“VIP Art Fair” Website Review

The Viewing In Private (VIP) Art Fair (Jan. 22 – Jan. 30) is the first major online art fair in years, and part of a growing worldwide trend to move art trading activities online. To the casual museum-goer, the idea of a limited time online art fair may seem puzzling, or even pointless. But to collectors, this event is a rare opportunity to browse and purchase a large collection of artworks (often too big to show at art fairs) from world-renowned and emerging galleries, from the comfort of their own home.

The event has attracted 137 galleries from 30 countries (4 from Japan), each paying between $5,000 and $20,000 for their virtual booth, totalling 2248 “hung” works. It has also managed to attract an impressive amount of press coverage, and judging by recent apologies for the speed of the site, traffic as well.

This casual review of the design and interaction of the site, follows an earlier article on my company’s blog about the Monet2010 website, and serves as an opportunity to highlight what similar future ventures and galleries might do to enhance their visitors’ experience and encourage them to fall in love with art.


Welcome Screen

the first screen you see when logged in is far from the Grand Entrance Hall I’d be expecting from a fair touting itself as a world-class event. The overall design is bland and reflects badly on the efforts put in by its organizers. It could have been more ambitious and created a stylish atmosphere to help define the VIP Art Fair as more than a novel technical platform.

Content-wise, an excellent way to kickstart my visit would have been a short welcome video by the Fair Director with links to the exhibition halls, to the galleries seeing the most activity and a few interesting Tours.



The bare minimum you’d expect to find at an art fair: a slideshow with 20 artworks, artist info, artworks details, and a few features unique to an online fair: a chat window for paid users to talk with the dealers, different views for each artwork, a zoom, bookmarks and unique URLs. Unfortunately, it seems to have been designed with little consideration to visitors. The Wall is too small and loses a lot of vertical space to the interface resulting in smaller artworks on your screen, the chat feature was so slow it was closed 3 days into the fair, the links to artist, artwork info and bookmarks are nearly too small to click on, and the unique URLs change every time the gallery adds a new artwork in the mix.

One thing I really enjoyed though was the Human Silhouette overlay that gives a sense of the scale of the artworks. Leave it on and watch it change size as you scroll from one artwork to the next. For extra fun, go into your preferences where you can choose between 6 different silhouettes. I would have pushed as far as inviting famous curators and collectors to contribute their silhouettes, rather than the generic Mr. VIP I and Ms. VIP II.



The map gives access to the various galleries and is articulated around 3 groups: Premier, Emerging, and Focus. Although it indicates which galleries I have visited, I would have liked more hints of visitor activity to help guide my visit: perhaps highlighting which galleries are getting the most views via a little popularity gauge or icon, something that is helpful during real-world art fairs to judge where the buzz is at.



Visitors can search artworks by Gallery Level, Price and Medium, which is all pretty basic. More engaging ways to browse artworks: themes, size, year, country.


a list of the artworks I have saved. Pretty useless actually since I couldn’t click on any of the artworks to go back to individual artwork pages. Additionally, I would have liked bigger images of the artworks.


Reserved to paid users, the tours are visitor-generated. While I found the idea smart and the interface to create them simple enough, I think the incentive to create quality tours was too low and of the few tours created (10 in the VIP lounge), very few had clear themes or descriptions. I would have liked the organizers to seed the section with a selection of interesting tours by popular curators or academics around engaging themes. One good example is Miwako Tezuka’s tour of Contemporary Asian Artists, a smart tour with interesting notes from the author. And this is the tour I made: A Selection of Big Artworks.


In conclusion

A few tips I can extract from the above review for all event organizers:

  • For online events based on offline events, think outside the box. Old gimmicks are not what your users need to feel comfortable and in-the-know.
  • An impressive technical platform needs an impressive visual identity to create long-lasting traction and taste for your project.
  • Offer various ways to browse your content to fit the main audience groups of your site (collectors + casual browsers? wannabe collectors?).
  • Displaying user activity helps create anticipation and motivates navigation through large data sets and even maybe purchase.
  • Maximize visibility of the primary focus of your users visits. (Maximize virtual wall surface and size of artworks)
  • Design repetitive tasks (zooming-in, closing, view info) to be effortless.


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  • Aka.me

    Based in Paris & Tokyo, Paul Baron is a senior product manager for hire. Ex-@AQworks. Co-founder of cultural platform Tokyo Art Beat.
    Service design, interaction design, startups, user research.
    Posts a few times a decade since 2003.

    Visit Aka.me for the full site.

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