego texture an a non-value adding proposition? Maybe buyers should purchase the JPEG itself—plus, of course, a JPEG of the artist’s signature.

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