Why the art world is embracing WeChat – SURFACE

ART

With more than a billion monthly users worldwide, art world institutions are flocking to China’s universal “super-app”, WeChat. But the country’s predilection for surveillance and censorship raises security concerns.

BY RYAN WADDOUPS

November 09, 2022

WeChat app. Photograph by Nikolas Kokovlis/Nurphoto via Getty Images

If you have a relationship with China, chances are you are on WeChat. With over 1 billion active monthly users, the world’s largest standalone mobile app combines instant messaging, social media, payments, news sources and search engines into an indispensable digital tool for millions of people in China. It’s so crucial for communication that when former President Trump considered banning Apple’s and Google’s app stores from distributing WeChat in 2020, some Chinese immigrants worried they wouldn’t know how to register with them. of their family. “It’s all about WeChat,” said Frances He, an Angeleno who uses the app to talk with her brother in China. USA today. “It’s the only way to communicate.”

For artists, galleries and museums, WeChat is becoming a crucial way to build an audience. Even before pandemic isolation forced the tech-averse art market to embrace virtual viewing rooms and NFTs, Blum & Poe, Perrotin and David Zwirner were experimenting with WeChat’s multiple features to connect with people. potential buyers. Dealers say the app was helpful in reaching deep-pocketed Gen Z and Millennial collectors — a hybrid generation dubbed “MZers” in South Korea — who were willing to test the waters of the retail market. art during the pandemic and have acquired a curiosity for contemporary art after exploring fashion drops and luxury collectibles.

“Oscar Murillo: Manifestation” at David Zwirner London. Image courtesy of David Zwirner

Most galleries use WeChat to send news announcements to their followers, but some are getting more creative. According to a ART news report, Swiss mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth broadcasts live exhibition tours and artist conversations. Videos of gallery tours featuring works by William Kentridge and Annie Leibovitz, for example, garnered 14,000 views each. David Zwirner discovered that WeChat features like live chat can help facilitate e-commerce. A virtual presentation of Oscar Murillo’s paintings has resonated with Chinese viewers, selling for up to $350,000 each. WeChat also allows galleries to obtain key demographic information about their followers, such as gender, age, and region.

During the pandemic, when galleries were closed and WeChat faced a ban in the United States, the American Alliance of Museums came to the app’s defense. The previous year, WeChat promoted virtual tours of nearly a dozen institutions, including the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, which saw a surge in visitation from Chinese tourists after reopening in 2019. Building a presence on networks like WeChat and TikTok is a boon for cultural institutions, but most lack the resources to experiment on the platforms. JiaJia Fei, a digital media strategist in the arts, cited “the unpredictability of whether or not content will be accessible in the future” as a potential pitfall for cash-strapped museums in the event of a prohibition.

Screenshots of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco’s mini-program on WeChat’s “Museum in the cloud” experience

China’s propensity for censorship and propaganda casts doubt on the feasibility of WeChat. As the app becomes more popular around the world, the global reach of Chinese surveillance methods is expanding. WeChat recently banned users who shared images of a pro-democracy protest in Beijing. Chinese tech companies store vast amounts of foreign user data, including millions of WeChat conversations, in a database connected to public security agencies. “The intent to keep people safe by building these systems goes away the minute you don’t secure them at all,” said Victor Gevers, co-founder of the nonprofit GDI Foundation, a data security collective open-source. NPR.

As the social media landscape shifts to a place where content is continually buried under impenetrable algorithms and users will soon be asked to pay to stay verified, exploring the possibilities of WeChat could be a strategic move to create a new audience. . “With all technology, it’s always up to each individual to choose their level of information sharing,” said Elena Soboleva, global head of online sales at David Zwirner. ART news. “The best thing to do is to be informed and aware of all applications.”

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