In 2014, after recognizing the art market’s slowness to embrace technology, the Azerbaijani venture capitalist Ulvi Kasimov decided to enter the field himself with the mission of ushering in a digital revolution. How? By creating a separate online domain infrastructure—like .gov for governmental agencies, or .edu for schools—that would allow art businesses to differentiate themselves, creating a new virtual district for the art market to flourish. That year, Kasimov, himself a collector of Azeri art, paid $25 million to outbid a clutch of rivals (including a combine of eFlux and DeviantArt) to secure the rights to administer the .art internet domain, Bloomberg reported.
So far, .Art has received about 15,000 registrations, and now hosts more than 3,000 live sites. Early adopters include major museums like the ICA London, the Louvre, the Tate, and the Centre Pompidou; galleries, including blue-chip bastions like Hauser & Wirth; and artists themselves, from Banksy to Shen Wei to Marina Abramovič to Shantell Martin. Other registrants include Beyoncé, the Bolshoi Theatre, luxury brands (Chanel, Cartier, and Rolex), and the designer Steven Miller. Also on board are the tech giants Apple and Google, and financial heavyweights like Inteza Sanpaolo and Bank of America Merril Lynch.
But can the last three letters of a URL really make a difference? And how will having a bespoke internet presence dictate the direction of the art market in the future? We spoke to Kasimov to get his take.
You won the rights to administer the .art domains from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Tell me about the bidding process, and what attracted you to invest in the online art market in the first place?
As an IT venture investor who has launched and developed a number of projects—from artificial intelligence search engines to an ecommerce company—I have always been interested in developing infrastructure because of the practical application and added value it provides.
I started analyzing various sectors lacking online infrastructure and through my art dealings I soon discovered that while technology had radically transformed daily life in most industries, the art market had been left behind. I saw the need and the opportunity for a project that could potentially bring about more freedom, increased transparency, greater choice, and build stronger community. After some deliberation and lots of research, I decided that the best way to approach the problem was through a domain-name industry.
So when I heard that ICANN, the internet governing body, was launching a program for new domain names, I applied for .art, which was the perfect focus to feed my interest in art and technology.
When the application process was completed in 2012, we found ourselves competing with nine other applicants. However, the process was well organized. We acquired .art through a private auction and since then, some of our former competitors have become our partners. Read more