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What can galleries learn from one of the most prominent digital schools in the world. Quite a lot, it seems. We had a chat with Johanna Frelin, the former boss at Hyper Island but today with architects Tengbom.

3 min read

Many creative industries – publishing, music, film – have been relatively adaptable in terms of chasing new digital opportunities. The primary art scene, it seems, has been slower. Why?

Generally speaking, industries which have worked in the same way for a long period of time are having a harder time transforming their businesses. Why? Because it makes it more difficult imagining things will become completely different. Also, I’d believe there is an inherent resistance. Traditionally, if slightly exaggerated, art has been a painting sitting on a gallery wall. So how do you convey that story in a digital manner?

Could conservatism be part of the answer?

Yes, my gut feeling is that the industry wants to stick to their traditional modes of expression. We often note that in any industry, there is a deeply rooted instinct to protect and conserve your incumbent business model. And if anything turns out to pose a threat to you business model, your first reaction is to stop it. This makes me a bit disappointed, because I’d expect artists, if anyone, to experiment, to be bold.

The digitalisation of society is creating a lot of challenges. Challenges pertaining to anonymisation, or challenges pertaining to the fact that our perception is increasingly shaped by search algorithms and such. These are challenges which artist very well could highlight, which could potentially stimulate a healthy debate among consumers.

What about the middle man?

Absolutely, this is another aspect. And we are now witnessing a strong trend by which the middlemen are disappearing. Consider peer-to-peer businesses, for example. We ride Uber-taxis, and we book vacation apartments through And naturally the middlemen of any industries being subject to this trend, will do anything to stop it. Just like the record labels once fought Spotify, and just like the american hotel industry right now is trying to stop Airbnb. It is the same underlying driver. They want to preserve what they already have, and I could imagine that the middlemen of the art industry are acting in the same way.

What lessons are there to be drawn by the art scene from other creative industries?

You may very well look at the traveling industry. You could study, Thomas Cook and Airbnb, and really try to understand how this entire industry has been turned upside down. Another example is Apple. Apple sell products online, yet they choose to have a big shop in the most fashionable location in every major city. Why? These shops are, in essence, galleries. You don’t go there to shop. You go there to look, to use their wi-fi, to ask questions. Add a coffee machine, and it would essentially be a café. I think the art scene could find inspiration here. Why not experiment further with virtual exhibitions? To sell art online, yet sticking to the physical location as a ’gallery’. In the end, this is about giving people an experience which will make them more engaged and, further down the road, more inclined to buy art.

As told to journalist Jacob Bursell.