Two founders from NYC want to revolutionize the art fair experience and data management. MCH Group's Moenen Erbuer and Tobias Boonstoppel (from right to left) have developed PRNCPL, a new technology platform that connects fair organizers and collectors. An additional app uses image recognition to connect the physical artworks to the digital fair catalog. Art Düsseldorf is the first fair at which visitors can use the app. An interview with Moenen Erbuer, Head of Design & UX.
Moenen, you have developed a new app that will game-change the art fair experience. In what way?
The art fair experience hasn’t evolved much in recent years and the industry is ripe for sweeping digital innovation. The app plays off of the long-established habit of visitors and collectors alike, to photograph artworks and their labels for reference. Its most game-changing functionality is the ability to scan artworks (or their labels) to reveal information in real time. When photographing an artwork, the app will identify the piece and display its information, including a high quality image, the exhibitor’s contact details plus any additional information provided by the gallery, such as medium, dimensions or price. Although not every artwork is as easily recognized (particularly sculptures, videos or reflective works are challenging), visitors can also scan an artwork’s label to fetch its corresponding information.
You are bridging the gap between physical reality, the classic digital catalog and a digital experience. What are the benefits for collectors and galleries?
For collectors, the app offers a simple, easy interface to curate favorite works seen at the fair; at the same time providing the necessary details to connect with galleries before, during and after the show. It even provides the collector with a professional photo of the artwork, replacing poorly framed and badly lit mobile photos. The app makes it also easy for collectors or art advisors to share artworks with their clients, friends or social media followers. Galleries will benefit from the additional attention and the frictionless experience for collectors – all meant to assist galleries in the sales process.
Art Düsseldorf is the first art fair partnering up with you at which visitors can use the app. Are there any other partners?
We couldn’t have dreamed of a better partner to launch with than Art Düsseldorf’s inaugural edition. Walter and Andreas (the founders of AD) immediately understood the potential of this. India Art Fair, also part of the MCH Group's Regional Art Fairs will most likely be the next fair we partner with, and we’re in conversations with a number of other shows too.
The app is just an extension of PRNCPL, a new technology platform that you and your partner Tobias Boonstoppel have developed for the MCH Group. What's the idea behind PRNCPL?
PRNCPL is a new technology platform for the art industry. Its primary focus is to help art fairs manage their data, and to create the best possible digital experience for participating galleries, collectors and visitors. Art fairs form the pinnacle of the contemporary art market and there is a lot of opportunity for optimization and growth. We are now building out the digital infrastructure that allows these fairs to prosper, and we really aim to push the envelope of what’s possible. Of course it’s a top priority to help MCH Group's Regional Art Fairs, but we are thinking bigger picture. We want to move the entire industry forward.
PRNCPL came forth from Curiator, an art discovery platform I founded with Tobias and that was acquired by MCH in 2016. It is the business plan behind Curiator that we spun off as a separate project, to avoid confusing people. But in the end, it will be all connected and part of the same eco system.
What were the challenges involved in developing PRNCPL?
The data structure of the database system gets very complex. To build an incredibly complex system while making it look easy to use is quite a UX challenge. Regarding the app we couldn't use "out of the box" solutions for image recognition so we had to create our own engine, because we wanted it to work offline. This posed some technical challenges, and we spent a whole period doing just R&D with multiple prototypes trying out different things. Also the OCR (label recognition) came with its own set of challenges, where some characters are similar to other characters. All of this had to be solved on a very tight schedule.
> Download the app: www.art-dus.de/app
> Try out the image & label recognition: www.bit.do/art-dus-artworks
> See a preview: www.prncpl.com/app/preview
> PRNCPL press kit: www.bit.do/prncpl-press-kit