The first ever art fair to take place exclusively online will feature brand name galleries and blue-chip artists. All that remains for the VIP Art Fair, which takes place from January 22 to 30, is to attract bold face collectors. Why would they want to login to a virtual vernissage? As the fair’s co-founder, New York gallerist James Cohan, notes: “The VIP Art Fair aims to give the collector access to the leading edge of the art world from the comfort of they own office, home, ski chalet, beach house or igloo.”

Founded by Cohan along with his partner Jane Cohan and internet entrepreneurs Jonas and Alessandrea Almgren, the VIP (“Viewing in Private” note “Very Important Person”) Art Fair was conceived as a convenience to collectors and dealers who can spend all years travelling to art fairs around the world. It’s an idea that resonated throughout the art world: Gagosian, David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, and White Cube are just a handful of the 139 leading contemporary art galleries that have signed up to participate. Works by a wide range of renowned artists will include Francis Bacon, Damien Hirst, Anselm Kiefer, Takashi Murakami and Jackson Pollock. As in a traditional art fair, there will also be dedicated space for emerging artists.

How exactly will it work? Why won’t there be a “buy online” button? And how will it affect the relationship between buyers and seller? James Cohan answers all these questions and more in our exclusive insightful interview.

What is your definition of luxury?
The joy of knowing something for no other reason than because it interests me.

If luxury were a person, who would it be?
That's easy, my wife and kids.

If luxury were a place, where would it be?
Hornby Island, British Columbia because I need only "be" there with nothing to do.

If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
At work in my gallery when a client came to visit me. Whilst talking about an artwork, she pulls a book of poetry from her posh purse and reads me a poem by Paul Celan. I often think, what a luxury to work around smart people, artists, collectors, curators and even some critics.

If luxury were an object, what would it be?
A concrete staircase by Bruce Nauman which traverses a hillside. Each step is a different height and depth. As a participant walking on the staircase, you become a human sculpture as your body adjusts to the irregularity. Simple and genius. We will show a film of the piece in the VIP Lounge, be sure to check it out!

How will the VIP Art Fair work exactly?
The VIP Art Fair is an exclusively online art with 138 of the leading Contemporary art galleries from 30 different countries. It is an eight day event from January 22 to January 30, 2011. The Fair will open at 8 a.m. New York time (1 p.m. London time) on Saturday January 22nd.

The visitor will log onto the website www.vipartfair.com from anywhere in the world and enter the atrium of the Fair. There will be three exhibition halls that the visitors can enter, Premier, Focus and Emerging. Premier are established galleries including Gagosian, White Cube, Hauser and Wirth, Emmanuel Perrotin, Thaddeaus Ropac and Yvon Lambert. Premier booths will be presenting 15 to 20 works of art in their booths. Focus are one artist booths. Two examples of booths in this hall are Donald Young Gallery's (Chicago) presentation of Rodney Graham and Washburn Gallery's (New York) exhibition of very rare Jackson Pollack drawings. The Emerging section will be galleries exhibiting young artists. Johann Konig Gallery (Berlin), Kaufman Repetto (Milan), Herald St. (London) and AMT (Athens) are just a few of the 24 emerging galleries to be participating.

Each gallery will present artwork on a wall in relative scale to other artworks. There will be multiple views of works with zoom capabilities and in some instances galleries have produced short films of the artist speaking about their work.

How will it compare to a traditional art fair?
Jane Cohan, my wife and partner in the James Cohan Gallery, and I collaborated with Jonas and Alessandra Almgren, internet entrepreneurs and collectors, to develop a site which closely mirrors the experience of a bricks and mortar fair. We collectively assessed the various benefits of a traditional fair from the perspective of both dealers and collectors. While the visitor will not be able to touch the work of art, they will be able to inform themselves about the artist, the artwork and its context in a very rich and substantive fashion. The site provides an intimidating experience for new collectors as well as existing collectors to access the leading contemporary art being made today, all from their own home or office. Our belief is that collectors buy valuable objects from people not places. The more developed the relationship between the collector and the dealer, the better the works the collector is offered. With our integrated live texting capabilities and other screen sharing features, the collector will be provided a remarkable experience like nothing seen before.

At the VIP Art Fair you can browse the fair for free. Should you want to have access to price ranges of artworks, the capability to have live text chats with all 138 galleries as well as admittance to the VIP Lounge, you must have a VIP Pass. Participating galleries have offered courtesy passes to their active clientele. If a visitor wants to acquire a VIP Pass, it is a one time fee for the entire duration of the Fair. It costs $100 US for the first two days and $20 thereafter.

Access to the VIP Lounge will be well worth the price of admission. We have produced short films about five private collectors in their homes in Dallas, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai and Beijing. There will also be 18 short films produced by ART 21 of artists in their studios such as Bruce Nauman, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Jenny Holzer, Do Ho Soh and Paul McCarthy. The films will be premiered in the VIP Lounge over the course of the first four days of the fair. They will remain viewable till the close on Jan 30th.

Where do you see the greatest benefits in the VIP Art Fair model for the buyer, artist and gallery?
The art world has grown immeasurably over the last decade. Great artists and dealers and phenomenal collectors exist all over the world today. New York, Paris London, Berlin Tokyo are central locations but they are no longer the only places where art can be seen. If a collector wants to keep in touch with all that goes on in the art world, they would have no time to actually work. Between the various biennials, the fairs and the exhibition openings, it could be a full time job in itself. The VIP Art Fair aims to give the collector access to the leading edge of the art world from the comfort of their own office, home, ski chalet, beach house or igloo.

You stop short of the actual buy online transaction - why? Why an art fair and not a website that just sells blue chip art?
We are not an e-commerce site. There is no "buy now" button because as someone who has been in the gallery business for nearly 30 years, I know art dealers are not interest in annonymity. We want the relationship with the collector and to assure our artists, who only make so much in a year, that the work is going into a good home. We are not interested in turning art into a commodity. They are one of kind objects which potentially carry great cultural significance. As I said earlier, the art business is about relationships. One can track the creation of major collections to specific long term relationships between collector and dealer. We aim to help collectors and dealers make new relationships with each other and enrich existing ones.

Websites are largely effective (yet inert) sources of information, the VIP Art Fair is a dynamic time based event that provides works for sale, lots of information and people from whom you can learn more.

Was the inspiration mostly from the concept of the art fair or from websites such as Saatchi Online and 1stdibs.com?
We worked almost exclusively from the bricks and mortar model, however the viability of both Saatchi Online and 1stdibs.com gave us the confidence that we were headed in the right direction. Like all businesses, the art world has its very own ecosystem. We exist in a business that is trapped in the 19th century given the conventional ways in which we do things. The global expansion of art fairs is probably the biggest shift in the market over the last three decades along with the use of digital images and email; otherwise, it is no different than how Duveen sold Andrew Carnegie his collection (now the corpus of The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC) 100 years ago.

How did galleries and artists react to the concept and what questions did they have?
Most dealers had the very same reaction: Surprised it had not happened sooner! The logic behind the internet and what it has to offer the art world is already very apparent to all dealers. Digital images (JPEG's) and email have been an integral part of our business practice for the last ten years. The speed with whihc we can offer works to collectors in distant locations like Kaula Lampur, Sydney, Beijing or even Des Moines, Iowa has changed the nature of what might be available to whom. The VIP Art Fair is a logical extension of a well tested model. Art Fairs work as does email, both provide very effective ways to stay in touch with collectors.

Dealers asked about all the likely subjects: Security of their data and the assurance that we were responsibly setting strict privacy policies for the collectors.

Some people are still scared of online commerce - how are you working to promote trust and confidence from buyers?
The trust and confidence of our platform comes from the august list of dealers that have agreed to participate. They collectively represent the core of the contemporary art world today. The process of acquiring a work of art is firstly about empowering oneself with knowledge, information about the artist, the artwork and the context it was created in. Secondly, one must then understand the market and the people involved in representing the artist. Art Fairs are just one step (and I might add a super convenient one as they aggregate lots of great material in one place at one time) in a wonderful journey about learning about and acquiring works of art. it is a process and as a dealer you want the collector to buy the work, not be sold the work.
What are your personal favourite items available for sale at the VIP Art Fair?
I wish I knew. As one of the dealers in the fair, I am not privy to my colleagues booths. I am anxiously awaiting 8 a.m. on Jan 22 to check it all out.