Galleries - February 2012

the computer and the internet can be harnessed to assist artists and galleries. One, useful for those with constantly changing exhibi- tions, is Exhibita Pro, a sophisti- cated design tool which allows one to arrange images of the work to be hung in a simulation of the space – a virtual environment which also forms the basis of the eventual ‘real’ hang. Another is Gal-Link, from the Art Retail Net- work , which maximises the pot- ential of internet shopping by link- ing the stock lists of participating galleries, thus overcoming the limitations of a single gallery by creating a huge inter-gallery market-place. Selling other peo- ple’s stock to your own customers – an ingenious idea. The system includes an area called ‘Source Talent’ where artists can display their work and thus catch the eye of dealers who in turn can show it to clients via digital display panels. Art Retail Network, unlike some, acknowledge that buying and selling art is very different to buying and selling other com- modities and that most people prefer to see the work in the flesh and are loath to buy on the basis of a digital image, but they believe Gal-Link combines the best of both worlds. Artlogic, Artlook, Artscene, Art- systems, Blue Cubes, GallerySoft, Masterpiece . . . how do you choose a system for your gallery? A look at the company’s client base will give an indication of the league they’re in – small/large/ international/London/provincial. Not all publish their core pricing, and licence fees may or may not be part of a set-up package. Flex- ibility and openness in approach is a great plus: it’s helpful if data and images uploaded to a website are in a form that any other de- veloper or designer can use. The marketing capabilities are also vital: precise targeting with high quality, personalised communi- cation is more attractive than blan- ket mass mailing, either electronic or paper-based. The more expen- sive companies should offer to undertake a careful analysis of a gallery’s needs before coming up with a solution, and should make them aware of the impact of the software on their modus operandi. A check on the availability of continuing support, technical and advisory, is also wise. One gallery told me it used its management system for mailing labels and for maintaining stock and contact lists. Another, with a different system, found the search features very helpful: “You can enter a client’s name into the sea- rch bar within the inventory and find out that way who bought what and when rather than going thro- ugh each invoice in turn . . . We were on Excel stocksheets and Filemaker Pro for contacts before – much easier having everything in one place, but it’s taken months to load on all the relevant data.” And that of course is the simplest way to work out what’s best for you: talk to established users. There is no substitute for experience. There’s a nice research project waiting to be done on the de- velopment of proprietary software aimed at the art market. In the mid 1980s the farsighted began to dream: database systems were developed and as hardware capa- bilities increased, their scope grew more audacious. The whole pro- cess of selling art, from catalog- uing and marketing to insurance and invoicing was analysed, with the aim of producing an efficient and user-friendly complete sol- ution. The early ’90s, when the internet was seeping into comm- ercial and everyday life, saw the pace quicken and now mobile devices and cloud based compu- ting hold out the possibility of huge benefits, once sufficient broadband speeds have been achieved. The propaganda suggests that these programs ‘save time’, are ‘simple and easy-to-use’, while templates enable the user to ‘be productive instantly’. By integra- ting information such as inven- tories and customer data with the accounting mechanisms, seam- less processing is promised. The dealer can create professional looking documents, reports, in- surance summaries, catalogues, labels, web pages . . . Their true value, however, depends on the accuracy and depth of the de- velopers’ understanding of the art business, the way clients buy, why they buy – the rhyme and reason of the trade, which is quite distinct from most other markets. There are of course other ways 10. GALLERIES FEBRUARY 12 NUTS& BOLTS D IGITAL REVOLUTION Sarah Drury explores the impact of IT on running an art gallery