Industry Speaks: It’s time to rethink the OVR—Here’s how

Charles Fong, Gallery Director, Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.
Screencap of Rossi & Rossi Projects (@rnrprojects) Instagram page as it appears on 6 October 2020. Image by Denise Tsui for CoBo Social.
UNSCHEDULED was held from 17 through 27 June at Tai Kwun, Hong Kong. Aerial view. Photo by Felix SC Wong. Image copyright and courtesy of Hong Kong Art Gallery Association.
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CoBo Social Market News Reports

Charles Fong, Director of Rossi & Rossi in Hong Kong shares insights on why online viewing rooms are not the art world digital solution and how recent projects both at the gallery and in the community at large is reckoning with this question of innovation and adaption in a time of COVID-19.

 

TEXT: Charles Fong
IMAGES: Courtesy of various

The difficulties over the past few months have really pushed galleries to think on their feet, especially small and medium sized galleries. And I think there are two very important things to consider for these galleries. First is the need for galleries to harness the power of the Internet in order to maintain connection with the audience, and to reevaluate in what form we do so. Second is to take into question the need for perhaps a shift to build a more local audience and to fortify the existing community.

In exploring methods to utilize the Internet, the copious amount of “online viewing rooms” (OVRs) is not the answer, because in essence OVRs are just glorified catalogs. So the questions to ask are: How should content look like online? What is the best way to present artworks of different mediums on the same online platform? How is online content being consumed and how can we enhance that experience rather than building new ones? I think as the industry attempts to answer these questions, we will eventually find the answer, but we need more people to think outside the box, rather than jumping on the OVR bandwagon.

 

Charles Fong, Gallery Director, Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

 

One of our attempts at tackling this idea of “how” is our Rossi & Rossi Projects Instagram account (@rnrprojects). The idea is to think about an Instagram account as a gallery space, and presenting content in a way that intrigues the audience—this can be done in the form of capitalizing on the grid format, emphasizing on certain actions that are performed by the audience (such as swiping or clicking into different posts). As the exhibition of our physical gallery changes, so does the content on the account—generating an OVR of sorts on Instagram without having to pay a fee for templates. Most galleries still treat Instagram as a blog to pump out content, yet no one is trying to play with the medium itself—and that’s what I want to dive in and engage with as a gallery.

 

Screencap of Rossi & Rossi Projects (@rnrprojects) Instagram page as it appears on 6 October 2020. Image by Denise Tsui for CoBo Social.

 

We also thought to push the fundamental concept of an OVR further; by creating a consistent livestream on Twitch.com that goes live after the physical gallery closes everyday. The idea came from an old Hong Kong television program called Telefishion, which ran from 1993 till 2004, brought back briefly in 2011 but subsequently cancelled. The program was the first “slow TV” program in Hong Kong replacing the test patterns that were used after the station was closed for the day, creating content 24 hours a day. I wanted to take the same idea and create a window into our gallery that can be seen anywhere with an Internet connection—an actual online viewing room that provides slow content in a fast paced environment.

On the second point of nurturing our local audience and community, for us in Hong Kong, this came in two forms: Firstly, the art fair UNSCHEDULED in late June that was created by the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association, which Rossi & Rossi participated in; and secondly, an ongoing initiative which I’ve been closely involved with, #SouthsideSaturday, where galleries on the southern side of Hong Kong Island work together to create events in each gallery for the first Saturday of every month.

For UNSCHEDULED, one fundamental difference from other fairs that many people have overlooked in discussion is that the ticket sales were shared among the galleries after baseline costs were considered. It was a decision that came about, on the one hand, in an attempt to mitigate the high costs of fairs, and on the other, to shift the focus from sales of artwork to sales of tickets. Looking ahead, I do hope to see more different and innovative models for fairs to adopt, rather than just a cascading fee structure or providing other online templates (with a ridiculous cost at that). My question is: Why not think about different financial structures?

 

UNSCHEDULED was held from 17 through 27 June at Tai Kwun, Hong Kong. Aerial view. Photo by Felix SC Wong. Image copyright and courtesy of Hong Kong Art Gallery Association.

 

As for the ongoing initiative #SouthsideSaturday, it started with an idea from our colleague Alex Choa who pointed our attention to similar initiatives in London. And with the recent exodus of galleries from Central and the desire to create synergy among galleries in Wong Chuk Hang and nearby areas Tin Wan and Aberdeen, it only accelerated our plans to push out #SouthsideSaturday. Now that social restrictions are easing up, it became the perfect opportunity to create a momentum for this type of movement. Since its conception, galleries have hosted talks, guided tours, piano recitals, poem readings, screenings, tea workshops, meditation workshops and much more. Over the course of hosting #SouthsideSaturday for several months, we have estimated drawing more than 400 visitors into the area with an average of 135 people at various times per gallery during the day! We are still in the experimenting stage, and I do hope we see galleries test out new formats and ideas without fear of no audience.

So, watch this space, we be building something here.

 

 

 
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