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The Exhibit: Taking the exhibition experience online

Zinnia O'Brien, Co-founder of The Exhibit
Jarrah Robertson, Co-founder of The Exhibit
The Exhibit
Zinnia O’Brien is the co-founder of The Exhibit, a soon to be launched online art exhibition platform. She talks to us about the evolving art market, and her inspiration and vision for the site


According to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report, online art sales in 2015 reached $3.27 billion, increasing by 24% year over year. A study commissioned by Invaluable found that in the US, nearly a quarter (22.7%) of art buyers find new works of art via social media, edging out museums (20%) and galleries (15.9%) as the primary way to discover art.

The online art industry is booming, and for art enthusiast Zinnia O’Brien and her tech savvy husband Jarrah Robertson, it’s the perfect time to launch their game-changing addition to the art world – The Exhibit.

Originally from Christchurch, and with a Master of Museum Studies, Zinnia has spent the last eight years working in Sydney at the Art Gallery of NSW and Sydney Living Museums. Now that she’s back home and no longer working in the art space, Zinnia said she misses her connection to that world and relies on social media to keep up to date.     

“Frustrated by seeing all the amazing art and exhibitions being promoted on Instagram and design blogs, but being unable to experience them in person or to collect the pieces I fell in love with, I looked to see how I could solve my problem without buying a plane ticket to Australia (or London, New York, or Berlin) every month.”

The Exhibit is Zinnia’s solution – an online exhibition platform she is currently developing with her husband where curators and artists are able to curate compelling exhibitions online, share them to social media, attract global audiences, and sell original artwork - all without needing to find an exhibition space or cover the overheads traditionally involved with exhibiting art.

“Our vision is to remove the barriers faced when exhibiting art and in doing so, rethinking the need for gallery representation and disrupting the traditionally elitist role of the art dealer.”

While the internet offers plenty of art sales and auction sites, Zinnia and Jarrah’s concept of an online exhibition space is a first. While The Exhibit will still be an e-commerce site of sorts, Zinnia says their focus is definitely “experience first, shopping second."

In contrast to other art sales sites, where pieces are listed until sold, The Exhibit will function much like a bricks and mortar exhibition – minus the wine and cheese – temporary duration, an opening night, wall blurbs and a title wall. The digital nature of the concept though allows for global audiences, and a chance to connect with audiences who wouldn’t ordinarily feel comfortable in a gallery space.

By creating an online format that allows art collectors to preview the exhibition before it opens, Zinnia says art collectors will be able to experience the full impact of the exhibition, pick their favourites, and be online at the advertised opening time ready to purchase.

“We’re aiming to give artists and curators another tool in their belt to reach their audience online, while also allowing art lovers and collectors to experience exhibitions in an engaging and captivating way, no matter where they’re located in the world.”

An artist I spoke to recently divulged the black and white reality of the costs associated with putting on an exhibition. Once the gallery commission and freight costs were factored in, the artist walked away only just breaking even – even though the show was sold out. So from this perspective, an offering like The Exhibit (which is free to use, and takes a 10% commission on sales) truly is a game changer for artists – providing they have the marketing skills to promote their exhibition.

The Exhibit is currently generating early bird interest and crowdfunding in preparation for its official launch in early 2018. Zinnia and Jarrah are aiming to raise $85,000 by November 30. At the time of writing, they had reached 31% of their total target. “Our sign-ups are growing rapidly and we are receiving very encouraging feedback from our audience thus far.”

To contribute to their project visit