Navigating an online art fair

CADAF’s Mission Statement:

“CADAF supports the expansion of new media art through a dedicated program of art fairs, exhibitions and panel discussions around the world, to nurture and promote the most exciting talents in cultural innovation. Devoted to supporting digital initiatives in the art market, galleries, artists, and collectors, CADAF is launching CADAF Online, a virtual art fair.”


While the intention of CADAF’s online fair is noble, their concept gets bogged down significantly in the user experience, which feels overly complex as multiple aspects of the screen vie for the user’s attention. (see the “directions” below, which still seem perplexingly difficult)

Contemporary and Digital Art Fair (CADAF)

While a physical fair allows for a quick stroll past booths with a chance to “opt in” and learn more; I believe CADAF’s model works best for “online appointments or invitations.” Alas, my favorite part of an art fair has always been happening upon something that will inspire me – which seems highly unlikely in this type of environment.

As demonstrated in the directions above, the user interface (UI) is cluttered and confusing to navigate. One is immediately overwhelmed upon entry. While this may be partially intentional, as it can mirror the weekend afternoon in-person art fair experience, I think that we can all expect better of our online experiences.

Contemporary and Digital Art Fair (CADAF)

A “cloud” of booths, mysterious boxes on the right, a live stream of programming, plus a search box of exhibitors. But, there’s no way to easily search by medium. If we aren’t leveraging this technology, what is it good for? Shouldn’t I be able to find all the blockchain booths? All the digital booths? All the print booths? Or, rank the booths by cheapest average piece to most expensive, or search by a keyword? That would be the most interesting organization for me

Instead, we are forced into recreating the “in person” model rather than thinking about how technology can reconfigure an experience. The purple colored dots denote the number of people at each booth. One can use the number of purple dots as a measure of what is “most interesting” at the fair but as I clicked on one (Patrick Tresset) I also realized it was in the top 6 of the “booths” tab – suggesting that it may also be the circumstances of its placement.

Contemporary and Digital Art Fair (CADAF)

The booth list does allow you to navigate based on browsing through (one) image, but it seems as though the same artists and galleries always appear at the top – thus it’s difficult to discover anything new.

Individual Booths

Like the rest of the site, the UI is difficult to follow. One cannot scroll through all the works but is forced to stay within a line of a nine-square grid. You may navigate in different directions with the arrows. It’s much easier with the images expanded (as shown below). Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost and not understand what you’re seeing.

Contemporary and Digital Art Fair (CADAF)

Physical works as well as digital works are on view/for sale – so it really does feel like an art fair. But again, it’s difficult to “shop” or discover items without wading through hundred of artists/galleries/pieces. A chat function exists everywhere for social purposes – as if you and another person are both viewing the same piece of artwork. Honestly, I can’t really imagine using it.

Visiting Patrick Tresset’s booth (one of the most popular, it would seem) demonstrated the functionality and usefulness of an online art fair where visitors can enjoy this artist’s work in a more “on demand” setting. The work benefits from being online and experienced in such a medium.

As the site may not be up at the time this is being read, you can click the image to be brought to Patrick’s website. The video below will also give you an idea.

Contemporary and Digital Art Fair (CADAF)

Live Programming

I caught a few snippets of various pieces of CADAF’s live programming. The most fascinating panel I saw was “The Role of Curator in the Digital Space” which featured Mario Klingemann, Artist; Helena Sarin, Artist; Anne Spalter, Artist; Osinachi, Artist; and was moderated by Jason Bailey, Founder, Artnome.

Contemporary and Digital Art Fair (CADAF)
(The live programming sits in the lower left corner as seen, unless you maximize it).

This live programming was some of the greatest value-for-effort I found for the average visitor. The programming is readily available (as opposed to having to be searched for) and it’s a chance to learn something new or hear from industry experts.

Contemporary and Digital Art Fair, in the end…

We are still at the start of what online art fairs will eventually evolve into. Softspot and their model (which is what CADAF is using) is imperfect but does create an “immersive” experience. This is unlike some other online viewing experiences that can often feel like looking at a slideshow.

Still, the difficulty of navigation is a major flaw and a reason that I would guess many visitors wouldn’t stay around long enough to fully benefit from the fair (or make purchases like they might in person).

One thing that became evident is that there’s clearly still value to having an art advisor or art consultant who pre-selects artwork, artists or booths to visit for a client – even online. It may feel like something that one can do oneself, but with the “endless internet” (and the seemingly overwhelming nature of this fair) there is a clear benefit to curation online.