What’s next in art tech?

Five art technology trends gaining traction, ready to transform the art world and become industry norms.
4 minutes to read

As the world at large moves towards a tech-driven future, the sentiment towards tech and its impact on the arts can still divide the room. On the one hand, some creators, theorists and critics remain sceptical of technology and the changes it imposes upon the very nature of art itself, whilst on the flipside, gallerists are discovering all manner of helpful applications for art tech.

Armed with a plethora of art-technology, galleries are transforming sales, comms, and fulfilment, and curating online viewing rooms, exhibitions, and virtual experiences. These technologies aren’t just making things much easier, they’re future-proofing the global art market.

From online payments to AI imagery regulation, the following explores the five key trends that are set to revolutionise the way we buy, sell and interact with art throughout 2023 and beyond.

1. Digital Payments 

The art market is long overdue an upgrade from legacy invoice and wire transfers and over-the-phone card payments. The benefits are clear, and it’s time for online payments to become commonplace.

Online payments are making things easier and fairer for all parties. While in the past, gallerists have had to constantly check their bank statements to ensure that payments have actually gone through, online systems can send automatic updates on the status of a payment and store details securely for future purchases.

As well as streamlining the payments process, digital systems – which are required to be compliant with financial and data protection regulation – are helping to build trust between buyers and sellers and can help gallerists meet Know Your Customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering requirements with ease.

And it’s not just online, one-time payments that are on the horizon. The pay-later wave has already swept the world of online payments in other sectors. Take fashion or Fast Paced Consumer Goods, for example, technologies like Klana and Afterpay have revolutionised the way in which many of us shop online, opening up the market and facilitating a rapidity in sales like never before. It’s likely that this form of fin-tech will soon echo into the art space, producing a ripple effect within the market as the “buy now, pay later” trend gains more traction.

2. Digital Contracts

In public consciousness, blockchain technology is primarily associated with cryptocurrencies, but it’s also now being used to track the ownership of works of art and manage contracts between organisations.

A digital contract (sometimes known as a “smart contract”) is a collection of code that lives on the Ethereum blockchain at a single address. What makes a digital contract unique is that it can’t be erased by default, and any alterations are permanent – meaning that the transaction can be traced and audited with ease.

This indisputable record of ownership is great for reassuring buyers and sellers, but it also raises some exciting possibilities. For example, it’s possible to build conditions of sale into the actual code of a smart contract, meaning the transaction will fail if any of those terms are not met. For artists, this moves towards something that’s been evading them for over a century: royalty payments.

What’s more, once digital contracts become standardised, there’ll be less reliance on legal teams to comb through endless smallprint just to ensure a fair trade. And as everything – from condition reports to insurance information and more – is stored on a single digital file, there’s no need for reams of unmanageable paperwork. Helping to prove ownership in the form of a digital certificate, and ensure that the artist receives the correct royalty payment each time the work is sold. 

 3. One-stop-shop integration

Simply put: for 2023 and beyond, we can expect to see more galleries adopting fully-integrated systems. Having inventory management software alone is no longer enough, and the integrated approach is fast becoming the norm. In fact, 74% of Artlogic gallery clients with a website now opt for an integrated platform.

Integration means that the end-to-end management of all facets of the business, from the website to the inventory, to sales, fulfilment and marketing, are all housed within one platform, sometimes referred to as a “single pane of glass”.

The “single pane of glass” concept streamlines processes by combining multiple functions in one platform. This is, of course, great for efficiency, but can also improve collaboration by allowing multiple parties to manage, track, and sell works on the same platform. This reduces replicated conversations, minimises risk of error.

Accessible. Efficient. Transparent. Integration is here to stay.

4. AR/VR proliferation

Galleries realised the potential of Augmented (AR) and Virtual (VR) Reality aeons ago, using them to great effect for online viewing rooms during the pandemic. But now these technologies are opening up exciting new possibilities.

These immersive presentations give buyers or collectors a more intimate view of a work, from the comfort of their own home, free from crowds, and often enhanced by music and digital storytelling. It also allows a buyer to check the condition of a work and decide whether they want to buy it no matter where in the world they are.

Galleries are now using these technologies to bridge virtual and physical worlds in exciting ways, pushing the boundaries with online spaces and interactive holography, which produces life-size, full-body holograms.

Take the Serpentine’s KAWS: New Fiction exhibition, for example, which launched a digital version of the show on video game Fortnite in parallel with its physical launch at the gallery. Viewers could even view AR versions on the Acute Art app and place them in their homes.

In the coming years, we can expect to see the true potential of AR and VR being embraced to redefine what it means to interact with, and buy, art.

Want to try AR for yourself?
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Explore our website templates to see how AR/VR can benefit you.

 5. AI imagery regulation

Whether you’re a supporter or a detractor, text-to-image AI generation is increasingly accessible thanks to tools like Midjourney, Dall-E, and Stable Diffusion. But controversies abound. An AI-generated image recently took first prize at the Colorado State Fair annual art competition, while Reddit’s r/Art subreddit has a strict policy on not sharing AI art.

Combining deep learning neural nets and natural language models, text-to-image generation works by composing an image based on a user’s written prompts, having learnt its craft from billions of publicly available, human-created works.

This raises two issues. Firstly, does using AI to mimic the style of real artists amount to copyright infringement? It’s a grey area, but copyright law generally only applies to direct reproduction of a work, and even though the new image has been inspired by existing art, it is completely unique. Nevertheless, popular artists stand to lose business to cheap AI imitations.

Secondly, when a work has been created by a machine with minimal human input, can it be copyrighted? And who owns it? According to current UK law, the answers to those questions are ‘no’ and ‘not sure’.

The message is clear: it’s time the law was updated to accommodate this seismic technological shift. How quickly this will occur, no one knows. But if pressure remains high, and voices remain loud, we can hope for a sooner rather than later outcome.

 Looking to the future

It’s undeniable that the art world has awoken to the potential of technology to make things easier, fairer, and empowering purveyors and creators alike. But we’ve still got a way to go… 

From helping sellers comply with KYC and Anti-Money Laundering requirements, to using one system to manage all their operations, sales and marketing needs, art tech is changing every aspect of how galleries operate. 

February 7, 2023