Art and Digital Culture (19 September 2017)

Will AI and blockchain bust the art price boom but save the art world?

In the 1990’s, the advent of online price databases for works of art sold at auction changed the industry forever; art buyers could search online for the price history and purported provenance of their desired masterpiece prior to purchase, disrupting the entire value chain that had existed for more than 250 years.

As a result of this new-found transparency in pricing, art as an investment has boomed: art funds have been established, contemporary art market prices soared and the auction market almost tripled from $17.2bn in 2005 to $45bn in 2017. Recently, a Jean Michel Basquiat painting – ‘Untitled’ – sold for $110.5m – until May this year it had been in the same private collection since it was bought at auction in 1984 for $19,000, a rise of nearly x6000 in 33 years!

Auction price databases only provide one facet of cultural value of art, and as such there are whispers within the industry that this growth in value is in fact a bubble. What databases would need to be developed, and what technology exploited, to really understand the value of art today and in the future?

And what will happen if AI systems and machine learning are tasked with valuing creativity, tracking provenance and linking works of art to the stories that make them valuable, rather than solely relying on what a collector is willing to pay for artworks based on (vested) market forces and its supposed investability? Will the systems rebalance the current prices with valuations based on finding art with similar characteristics or ‘attractiveness’, or will other data sets become important? Will the art bubble be burst or reinforced by technology?

By using blockchain technology to publicly record ownership, track movements and verification of authenticity of each piece, will many of the challenges that the art market faces be alleviated? Can the art market be saved by technology? And, zooming out further, as the art market grapples with supply chain and self-regulation, can lessons be learned for the Artificial Intelligence and data community as a whole?

This talk, presented from the leading edge of disruptive technologies in the art world by Bernadine Brocker Wieder, will explore what technology can do to truly track the value of culture and create a more ethical art market.

Our speaker: Bernadine Brocker Wieder

Bernadine is the CEO and Co-Founder of Vastari Group, an online platform securely connecting private collectors of art, exhibition producers, venues and museums for exhibition loans and tours.

She is a founding member of the team at Trinity House gallery on Maddox Street in London with experience including working at Traffic Creative Management – New York’s premiere creative artist management and advertising agency – and Ralph Appelbaum Associates, New York – the world’s largest museum exhibition design firm.

Bernadine is a member of the Professional Advisors to the International Art Market and the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars, holds a Master’s degree in History of Art and Art-World Practice from Christie’s Education/University of Glasgow and a Bachelors from Parsons School of Design, New York.

She frequently gives talks on transparency and valuing art and using blockchain and other technologies in the art world.