Artists moving to virtual galleries to show their work

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periodic installment in a series by freelance journalist and Press contributor Pat Rogers examining how art is exhibited, seen, and sold on the East End.

Ask artists why they use the internet and you’ll get two simple answers: To get connected and to get noticed. After that, you can kiss simple answers goodbye in assessing which approaches work best, bring the most satisfaction, or provide the most fun.

Websites, blogs, e-letters and social networking sites are some of the ways artists are using technology to give their work a life outside the studio. As gallery shows and dealer representation seem to get harder to secure by the minute, reaching out to a wider spectrum of possibilities has become a necessity.

A website is where most artists dip their toes first. Websites offer a place where bios, resumes, mission statements, press clips and artwork can share a cyberspace home. The drawback is that, even if it’s interactive when a visitor clicks in, a website is as passive as a business card or the white pages: people have to realize the artist exists before they can search for information.

Still, having an address on the internet can sometimes be enough. Search engines can connect gallery directors with artists through key-word searches. A mention in a blog or a published article can spark curiosity.

Springs artist Grant Haffner is now exhibiting his paintings in a Montana gallery as a direct result of being contacted through his website (www.granthaffner.com). His colorful and evocative depictions of roadways and flat landscapes struck a chord with the gallery director and off went his work to the land of Big Sky.

Slightly braver artists use e-mail announcements of upcoming events to a list of collectors, supporters and art professionals. E-mail lists are economical—there’s no paper, printing, stamps or trips to the post office. The messages can contain in-depth information and have links to exhibition venues. Artist website links make it easy to click through to exhibition previews or artwork series that are not part of the upcoming show.

Area artists Andrea Cote (www.andreaspace.net) of Flanders, Christa Maiwald (www.christamaiwald.com) of East Hampton, Steve Miller (www.stevemiller.com) of Sagaponack, and Mike Solomon (www.mikesolomon.com) of East Hampton, among others, have all used e-mail announcements, or “blasts,” to preview gallery and museum shows, book releases, performances, Broadway shows and films that feature their art or themselves.

Last week, Casey Chalem Anderson of Sag Harbor took the e-mailing concept a step further and launched a monthly series of E-Art Notes. The e-mail newsletter presents images and thoughts about different ways of looking at art. Ms. Anderson says it’s her way of connecting with people, providing ideas to ponder and announcing upcoming exhibits or workshops. It also might entice recipients to visit her website to see more of her art.

“Words provide a bridge, a connection with people,” she explained. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Websites can be serious or have a lighthearted intent. Dorothy Frankel (www.dorothyfrankel.com) added a “store” to her website to sell some sculptural pieces designed as gifts. The rest of her website is devoted to her fine art sculpture. Mr. Haffner recently started a website (www.haffnervision.com) where he and his friends can post projects, thoughts, artwork and anything else they want to share.

Mixing fun with a serious purpose was the idea behind the creation of the Hamptons Art website, www.fripit.com. Website administrator Ben McHugh, who enjoys the process of setting up websites, started Fripit three years ago when artist friends began asking him to design sites for them. In order to avoid being swamped with lots of favors for friends, Mr. McHugh said he’d make one website and post whatever anyone gave him there.

At first, Fripit was the cyberspace home for artists without websites, people who felt thwarted by technology that seemed difficult to master. Now most of Fripit’s artists have their own websites but still want to be part of a website group.

Arts4 Collective has established another website where artists band together (www.thearts4.com). The site includes a blog so the collective’s far-flung membership, hailing from Montauk to Manhattan, has a way to stay in touch and keep abreast of cool shows and arts-related events.

Artist Lynn Dunham of Southampton started her own blog (http://lynndunham.blogspot.com). The blog is meant to call attention to artists she feels have talent, no matter where they live, and to create a resource guide for artists. She posts announcements for area art events and writes commentary on art world happenings, exhibits and whatever else moves her. The primary purpose of the blog is not to help her sell her paintings: she is hoping to have contributors react to her posts and write their own, creating an online community.

Taking an opposite tack is the Artist Secret Society (www.artistsecretsociety.com). Established by artists Eric Ernst of Sag Harbor, who is also the art critic for The Press, and David Gamble of Amagansett, the site has no member names listed. A tongue-in-cheek manifesto links the society’s current “underground operations” to historical closed-door organizations and places them within a historical context of artists who have rebelled against perceived art world unfairness.

The Artist Secret Society sprung to life several years ago as an ironic response to an art world slight, when contributing artists were forbidden to attend an art auction fund-raiser. Although the artists who had donated their work were angry, it soon became apparent that many of them would still be willing to donate art to the organization the following year. And so, a “secret society” that artists couldn’t join was formed, said Mr. Ernst.

The website is only slightly less mysterious—bios of Mr. Ernst and Mr. Gamble can be found, although there is no information on any of the other members. Prints, posters, books and more are available for sale, but artists’ names are revealed only after a purchase is in process. The artwork on the site differs from pieces in gallery shows in order to avoid any conflict of interest or anger on the part of gallery owners, Mr. Ernst said. The website also functions as a way to keep the society in the public eye between curated guerilla art shows held in the summer.

“Artists have always found a way to get their work seen and to rise up against the wrongs they see committed in the art world,” Mr. Ernst said. “I have no doubt that if Titian or Rubens were alive today, they would use the internet … I believe The Irascible Eighteen would have used the internet as a method of amplifying their message against the conservative nature of the Met.”

Finding artists’ websites can be the tricky part. To make it easier, Montauk photographer Daniel Schoenheimer (www.montaukweb.com) and artist Sally Breen (www.sallyrbreen.com) of Water Mill launched a printed artist directory called Local Art Rag (www.localartrag.com). Noting how tourists enjoy picking up local giveaways to thumb through, they decided to compile a list of area artists who are working to get their art noticed. Almost every artist listed has a website.

The print listings complement the publication’s website and can drive visitors to websites of individual artists. When they release their new issue for next year (in March 2009), they hope to make an e-mail mailing list a part of their strategy for expansion. Starting a blog is also on the to-do list.

Southampton artist Darlene Charneco (www.darlenecharneco.com) believes social networking sites are the most effective way to get connected to artists and the art world in a personal way. She has been part of the virtual scene for years, with a page on such social networking sites as MySpace, Livejournal and Razoo. Her favorite is Facebook because she says it combines the best of each type of site and makes it easy to keep in contact with people she’s met at conferences and art fairs as well as family and friends. She likes www.flickr.com for sharing photos and visual ideas.

“As an artist, I tend to like and need to isolate myself in my studio as much as possible to get my work done,” she said. “With sites like Facebook and Flickr, I feel more connected to what’s going on with my network all across the world … It is sometimes a tricky balance between connection and distraction. I’m interested to see how these tools can best be used by us.”

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