The future is paperless: art tech with a green heart

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Annika Erikson launched Articheck in October 2014 to reduce the carbon footprint and increase efficiency of condition reports.

When you travel to several countries, the pages of your passport are bound to fill up with stamps Who stamps your art though (figuratively)? Articheck, an art tech start-up, gives you an app to store all your condition reports – or digital stamps – with the aim to be the passport for art.

Two out of every five trees are still cut to make paper, Annika Erikson, CEO of Articheck told Private Art Investor. And when she worked on Mike Nelson’s Coral Reef in 2000, she conserved installations across 15 rooms filled with paper objects. As a paper conservator for London’s Tate Gallery at the time, her patience was tested. Especially since museum goers thought it was an interactive exhibit, when it was not.   

It was at the Tate, in London, that she realised how many paper objects art institutions use in day-to-day operations. She found similar themes in large private collections, except that here keeping track of the documents for an artwork was not a priority.

For shippers and insurers working with national and private collections, condition reports were crucial to their jobs. Hence, Articheck found its target group: curators, conservators, shippers, insurers and private collectors.

The idea was that every time your art moved it received a digital stamp, like you get on a passport when you travel,” said Erikson. Although overlooked, condition reports help keep track of the physical health of the artwork. They are also integral tools for insurers and appraisers, who will survey artworks or collections at the time of buying and selling.  

One thing Erikson noticed was that buyers were very trusting about the condition of artworks when they made a purchase. On the other side, sellers and auction houses will agree that details regarding condition – other than the bare minimum – can often sour a deal.

Erikson says, “It’s down to buyers to educate themselves and to do their due diligence. They should always request a report and do their own on their existing collection annually. I liken it to buying a house. You wouldn’t go ahead without surveying it yourself.”

Generally, in a collection the volume of paper objects is more than that of the artworks themselves, which also means the staff hours spent on documenting and condition reports is very high.

We have already helped Eton College create reports for 800 out of their 200,000 objects in 11 days,

The prominent international gallery White Cube could save £250,000 in a year just by making the switch to digital condition reports that Articheck creates. Its research found a 75% reduction in the time taken, per report, when compared with that taken directly by White Cube staff.

The app can create reports with 150-page documents and as many as 70 pictures attached.

Co-conservators

Erikson said the app currently supports 200 clients and about 400,000 reports. Of those already signed up, most are London- or New York-based museums and galleries. Marian Goodman, Lehmann Maupin, Maddox Gallery, Stephen Friedman and Sprueth Magers are some of the names already using Articheck for pre-sale checks.

White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey, London. Courtesy: Yuvan Kumar

Contemporary galleries are quite good with condition reports, because their art tends to travel more to fairs and events internationally,” said Erikson.

Christie’s has signed up for a six-month trial of the app. And Erikson is waiting on a decision from Sotheby’s, which is currently reviewing Articheck’s proposal.

With the likes of the Astrup Fearnley and Pamela Joyner collections, as well as JP Morgan already onboard, the app has become popular with those handling private and corporate collections.  

We have already helped Eton College create reports for 800 out of their 200,000 objects in 11 days,” said Erikson.

The future is paperless

One of the big pillars of the company is its commitment to reducing the overall carbon footprint. “The commercial, private and institutions sector rarely come together in the art world, but sustainability is one common ground for all three,” said Erikson.   

Figures show an increasing number of collectors below the age of 45 in parts of world, which will inevitably bring the average down. But at the moment, most of the collectors are Baby Boomers (55-75-year olds).

The art market needs updating. The next generation of collectors coming up is not likely to accept the ‘handshake’ status quo when it comes to trading art,” she says. These collectors will want more information. In fact, 88% of collectors said insufficient condition reports deter them from buying art online, according to Erikson.

With recent developments surrounding the cancellation and postponement of art fairs and art sales, online auctions and digital tools will become a necessity for the well-being of the industry.

Erikson also added that centralising reports and archives through the app will make the art trade more attractive for investors and financial institutions. It provides a disaster planning and response feature – which allows users to document damage efficiently – that will prove to be a useful tool for insurance companies.

“Articheck will help identify the biggest risks for the collection and help collection managers fix these,” she said.   

We’re now hoping to launch an initiative which will raise awareness with existing customers to comply with the Bizot Green Protocol guidelines – which already includes the top 10 international museums. Only 5-10% of fragile objects in a collection need strict environmental conditions, which can be micromanaged.”

The initiative will demonstrate the negligible effects of reducing air conditioning on the health of artworks by compiling before and after report with companies willing to partake.