We featured online contemporary art gallery MurmurART recently and thought it was time to catch up with co-founder Donald Eastwood and ask him how someone like Damien Hirst can get £95.7 million for a bunch of pickled animals and stubbed out cigarettes: ‘It’s funny that pricing of art is always treated with much more suspicion than the pricing of other art forms. When you buy a painting, you are buying a one-off, original artistic creation, plus the cost of the materials used to make it. It’s not like buying a book or a song on iTunes, because they are just reproductions of a moment of artistic creation. When you pay 79p for Britney’s new single, you are in fact agreeing to a price for that piece of “artistic” creation that is 79p multiplied by the several million people that will buy it, and you are only getting a reproduction of a song that should, but probably won’t, be better heard live. Now frankly, why aren’t people asking how someone can sell meaningless lyrics and a banal tune for several million pounds?’
How hard is it for emerging talents? Will the big names forever eclipse any hope for young artists?
‘There will always be big names and emerging talents, just like there is for music or any art form. What is changing at the moment, and it is interesting to look at music again as an example of this, is that individuals are actively dictating their tastes rather than being passively sold things, and the internet is providing free access to a far greater diversity of new talent’.
More and more art can be viewed online, in fantastic detail. What does this mean for the future of art galleries?
‘It does signal a profound shift in how people come into contact with and buy art, but remember that the internet will never replace seeing artwork in the flesh. Websites such as ours are not there to replace the experience of seeing art, but to promote that experience. The detail on our site is limited, as is any reproduction. But to hark back to music again, it is like hearing a band at home on Myspace, then buying a ticket to see them live. You will never get the full experience until you hear them live, but could a band survive without ever recording or promoting their music?
‘Articles predicting the end of galleries suggest that fairs and websites will replace them, but neither has the same essence of a dedicated exhibition space, and they will continue to co-exist. The role of the gallery may well change however, to become more like a venue in that they will represent a select number of artists less, and play host to art and artists that are represented by others but suit the space more. This is a direction that we are moving in too, holding roaming exhibitions in different locations’.