Articles and Features

Artland Interviews Jeff Lawson,
Founder of UNTITLED, ART

Manuela Mozo and Jeff Lawson, UNTITLED, ART
Manuela Mozo, Executive Director of Untitled, Art, and Jeff Lawson, Founder at UNTITLED, ART, Miami, opening day, Tuesday, December 5, 2017. Photograph by Casey Kelbaugh

At the end of July, beginning with the preview day on Thursday July 30th, UNTITLED, ART is expanding its fair portfolio to include a unique online initiative. Called UNTITLED, ART Online, Powered by Artland, this unprecedented partnership heralds the world’s first virtual reality art fair, embracing new digital technologies to transpose the characteristics of the art fair environment and experience to computer screens the world over. Already with existing physical editions in Miami and San Francisco, this new venture sees UNTITLED; ART and Artland endeavour to turn the internet into a new physical location like never before. As preparations intensify and as the launch approaches, we caught up with UNTITLED, ART founder and CEO Jeff Lawson to ask for his views about contemporary art fair entrepreneurship.


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When you founded Untitled, Art what were you looking to achieve? Did you feel that something was missing from the fair offerings at that time?

I founded the fair 2012.  By that time I had being going to fairs for over a decade and I felt as though every fair felt the same.  The same galleries, the same artists, the same layout.  It just all felt the same.  I knew there was an opening in the market for a fair that was curated.  A fair that focused on architecture, experience and curatorial narrative.  So that was why I decided to create UNTITLED, ART. 

What in your view are the key constituents of the best fair experiences?

I believe the key constituents of the best fair experience are architecture, curatorial narrative, and discovery.

In early 2017 you expanded the Untitled portfolio to include San Francisco. What did you feel this new territory could bring for the contemporary art fair landscape?

We chose SF because it has a long rich history of supporting the  arts, it has a strong foundation of art museums and institutions and passionate art collectors.  This baseline is a great landscape for which to develop upon.  When you have a city with this type of makeup you have residents that are interested and willing to endorse the arts.

Untitled, Art, Miami Beach.
Untitled, Art, Miami Beach. Aerial view of the fair tent, 2018 edition

How did the technology community embrace art collecting, and what were the main challenges in establishing a new market with them?

One major component that became glaringly obvious in SF amongst the tech based collectors was the need for transparency.  There is a real willingness to support art collecting but also a lack of understanding and that lack of transparency that exists in our industry can be off-putting to people that have spent their careers developing models to create transparency and convenience.  That has been one of our biggest challenges in developing this market. 

What was your main thinking behind exploring the online realm for your fair offerings, and how would you like to differentiate Untitled, Art Online from other digital platforms?

I wanted to create an additional platform for galleries to be able to present and sell artwork in a low risk format.  After expanding the fair to SF and producing two fairs a year I realized I was providing more opportunities for galleries to present and showcase their artists.  But while doing this you are also creating more risk for the gallery.  Risk is a major component of entrepreneurial business and comes with owning a small business like a gallery, but I believed that if I could create another platform to complement and supplement the physical fairs then I would provide another vehicle for the galleries to sell without the traditional risks associated with participating in a physical fair.

What are the key potentials you believe it to have, and how do you see the future of the online fair?

Greater access first and foremost.  With online we have the ability to reach people that otherwise might not come to a fair.  You eliminate the aspect of regionality and you eliminate the commitment from the visitor to travel to visit a fair.  With online you have access to the entire world.  This one element gives us the potential to grow the market for galleries and artists.  Couple that with transparency and e-commerce and we really have a platform that can deliver on  a much larger scale then any physical art fair can do.
In terms of the future I have no idea as I don’t have a crystal ball but because of Covid-19, right now online is the only option.  

“ The online initiative will provide another opportunity for galleries to have an access point to their community and ability to grow that community substantially with transparency and e-commerce.”

In discussing virtual reality with the gallery community, has it been tough to get across what it is they can take part in? What have been some of their responses to the idea of a virtual reality fair? Any recurring ones, surprising ones?

Galleries understand the need to embrace online and many have been for some time.  I think the separation begins when you are discussing the difference between online and VR. There is a big gap between the understanding of what is online versus virtual reality.  This is a business filled with people that identify and understand visually.  So until you are able to show someone the technology it is really challenging to get across how comprehensive and dynamic the platform that we have developed really is. In terms of responses, my take would be that everyone that sees what we are creating is really excited by it.

How do you see the co-existence of your physical fairs with online initiatives?

To be clear our core business is and always will be the physical fairs.  Real time fairs provide community and physical interaction that is key to the human condition.  However the online initiative will provide another opportunity for galleries to have an access point to their community and ability to grow that community substantially with transparency and e-commerce.

UNTITLED, ART Online, Powered by Artland.
UNTITLED, ART Online, Powered by Artland. Ready to install for the first online edition

In your years of entrepreneurship what elements of staging an art fair have surprised you the most?

“Laughing” … There are too many to mention.  Producing a large scale trade show is like hitting a moving target, there are so many elements that you are always surprised by something.  The key is to be prepared for the unknown and to plan really well.  I can say wholeheartedly that I had no idea how difficult it would be to produce a VR fair.  Going into this – conceptually I was completely confident and comfortable with the blueprint and the architecture of what we wanted to develop and build, I just didn’t realize how close building VR is to building a real fair.  It has been really gratifying.

Have there been some favorite experiences you can recall? Maybe some booth or artist inclusions that have made you especially proud to host?

Thats a tough one.  I take great pride in developing and building art fairs. It is such a unique job.  I get to work with amazing artists and galleries to produce a fair which is really fulfilling.  Because I get to work with so many different people and personalities from around the world, the result is always different and challenging.  Which makes it really rewarding.

Do you collect from your own fairs?

Always!

What is your main wish or hope for the art world coming out of the corona pandemic?

That everyone stays safe and healthy and that as businesses we can weather these crazy times.

Thanks for talking to us Jeff. I know you join with us in looking forward to welcoming everyone on July 30th, and over that weekend until Sunday August 2nd. See you online, until we can get together again soon!

Fair Dates: July 31 – August 2, 2020

Preview Day: Thursday, July 30 at 11am EDT

REGISTER TO ATTEND HERE


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Related Reading

Untitled Art Online, powered by Artland – Website
The Market That Became Digital Overnight – Mattis Curth
UNTITLED, ART, Online Powered by Artland: July 31 – August 2 Preview Day: July 30 – Register To Attend


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