Art Gate VR

Candice Houtekier: Art Markets in Virtual Reality

My name is Candice Houtekier. I was born and raised in France and moved to Montreal to do my master’s degree. After I graduated I started to work for commercial art galleries between Montreal and Toronto for a couple of years. Then I moved to Toronto and decided to launch my own business to help commercial art galleries to take a digital turn because I was noticing that so many dealers had very poor website, very poor social media presence and very poor presence on art marketplaces. I was this tech-savvy, interested person. So I launched this business and it went very well. On the side, I was blogging about the intersection of art and virtual reality. As a starting point, I was mostly exploring. So I would like to introduce myself as an explorer. I had the HTC VIVE, I had the Oculus headset so I had access to pretty much every platform. I was exploring everything I could that was at the intersection of art and new technology.

After blogging for two or three years I met the founders of Art Gate VR at the Toronto Art fair in 2018. At the time Art Gate VR was a prototype. There was no social interaction. It was a world where you can organize solo or group exhibitions. I saw so much potential in what they were doing that I decided to become a shareholder in March 2020. I am the marketing director of the application.  I’m really involved in the development of the technology and we’ve been working with curators, art dealers, museum institutions, and other kinds of art businesses who are interested to explore the new boundaries of virtual reality and art.

Candice Houtekier Art Gate VR

What are the similarities and differences of Toronto and Monreal?

There’s a real difference between Montreal and Toronto. Canada is a young country with a lot of young immigrants. Everybody is an immigrant in Canada pretty much. So the art market is focused on postmodern and contemporary art. There’s pretty much nothing before the second world war. So we have a very limited art market and we are competing with the American art market which is huge and very strong. So if you compare the traditional art market in North America between the United States and Canada, you can see that the Canadian art scene is definitely behind.

However, new technology is rising in Canada, especially in Montreal. You have a video games hub, very very strong. A lot of very big video game companies are in Montreal so you have a lot of professionals in CGI development there to work with. There is the Society for Arts and Technology(SAT), Phi Center which is a huge, artistic center to promote art in virtual reality. They make exhibition called “Sensory Stories” since 2015 and they explore not just virtual reality as a digital medium but also were exploring all these different senses that we can have in a virtual reality environment. For me, Phi Center is at the avant-garde of virtual reality. Toronto is more conservative and more focused on the traditional market.

I had a chance to visit Tokyo and the Japanese scene is so much advanced compared to Canada and Europe. Japanese people are 10 years ahead in terms of virtual reality. When you walk in the street you see virtual reality centers pretty much everywhere.

How would you describe the process of this new medium transforming from the tech industry into the art sector? How do perceptions change?

In Montreal and in Toronto I’ve been to exhibitions promoting this intersection of fine art and technology. I see this effort in a contemporary art museum to bring technology to the public. I’ve seen projections, 3d mapping, and some virtual reality events too. But very often it’s just an initiation. You can see that they’re doing the first step. People who work in these institutions are not so tech-savvy, especially the curators. There’s a lack of digital turn, there’s a lack of adoption. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto has featured two different virtual reality events but it’s still not much. Especially since the pandemic wearing a VR headset is not hygienic, so a lot of museum institutions had to backtrack.

What about synergies with other industries? Fashion is amongst early adopters and they are embracing this young technology very fast.
We can see that the design and the fashion industry are very interested in AI, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. I see all kinds of small businesses contacting me to see if the fashion could fit into Art Gate VR. But we are focused on postmodern and contemporary art so we are very selective. I think there’s a lack of a platform for the fashion industry. I see a lot of high-hand fashion brands adopting this new technology but once again I do not work in the fashion industry I work in fine arts. My goal is to try to convince our dealers to adopt this new technology and to buy a VR headset. To start exhibiting in VR, start opening receptions, gallery tours, and artist talks. And connect with people in VR. It’s a whole new world with a lot of opportunities that the traditional art market doesn’t see yet.

Art Gate VR Gallery

Many brands are implementing gamification as a new form of audience engagement. Do you have such tactics?

I think we are trying to avoid gamification. I wrote my master’s degree about the landscape experience in video games. I am a gamer myself. I love video games and I consider video games as a cultural artifact. I think we should study games more and we should integrate more video games into the museum collections. But in Art Gate VR gamification is not what we seek. We want people to feel that they are in a professional environment surrounded by art lovers, art enthusiasts and people who are interested to connect with people from all over the world. And we have such a success story. An art collector from Hong Kong connected with an art dealer from Toronto during a VR gallery tour and eventually bought an artwork.

We are interested to develop a business model and start making money in VR. But it’s very challenging and very exciting at the same time as there is no model. Nobody else is doing it, we are pioneers. We are also the best and the most advanced VR platform right now for the art market.

So there are success stories already, but what about fails? Do you see bad implementations of VR?

I do have examples for you because the Toronto art scene has been exploring augmented reality. So it’s the technology I’m the least interested in because I think that it’s very gimmicky in a certain way. In the Royal Ontario Museum they had this experience where you were holding and pointing the tablet to the artwork and the artworks were moving and talking to you. That was a disaster I think. It’s so gimmicky, that I hated it and my whole experience. I think it’s a bit weird.

Another example is we had this huge retrospective of Edward Burtynsky at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) with augmented reality artworks in the middle of the exhibition. I think it was not well-curated and not well explained. Technology has to serve a purpose and shouldn’t be there just to be there. It should be fully integrated.

And it’s not only the fault of the curators but the artists as well. They try to take this blue cheap, very famous artist and they were like “hey this is a VR headset use it” and the artist who used to work with paper and sculptures now works with VR. He doesn’t know how to do CGI or code and has no idea what’s going on. And you end up with this very gimmicky bad quality artwork like what Marina Abramovic did for Acute Art. It is a very good example of very bad virtual reality artwork because the artist doesn’t understand the technology very well so she can’t really explore the boundaries of the medium.

I believe in this new wave of young artists. of people who are raised on the internet, I’m talking about millennials. They were raised with technology and they are early adopters. They understand AR, they understand VR and they spend time exploring the medium. It is interesting to show these artists in museums and art galleries because they’re pushing boundaries. And this is why they are interesting for the art world and the future of art history.

What are your thoughts on blockchain and the digitalization of the art?

I think that the digital art market is going to disrupt the entire art market. I work with the secondary art market and I can see our dealers abusing artists. If you are a blue-chip artist right now and you resell your artwork on the secondary art market you’re not going to have any royalties. I think that artist rights need to be rewritten and the digital art market is going to help them to retake possessions of their rights. We need to escape this bubble in which the art market is currently. We have a lot of fakes, we have a lot of counterfeits, we have people speculating. The digital art market is going to give more transparency and that’s the future.

As a millennial I believe in transparency I believe that we should have more information about the provenance of art: where it was made, who owned the artwork before. And it’s an amazing tool. I’m just worried about the power of cryptocurrency. Because I can see the rise of marketplaces I can see artists being empowered, being able to sell artwork by themselves without an art dealer. But cryptocurrency is so fragile. If you think about it, who is behind Etherium? It’s a young Russian and we’re going to base our entire financial system on him, really?

I own cryptocurrency since 2017. I’m interested in decentral and cryptovoxel, but I feel it’s so unstable you know. What will happen if the founder dies, what are we going to do? Is everything going to break? We need to raise questions, we need to start thinking about what’s really behind the technology. It’s almost too easy to earn money. So I think we need to raise awareness and be very careful with the adoption of this new technology.

Art Gate VR expo


If we need mediators who that would be then? How is it possible to regulate the tweet done by Musk which can skyrocket the dogecoin?

Well, I think it’s the responsibility of the government to install regulations. To try to regulate what’s happening. Unfortunately it is very complicated. It could be like in the novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson. When this big corporations creating different metaverses and in each metaverse you have the owner that rules and the government is not allowed to say something about it.
I’m from France so I believe in socialism. I’m a liberal-capitalist but I believe in socialism and I believe that the government is here to help the people. I believe that government should be here to regulate big companies and they shouldn’t speculate so much. I love Elon Musk and I’m a big fan, I love everything he does. However I’m worried about this influence.

You are educating your clients to embrace this new technology. Meanwhile, pandemics forced people to stay home and shift many activities to the virtual domain. “Zoom fatigue” is a thing. How will you balance that out?

Well everybody is experiencing fatigue because we are staring at our computers all day. It’s challenging and everybody’s tired of it. As soon as lockdown is over people will appreciate the possibility of having physical interactions again. People need to go to opening receptions, people need to socialize again. Like in real life, we all need it. Then after six months or a year, people will restart thinking about this new technology and how to adapt it. How to redo virtual reality exhibitions when safety is a bit less of a problem. So it’s a matter of time.
Another issue is the price. Virtual reality headsets are expensive so before buying 15 different virtual reality headsets, museums need to think about what’s there to stay. In which tool it’s a good idea to invest because I’ve seen museums investing in HTC VIVE. The question is “What are you going to do if VIVE is done?”.

The Phi Center got about 30 different “Oculus Go”s and since December 2020 Oculus is not supporting this headset anymore. Fortunately, with Art Gate VR we decided to be on Oculus Quest since day one. It’s going to be OK because oculus sold three million units since the beginning of the pandemic and this headset is crushing the market.

While technology keeps maturing and more people and companies are starting to adopt it, what are the plans of your company?

We believe in the future of social interaction in a virtual reality environment and Art Gate VR provides an amazing solution for museums, dealers, and art collectors. We’ve been very surprised to see that a lot of art collectors like to show off their private collections. I had this talk with an artist who told me “I love selling art, but once it’s sold you don’t see the artworks anymore. It’s in this private house and it’s done.” But now art collectors have the opportunity to show off what they have and I think that the future of exhibitions is going to shift a little bit. Art collectors are going to be more empowered as well as artists, while museum institutions and art galleries are going to have a little bit less.

In terms of social events, we have “Art Fair in VR: Art Gate International 2021 “, April 15-18. It’s an art fair in virtual reality for postmodern and contemporary art and art galleries and museum institutions are invited to share their collection. We’re going to have panel discussions for collectors, artists, for art dealers who are interested in this new tool. We hope to have more clients renting VR gallery spaces and pushing the boundaries of the medium. So far it’s going very well and we are very excited to see what the future will look like.

The future is in the metaverse and I’m so proud to work with the first metaverse for the art world. I believe that Art Gate VR is the first marketplace in virtual reality in a socially connected environment. The only organization that I know doing similar things is the Museum of Other Realities. What is cool is that’s another Canadian initiative based in Vancouver.

I believe in this new connected world where people from all over the world can talk to each other without boundaries, without traveling costs, without paying for hotels and plane tickets. We are pushing boundaries and this is very exciting.

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