WASHINGTON • For US$25 million (S$35 million), Mr Ulvi Kasimov could have bought a Picasso to enjoy or flip in a few years. Instead, the London- based businessman has spent that amount on something much less tangible: an Internet domain.
His company, UK Creative Ideas, outbid nine rivals to win the contract to operate ".art", a new, top-level domain he hopes will create digital infrastructure for the international art community: individuals, organisations and, eventually, art objects.
Starting on Wednesday, when the general availability period begins, anyone will be able to acquire a domain name with an .art extension for as little as US$15. "I am convinced that the future is at the intersection of art, finance and digital space," Mr Kasimov, 47, said in a recent interview in New York.
The pitch is that .art instantly creates an identity aligned with the art world. During the preferred access period, which launched in December, more than 2,000 domains were purchased on .art by cultural organisations, tech companies, luxury brands and banks.
Instagram.art, Rolex.art and Beyonce. art were snatched up.
Chinese choreographer and painter Shen Wei said that acquiring shenwei.art allowed him to differentiate from others because his name "is not uncommon in China".
But not everyone is on board. Mega dealers such as Mr Larry Gagosian have not registered yet. Others who did buy domains are unsure they will need to use them.
New York's Metro Pictures Gallery, which represents star artists such as photographer Cindy Sherman, had to buy its domain name, metro pictures.com, from a speculator years ago. So when .art version became available, it pounced, even though it has no immediate plans to switch to the new site.
Mr Kasimov is part of a new trend in the domain universe. Traditional domain extensions - .com or .net - do not express a personal vision or institutional mission.
So when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) launched a special programme to expand the domain name system, it received 1,930 applications during a brief window in 2012.
More than 1,000 extensions have been rolled out, resulting in about 28 million new domain names registered worldwide, according to the Domain Name Association.
You will find .law as well as .mom and .shop. Some names have sparked bidding wars, selling for millions of dollars at special auctions. For example, .web fetched US$135 million at auction, according to Icann.
For Mr Kasimov, who owns a large collection by Azeri artists, .art is about much more than marketing. "The art market lacks basic infrastructure and standards that exist in any other business," he said. "It's hard to create cash flow."
In 2010, he paid about US$4.4 million for 32 works on paper by 19th- century Russian artist Karl Bryullov. He then set up a mutual fund whose asset was the collection. The fund was listed on the Moscow Stock Exchange and investors could buy shares for as little as US$10,000, he said. He did not sell any.
Part of the problem was that people did not understand what they were investing in.
With an .art domain name, he hopes that a level of public certainty will be brought to provenance, ownership and value. "You can use the title technology in connection with cultural objects," he said. "It will remain there forever."