This week, the art world gave birth to a new platform called Sedition, which aims to create a marketplace for limited-edition digital artworks.
It has signed up some impressive names, including Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Shepard Fairey. These artists will produce pieces in editions of between 2,000 and 10,000, which are numbered, signed and sold for between $8 and $800, with Sedition taking a cut of the revenue.
The platform aims to encourage people who might not be able to afford these artists’ original pieces to become collectors of digital editions which they can access via their mobiles, tablets, PCs and connected TVs. With each purchase comes a certificate of authenticity, which — crucially — entitles the owner to resell the works at a later date if they so wish.
Once you have bought an artwork, it gets delivered to your personal online “vault,” which you can access via an app or web browser. There are currently two sorts of artworks — static prints and videos. The former can be accessed from different devices as a JPEG and the latter must be streamed directly from the site or via the iOS app (the Android and Windows Phone apps are in development).
My first thought when I heard about Sedition was “meh.” Why would you pay for a JPEG or a video? What does it even mean to own a piece of digital art?
However, the more I think about it, the more compelling I think it is. First of all, I can appreciate that there is a huge market for virtual goods — worth $2.1 billion this year in the U.S. alone. So far this has been mostly limited to twee trinkets to adorn your Facebook profiles and social games, but I can see potential in a market for higher-value content.
Secondly, the Sedition team has wisely gone for big hitters. As CEO Robert Norton explained to Wired.co.uk: “We went for artists that already had a big following and a proven secondary market.”
These are artists that are so prohibitively expensive to anyone who doesn’t work at Goldman Sachs that there is no affordable way of owning even the prints. This presents people with an opportunity to do just that.
Furthermore, we’ve seen the music and publishing industries successfully transition to the digital space, so why not art?
By now even the most open-minded of Wired.co.uk readers will have their piracy klaxons blaring. Despite the digital watermarking of the artworks and a few other cosmetic nods to security, it’s not going to take a rocket scientist to copy a JPEG or video file. Unlike in the analog world, where you can photocopy prints or even generate new screen-printing templates, it would be an identical copy of the original — so it’s ridiculous to even talk about limited-edition digital artworks.