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What happens when art and social media join forces?

Taking a closer look at Microsoft's atypical approach to art with the Hundredaires project

Imagery by Gus Farnes

Art and social media have become comfortable – if occasionally controversial – bedfellows in recent months. Not only can you now buy one-off art with your social media currency, but Richard Prince (the undisputed king of the re-blog, the re-tweet and the #TBT picture since long before their respective platforms even existed) has been setting afire the online art world with his #Regrams project, in which he prints out and then re-photographs the Instagram posts of celebrities; his artistic process has always been, according to a wry observation on the business reporting site Quartz, “a lot like how the soi-disant “curators” of the internet describe the process of creating a blog,” but with each new share, the distinctions become even more unclear – the “source” is little more than an image of a hyperlink.

“I pretty much found that I could do the same on Instagram (as I’d always done),” explained Prince. “Except… the photo paper was an electronic page, the source material was Google, and the re-photography was a screen-save.” The internet’s newfound interest in ‘shareability’ has only made a particular kind of contemporary appropriation and circulation more effortless - images do double, triple, a-hundred-time service like never before, and as a result, art is reaching its widest audience yet – and with this evolution, a change in the sale and distribution of work is inevitable, too.

What Nokia’s new #Hundredaires art-project does for this evolution is, in its own way, something fairly atypical for a modern art project – in the light of recent sales, it’s theoretically radical. Cutting loose the involvement of money in its entirety, the idea is to turn the skills of web-savvy, intrapersonal communication and good-taste into a new form of electronic currency: in a pop-up shop at the Truman Brewery in Shoreditch, a hundred artworks were exhibited in stickered categories – orange, or blue, or green, and so on – and “bidders” were encouraged to shoot them for social media. The catch – or the point of the game, if you like – is that the coloured stickers represent a certain score on Klout, the website created to measure influence on social media; more influential users could “bid” on more “valuable” artworks, with their reblogs and interactions on hashtagged Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr posts allowing them to secure their wins. Ultimately, it assures the spread of the artwork, without bypassing the spread of the artist's name. In this respect, at least, it uses the internet's most useful tool for the artist's gain, and it nixes its worst side-effect.

Costas Syrmos, the head of Microsoft's Creative Lab said, "Our goal is to highlight and celebrate the subcultures of the social world. We want to help people understand and leverage their own social currency and #100aires is the perfect platform for that. The new Nokia Lumia 630 is the perfect companion for this unique story, empowering young consumers with incredible technology that is affordable.”

Social media has been seen to have an influence on the distribution of art for some time – think, for instance, of the artist-ordering website ArtRank, whose purpose is to gauge an artist’s work through their web-presence. Interested in spending $10,000 or less? ArtRank is currently backing the purchase of work by Michigan-born Leif Ritchey, the rationale being that Ritchley’s work shows high bloggability, according to “qualitatively-weighted metrics including…verified social media counts (and) inbound links.”

Whether web influence feels more or less attainable to you as currency than actual currency rather depends on your personality type; on strict financial terms, though, it’s certainly it’s certainly far more universal. Perhaps more importantly, it breeds a different kind of conversation from the horrified op-eds about art fair flipping, or mega multi-million sales.

“I’m not sure that (social media) has a place in the future regarding the sale of art, but I do think its a fantastic way for an artist to engage with people,” explains Gus Farnes, whose vibrant screen-print illustration of immaculate icon Grace Jones saw him chosen as one of #100aires’ hundred participants. “I work as a designer for the auction house Sotheby’s, so I’m familiar with seeing people transact and collect works of art. For me, this twist felt like a great, really novel experiment. In the past when I’ve sold work, it’s been through a shop or online – so you rarely get the chance to gauge people's response to a piece, or interact with them. #Hundredaires has allowed that to happen, and I've been able to sit back and watch it develop. So definitely – I'd do it again tomorrow”.

Follow the project @Nokia_UK with the hashtag #100aires.