News & Views

Most Contagious NYC / Paddles On! Digital Art Collecting Workshop

by Contagious Team

clay_def.jpg, Silvia Bianchi and Ricardo Juarez, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist.


Last month in New York, Phillips, the leading contemporary art auction house, partnered with Tumblr and Lindsay Howard, an independent curator, for a very special type of auction: one of entirely digital art.

Paddles On! brought together 18 contemporary artists who are using digital technologies to establish the next generation of contemporary art together with art collectors in an auction setting. The auction sold pieces such as a YouTube video called "RGB,D-LAY" by Petra Cortright and Clement Valla's "Postcards from Google Earth" series (pictured) to Internet enthusiasts including Tumblr founder David Karp and The Barbarian Group's Benjamin Palmer.



Now, as more and more art lovers are thinking about how to collect digital work, we've invited Lindsay Howard to Most Contagious to conduct a lunchtime workshop on the complexities of the digital art market. 

Most Contagious NYC attendees: you'll have the chance to RSVP to specific workshops in advance of the conference, so watch your inbox, we're expecting this one to fill up fast. 

We also had a chance to ask Howard a few questions about her work. 

How did Paddles On! come together?

The auction was organised by Megan Newcome, director of digital strategy at Phillips, Annie Werner, arts evangelist at Tumblr, and myself, after reading a number of articles about the challenges of creating a digital art market. We decided to put our skills and resources together to produce what became the first exclusively digital art auction at a major international auction house. The collaborative aspect was important - we drew on Tumblr's incredible creative community through an open call, engaged with Phillips's existing collectors, and I worked closely with artists and galleries to develop the works. I would say about 50% of the artists had gallery representation and 50% were representing themselves, which is very common because the Internet makes it easy to connect directly with audiences.


RGB,D-LAY, Petra Cortright, 2011. Image courtesy of Steve Turner Contemporary, Los Angeles.


What was the reaction of some of the artists representing themselves, were they at all reticent at a kind of old-school approach, this storied NYC auction house? Are they involved in this scene at all?

The artists have varying degrees of involvement in the market, some are showing at art fairs, some are showing in museums, some have a dedicated collector base, but this was the first auction for all of them. Prior to Paddles On!, there were only a handful of digital artists whose work had reached the auction level (Wade GuytonCory Arcangel, and Oliver Laric, for instance). Digital art was underrepresented despite increasing interest from collectors. So, the resounding feedback from artists when I approached them was 'finally!' and I think overall everyone was curious and excited to see how the auction would turn out.



Do they subsequently have different views of the marketplace? 

Well, if they're going to say yes to being in an auction, they're saying yes to some degree to the marketplace, but there are more options than ever when it comes to making a living as an artist - you can participate in the gallery system, put a Paypal button on your site, crowdfund a project, apply for grants and residencies, however you want to do it. The artists are really the ones who are innovating and creating monetisation models that are creative, and reflective of their values and practice. We aimed to represent these models as authentically as possible with the auction, and rewrote Phillips's standard contract multiple times.



What was the most surprising result of Paddles On!? 

I was pleased to see how seamlessly the work integrated with Phillips and how responsive their collectors were to the work. I think the biggest surprise, though, was that 80% of the successful bidders were new first-time buyers at Phillips. These were people who had been following the artists, or the work, for awhile and suddenly felt an urgency to collect. We really made an effort to reach out to members of the art and tech communities, particularly start-up and tech founders, because they understand intuitively what makes digital work interesting. For them, renewing a domain name or valuing a work based on YouTube views is natural and logical, so they engage with it on another level.


Artwork pictured:

  • clay_def.jpg, Silvia Bianchi and Ricardo Juarez, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist.
  • Into Time 13 08 13, Rafaël Rozendaal, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist.
  • RGB,D-LAY, Petra Cortright, 2011. Image courtesy of Steve Turner Contemporary, Los Angeles.
  • Postcards From Google Earth (40° 26' 29.6664" N,79° 59' 32.9184" E), Clement Valla, 2010. Image courtesy of the artist.
  • Asymmetric Love Number 2, Addie Wagenknecht, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist.


Lindsay Howard's workshop is at Most Contagious in New York on December 11. To find out more about the event or to book tickets, please email

Most Contagious will also be taking place in London on the same day, where workshops will include 
Richard Noble walking attendees through how he crowdfunded BLOODHOUND SSC., the world's first 1000 mph car, and a live interactive demonstration by VCCP showcasing how using low cost Galvanic Skin Response Technology (GSR) could be the research breakthrough we've all been looking for.

For more information on the events, or to book tickets, email