We spoke to the Founder/Director of the unique space, Kelani Nichole, about her own collection of contemporary art and how some of the world’s biggest collectors are welcoming new formats into their private collections.
Tell us about your collection. How did your passion for collecting digital art come about?KELANI NICHOLE
The collection grew out of my activities at TRANSFER, an experimental exhibition space I founded in 2013 in Brooklyn, NY to support emerging media formats. At the time, I was quite new to the art market and the world of collecting. In my first year as a gallerist I visited the Zabludowicz Collection in London, this was a huge moment of inspiration – seeing a public exhibition space for a private collection that is committed to emerging artists and commissions in challenging formats.
Since then, I’ve had the honor of touring all shapes and sizes of private collections, many with public exhibition spaces. Most recently I toured the Julia Stoschek Collection pop-up in Berlin and was absolutely blown away by the scope and diversity of the work. After being exposed to all types of collectors, making lifelong commitment to artworks – and in many cases living intimately with works – I know this is the future of my own efforts in supporting contemporary artists.
Is there something that you always look for in an artwork?KELANI NICHOLE
For the collection, I’m looking for works that move me, whether through a personal association or a conceptual element to the work. All of the works in my collection are centered on the idea of shifting notions of authenticity and scarcity and experiments with networked culture – I see our contemporary avant garde working online, this is my current focus. I have a bit of a consistent palette that I am attracted to, extremes of vivid color and/or monochromatic works. My collection primarily consists of moving image works in new formats like GIFs, Software pieces and VR, which I am building an online home to exhibit publicly.
How do you research artists and artworks that might be of interest for your collection? Do you still visit art fairs or is it all done online now for you?KELANI NICHOLE
The Internet is my primary source of discovering new works. There are a number of fabulous galleries and collectors globally who are putting together progressive media art collections, who are certainly sources of inspiration, but most often I’ll see a work online first before it makes its way into my home.
Your gallery, TRANSFER, tries to bridge the gap between physical work and digital – how do you make this a reality?KELANI NICHOLE
The gallery functions as an experimental space for placing computer-based practices in new contexts with viewers. I produce solo exhibitions at TRANSFER, working closely with artists one-on-one over a longer period of time to find the right moment when I can help them activate something experimental from the studio. The process of “de-screening” an artwork often means creating a unique installation in the space – this is one of my favorite things about TRANSFER, the gallery feels entirely different with every new show.
The art market is still coming around to digital art, but how do you go about making digital art accessible to collectors?KELANI NICHOLE
Living with new formats has greatly expanded my understanding of what it means for a work to be “accessible” to a collector. I believe that mediated works (i.e. screen-based moving images) can play an intimate role in a living space. Many of the strongest collectors of new formats have installed integrated viewing/screening areas in their home, and configure media servers to power selections from their collection. A new selection changes the entire tone and decor of a room in a single click. Likewise, I understand the value of a physical object and hope to bring thoughtful ideas to my artists as they think through materials and question commodification of their digitally native practices.
Both yourself and your gallery have taken on the role of educating collectors in the realm of digital art – what has this been like? Has it been a challenge to convince collectors of the importance of digital art?KELANI NICHOLE
As a hybrid collector/gallerist I lead by example and don’t tend to try and persuade the uninterested. There is a massive gap of understanding for the older generation of collectors, but this will shift through time. Acceptance and acquisition of media artwork has been consistently and rapidly expanding, especially in the past five years.
The work I support at TRANSFER is the zeitgeist of our contemporary moment. Institutions and mindsets are shifting to accommodate the work – there are many challenges to traditional structures inherent in the work, such as the distributed nature of net art, tendencies toward appropriation, proximity to commercial design aesthetics, open online distribution, iterative release cycles, multi-authored and collaborative pieces, just to name a few. This shift will take time, but thought leaders in contemporary art are already adapting and finding new ways to champion, invest, display and get intimate with new formats.
How are the artworks displayed in your personal space? Do you live with them everyday?KELANI NICHOLE
Yes! I am working to create a custom five-channel display and media server for my moving image works, and an online home for the collection to be on view for the world. I also have a number of artist proofs and physical objects hanging in my home on the Lower East Side. The light boxes of Daniel Temkin are my favorite mix of screen-simulation and low-tech warm light, illuminating the mood of the space.
Are you not concerned that works that are current with technology now, could be in the near future seen as out-dated? Will this affect the “worth” of a digital work?KELANI NICHOLE
The challenges of ephemeral and conceptual art have been accepted by the market for decades. When dealing with works in formats that are quick to obsolesce, TRANSFER takes extra effort to document an artist’s intent and in some cases provide specific documentation artifacts and exhibition instructions to ensure the work survives the tests of time through thoughtful display. Comprehensive “Transfer Rights and Owner’s Obligations” documentation accompanies every appreciation. Alain Servais, a progressive media art collector, talks publicly about the challenges of collecting media art across decades of experience. He emphasizes the importance of developing standards and understanding rights regarding transfer of ownership, display, and preservation. I’m investing in these challenges, to ensure that media works have a solid foundation to grow in value through time.
Where do you see the future of your collection headed?KELANI NICHOLE
I’m interested in traveling my collection, placing the works in new contexts, and continuing to diversify the group of artists I am supporting through collection. Leading by example is perhaps the best way to reach my peers working in technology, who might not yet know what it means to live with a work of art. I hope to take up temporary “residence” in new markets and host gatherings around the works in my living space. I see the immediate future as a traveling collection (primarily mediated art objects) and in the next five to ten years, I hope to expand the collection’s efforts around preservation and open public access.