5 Ways to Collect Digital Art

As digital art becomes ever more ubiquitous, the question of how best to display it is of mounting concern for artists and collectors alike.

Unlike their non-digital counterparts, digital artworks, while certainly not immaterial, can seem intangible in an artworld still very focused on paint and canvas. While what has been called “post-internet art” might intentionally obscure any easy distinction between digital and traditional media, this is only because it highlights that exactly how we view art—in a gallery, on our phones, or in our homes—is now more than ever a technological question.

The following modes of presentation, which have found appeal both in the gallery and in the home, provide an overview of the options available for digital art collectors today.

1. Prints

Matthias Dörfelt’s grand_prismatic_spring_sorted.jpg as an archival digital print on paper

Let’s start with something everyone should recognize. For many people, fine art prints offer the most familiar means of displaying art. No specialist equipment, or even an electricity socket is needed to hang a digital print, which can be framed and positioned as desired. Who wouldn’t want an exclusive print as part of their decor? The beauty of limited edition prints is that you are not only contributing directly to an artists’ career, but can also hold on to something only a selected number of collectors own. Prints also cost a fraction of what an original artwork would cost, while offering the chance to own museum-level pieces by an established artist.

Digital art can be printed on a variety of surfaces, a popular medium is paper or face-mounted on Diasec (acrylic), and some even opt to print on metal .The  technologies available for this process have multiplied and improved significantly over the years. Although inkjet printing is now easily accessible to many of us, the average home or office printer doesn’t come close to the size, detail and contrast that can be achieved with today’s high end art printers. A popular term to know is giclée which usually refers to museum or archival grade digital prints with a resolution of 300 dpi (dots per inch) or higher.

As well as new printing techniques, specialized types of paper have also been developed for digital printing. Popular paper for digital printing includes the Canson Infinity range and Hahnemühle’s Digital FineArt collection. The latter is used by Electric Artefacts to guarantee the high contrast, incredible reproduction of detail, and a resistance to ageing of over 100 years, that make our prints ideal for long term exhibitions and collections.

Mario Klingemann’s Do Not Kill The Messenger (2017) printed on Hahnemühle Museum Etching 350 gms paper

2. Video Art

Unlike prints, some forms of digital art never leave the screen-world in which they were made. Video art, also known as time-based media or moving image art, is one such medium. Pioneered by the likes of Nam June Paik, video art can range from explorations in cinematography and animation, to the highly abstracted products of feedback, noise, and distortion.

While many people might associate video art with lofty gallery spaces and 360° surround sound, the emergence of affordable flatscreen monitors and digital projectors puts the tools to display moving images into the hands of a greater number of art-lovers. Manufacturers even offer screens specifically designed to display art on.

LG’s OLED GX range is specifically designed for displaying digital art

A number of websites offer digital artworks that can be downloaded. As well as downloadable options, daata.art provides a Netflix-style streaming service for digital art.

Artists or their galleries offer video works for sale as a file delivered on a USB with a presentation about the work, for example this is how one can purchase works of Matthias Dörfelt. In addition to a USB, artists like Grayson Cooke also offer a version of the video file available via download after purchase. Jake Elwes even offers to provide a LED Screen with a Novastar media player for his work Zizi - Queering the Dataset.

Jake Elwes, Dada da ta, 2016

3. Custom Art Screens

Cyberspace separationism—the notion that the virtual represents a space beyond space, has been central to the digital aesthetic from the start. But one strain of artistic and technological experimentation playfully contests this foundational myth of the internet by exploring the possibility of digital art-objects that can be held, hung, and collected without the need for a separate medium of display.

From Vera Frenkel’s “From the Transit Bar” (1992) to the pieces commissioned for the Montreal Place des Arts’ monumental video mosaic (image below), installations which feature television or computer monitors as crucial parts of the artwork itself refuse to reduce the screen to a mere tool or framing device.

A Conceptual State of Mind (2011) by Studio Baillat, Cardell et fils, displayed on the Place des Art’s 35-screen video mosaic

For those who might not have the space to install a fully functioning piano bar, Infinite Objects make limited runs of artworks that are only available to view through the special screen they come on. These offer the chance of owning a piece of digital art that incorporates its own screening at a more living room-friendly level.

Some collectors even transform parts of their home by installing projectors and making “dark rooms” to enjoy video art on the walls.

4. Blockchain Art

As intriguing as digital art is, you might be wondering about the question of originality. When artworks can be so easily and exactly copied, can an “original” still exist?

Blockchain art has stepped up to the problem of originality by reintroducing the possibility of verifiability and sparsity into the digital realm. A number of tools and platforms use blockchain cryptography to make digital artworks provably rare and to enable their authenticity to be verified. Websites like rareart.io and dada.art create a marketplace for digital art where purchases come with an exclusive download, certificate of authenticity and the right to display. The platforms essentially allow visitors to buy tokenized digital art online, whether it is an image, gif or other files.

Caption: The Forever Rose (2018) by Kevin Abosch in collaboration with GIFTO. Image courtesy of foreverrose.io

One of the consequences of injecting digital art with a dose of scarcity is that its collectible value increases. In 2018, crypto-artwork, “The Forever Rose” sold for one million US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency to become arguably the most expensive piece of virtual art ever.

5. Augmented Reality

Previously the domain of science fiction and top-secret military research, in recent years augmented reality (AR) has become available outside of cyberpunk fantasies and a few high-tech labs.

Since 2008, the augmented reality scene has increasingly utilized personal devices to provide an AR experience, with some of the earliest applications of smartphone AR being interactive museum guides. In the last decade, AR has cemented its place in the art world and the number of exhibitions that utilize some form of augmented reality has grown significantly over the previous three years.

KAWS’ Expanded Holiday (2020) as seen over London’s Millennium bridge. Image courtesy of Acute Art

AR art can be a physical object with a virtual counterpart that can only be seen through the lens of a smart device. It can also be a purely virtual object that gets overlayed onto a specific material environment, such as KAWS’ “Expanded Holiday” currently on show in twelve cities across the world.

In a similar vein, in 2020, Electric Artefacts was established to facilitate online showcases that challenge preconceptions of what/where an exhibition space has to be, and what it means to view art digitally. Using AR to bring digital art into any space, Electric Artefacts is redefining the digital gallery and helping collectors envisage wall-hung art before they buy. You can check out Electric Artefacts’ Inaugural Show in AR here.

Electric Artefacts Inaugural Show in AR at Frieze Sculpture Park 2020

Cover image: Ultrabianka, Springcore Video, 2020

Written by
Electric Artefacts

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