Collecting VR-ART?

Virtual Reality (VR) is a groundbreaking new experience in the production, reception and mediation of art. VR technology provides a 360-degree view that not only inspires artists, but also improves e-commerce by reaching collectors who are not able to visit galleries and exhibitions.


The term Virtual Reality (VR) first appeared in 1982 in the book “The Judas Mandela” by the science-fiction author Damien Broderick. Two years later, in his “Neuromancer” trilogy, American author William Gibson coined the term cyberspace by letting people enter a simulated reality via neural interfaces. But the real father of Virtual Reality is the Central American computer scientist, life artist, futurist and entrepreneur Jaron Lanier. Years of development work are behind VR technology. The first 19 years of the 21st century are characterized by rapid progress.

Niko Abramidis & NE, “Virtual Equity”, 2015, courtesy UNPAINTED 2016

We live in the fourth industrial revolution. VR is also a great medium for artists. The use as an alternative space in which art can be created and experienced is part of a natural development that will later be written in the history books!

VR works can be found online today, at festivals and exhibitions. But if we talk about art, we should not let ourselves be impressed by the technology alone. Not everything that seems colorful, moving and new is art. Anyone who struggles with the distinction may ask connoisseurs, curators and experts like Kelanie Nichole, founder of TRANFER gallery, Megan Newcome, responsible for digital strategies at auction house Phillips or Tina Sauerländer, founder of the VR-platform Radiance.

There are many artistic VR works. The fact that VR art is now also being recognized by collectors shows its presence at the world’s most important art fair, Art Basel, or at the 58th Venice Biennale, where works by established artists such as Paul McCarthy or Marina Abramović got great attention. Behind these name are production companies such as Khora Virtual Reality or Acute Art, the latter under the direction of Daniel Birnbaum (former director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm). They provide artists access to state-of-the-art technologies that enable them to translate their creativity into new / digital media – including virtual, augmented and mixed realities. Acute Art was founded in 2017 by the Swedish collector Gerard De Geer and his son Jacob De Geer. Meanwhile, a number of works have already been realized with artists such as Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor or Yu Hong.


To impress experienced collectors with Art & Technology remains a difficult task. Being a well-known artist only can not convince. Outstanding art stands and falls with the implementation and the underlying concept. One of the most impressive VR works I recently discovered on the Global Developers Forum in South Korea.

The concept: First, I planted a real seed in earth. Then I put on the VR glasses. What happened then was gorgeous. The VR Tree by artist Winslow Porter & Team turned me into a rainforest tree. My arms became branches, my body became a trunk, and I experienced the growth of the tree, from the planted seed to its perfected form. I saw diligent ants passing me, I heard shrieking parrots and followed relaxed leopards on neighboring trees. My trunk was getting thicker and thicker, the depth deeper and deeper. The view over the treetops suddenly showed a blazing fire, which threatened me increasingly. The smell of the earth, the noise of the jungle, the rising heat of the fire were made noticeable by external manual means. I was in a completely new, previously unknown world. The climate catastrophe caused by humans became more conscious than ever. Forests are critical to the survival of every living thing on earth. The work was created in collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance and also calls for donations to bring the earth back into balance. Chapeau!

  • Preservation & restoration
    The time has not yet come for a majority of collectors to accept the ephemeral nature of new media. Creating durability within the rapidly changing technological advances is a criterion that plays a big role in acquiring an artwork. Marc Tribe, founder of the platform  Rhizome, has described 4 methods to solve media art. They also apply to the field of virtual reality:
    Documentation (Screen shots, artist diagrams, installation descriptions or statements)
    Migration (updating of plants, inclusion of new technologies and adaptation to new file formats)
    Emulation (system that replicates another in certain aspects and so can play on newer systems.)
    Recreation (Recreation of a work of art for new technical environments)
  • Responsibility & dialogue
    Collecting art so far was easy. For example, if you buy a canvas by Gerhard Richter, you hang it on the wall and enjoy the daily dialogue. If, on the other hand, you buy an artwork in the field of VR, you take on responsibility. Works related to technology require dialogue with artists, experts or even lawyers. An important element in the acquisition of a VR work is the contract. In this rights are clarified, but also obligations of the collector are listed. Rights in the sense, where and how the work can be presented and obligations to the work whose flawless presentation must be made possible. If the technology changes, the collector agrees to adapt it to the work of art. Of course, you do not have to understand how the work was made or be a tech freak to enjoy the work. Usually you just put on the glasses and turn on the software. If the technology does not work, then there is the possibility to call the programmer or artist. Generally it is advisable to check the software and hardware regularly. Some collectors feel uncomfortable with this responsibility. However, those who are prepared to go with our age and face the challenges will be delighted with the works of art.
  • Quality
    For both VR and every piece of art, only continuous quality opens up access to the professional art world! Quality is subjective, it shows in both the artistic content as well as in the execution. Which statement does the work have? Which concept is behind it? Is it critical of the present or purely decorative? How is it done? Many works lead to a prolonged consideration to the typical VR disease, which can lead to nausea and feels like being seasick. Artists who master their technique know how to handle it. No one should feel uncomfortable in the virtual world or even lose ground under their feet. The skilfully implemented interaction in the virtual space is extremely impressive and lets forget the reality.
  • Unique character
    Much in the art market is considered interesting and also more valuable if it is unique. A painting by Picasso is unique. A drawing by Cy Twombly as well. A photograph by Andreas Gursky is available as a unique piece, but also as an edition. Some artists sell the same motif in different sizes and editions, but always limited. In fact, this limitation imposed by the art market is a contradiction, since the history of photography or video art is based on technical reproducibility. We find many VR artworks online so anyone can have access to the works. The link to the download is a natural development also in the field of art. And those who have the necessary equipment to dive into the VR world, can do this at any time without great expense and obligations. We live in an era where the evolution of technology has become a reality, enabling all people around the world to create, edit, and communicate ideas and visions. And certainly there is a need for rethinking in the field of art collecting. Blockchain or tokens are ways that are currently being discussed to clarify ownership issues or to purchase ownership.

berlin-1429878_640Scientists like McLuhan knew that technology will change our lives over half a century ago. What we make out of it and how we deal with technology in today’s culture will tell the story. Artists are usually ahead of their time.