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‘Accessibility and value no longer need to be at odds’ – Whitney Mallet, a new Foreword for Daata Editions

In Daata, Daata Editions, daataeditions, NY Times, Uncategorized, Whitney Mallett on 02/06/2017 at 1:41 pm

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Accessibility and value no longer need to be at odds

A new Foreword for Daata Editions by Whitney Mallett

Trying to sell video art drove Gerry Schum to suicide. In the early 1970s, the German artist was a pioneer of the limited edition model, selling both limited and unlimited edition moving-image works through his Düsseldorf videogalerie. While it was visionary, the venture only lasted a year and a half. Low demand from institutions and private collectors combined with high overhead costs forced Schum to shutter the gallery in late 1972. He took his life a few months later in March 1973.

Though it doesn’t usually lead to such tragic ends, selling new media work can still be frustrating today. Forty-five years later, it remains true that there is not the same collector base for video works as there is for painting and sculpture. New media works, of course, aren’t as tactile as other art objects, and the market’s growing pains are usually blamed on digital art’s infinite reproducibility. Granted, it’s a simpler proposition to exchange a unique object for an agreed upon sum of money, it’s still not immediately obvious why a Giacometti bronze sculpture should be worth over $100 million dollars just because it’s something you can run your fingers over. Value in the art market is based on a slew of subjective and socially-determined factors. There’s no real reason why digital works can’t accrue the same values as oil paintings, there just needs to be a culture that encourages investing in them and a system that regulates their authorship and ownership, two things Daata Editions is strengthening through their platform.

In this smartphone-saturated world, people are very familiar with screen-based emotional experiences. The premise of communing with an art work based in bits and bytes is not as alien as it might have been a few decades ago. But as content has become ubiquitous online, it’s also been devalued. We started expecting for free the same works we used to pay to read in a magazine or watch in a movie theater, and seduced by the promise of viral fame, we started producing content for likes instead of pay while social media corporations profit from our toil. Understanding this ecosystem, Daata has devised a platform that shares works freely online and gets the artists paid. This is made possible by a tiered system where the work is shared online with a small watermark (there’s an aural equivalent for sound works as well) while collectors purchase the unaltered version.

In another era, video artists had to weigh the advantages of popularity and scarcity. American artist Cheryl Donegan recalls in an interview with The New York Times, “People would say they saw a tape of mine in Berlin, which I didn’t know about, and it freaked me out, but then I thought that sharing my work could also make it more popular.” With the dawn of the web, models of sharing video art like UbuWeb emerged which facilitated a wider viewership of material but through a non-commercial platform, giving digital life to pre-digital video works which were out-of-print. Daata Editions keeps in mind these art-loving audiences who would watch bootleg VHS tapes or peruse UbuWeb for mind-bending fare. All the works are available online at no cost. This decision also suggests a keen understanding of how a work’s popularity can increase its value, benefitting the collectors who have invested in buying a limited edition. Accessibility and value no longer need to be at odds.

Daata Editions model selling limited runs of digital works (video, sound, web, and poetry) through their online platform continues to grow the culture of investing in and appreciating new media art. They are making the purchase of screen-based works attractive to a wider audience of collectors while supporting the artists working in these mediums, making valuable contributions to building a sustainable market.

Whitney Mallett is a writer and filmmaker based in New York. She’s an editor of the digital platform Topical Cream

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