Switzerland’s MCH Group, which owns the prestigious Art Basel, is turning to tech in its bid to stay at the top of the art-fair pyramid. Its new app, PRNCPL, is an attempt to create a “Shazam for art” specifically engineered for a fair context. It promises to let smartphone-wielding visitors to Art Basel’s partner fairs aim their phone at any artwork on view and call up all its details: title, artist, medium, gallery, and—in some but not all cases—price.

PRNCPL makes its debut this month at the first-ever Art Düsseldorf fair (November 17–19), which is set to come to the former factory complex Areal Böhler.

In a press release, PRNCPL co-founder Moenen Erbuer noted that “the art fair experience hasn’t evolved much in recent years,” adding that the industry is “ripe for sweeping digital innovation.”

artnet News gave the beta version of the yet-to-launch app a spin in our offices. Since Art Düsseldorf remains a few weeks away, we were limited to scanning hi-res artwork images from our computer screen.

In that limited and controlled situation, at least, it worked. Fairly quickly, the app loaded up all of the aforementioned info, albeit sans pricing information, for which it instructed us to contact the gallery for. (You can try out scans of the pictures embedded here after downloading the app.)

Though the technology did not strike us as particularly revolutionary feeling, it certainly will help eliminate some steps that are all too familiar to regular fairgoers, such as photographing both individual works and wall labels to keep track of potential favorites.

PRNCPL’s proponents list a variety of advantages offered by the app: its professional photo replaces “poorly framed and badly lit mobile photos”; the data within the app is easily shared; the “frictionless experience” of the app potentially increases gallery sales; and, since the image-recognition technology works entirely offline, it allows visitors to access contact information quickly, without any pesky data roaming charges.

The app’s co-founders concede that not every artwork at a fair will be easily recognized. In particular, sculptures, videos, and the ever-popular reflective works all present challenges. Read more