Artists bring NFTs to life through immersive IRL experiences
On May 5, thousands of people packed the streets around renowned architect Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Batlló in Barcelona, Spain. However, it wasn’t the typical horde of tourists – viewers from near and far gathered to experience digital artist Refik Anadol’s dynamic work projected onto the facade of the UNESCO World Heritage site.
The show left an impression on the audience in a way that went beyond the colorful visuals. The emotional response to the sensory spectacle came from the large number of attendees – both Web3 natives and those completely unfamiliar with crypto – who showed up to see a public display of art on the chain together.
There are many barriers to entry into NFT and digital art creation. Simply setting up a wallet and funding it with cryptocurrency is enough to turn off most newcomers before even trying to buy or sell an NFT piece of art. Instead of trying to engage the masses through complex technology, many in Web3 focus the conversation on the art itself and create delightful experiences that welcome exploration.
“You have to show art that is absolutely, positively worthwhile when you grab a passerby’s attention. It’s not about converting museum-goers, but rather the office commuter on a tight schedule,” AC, head of generative art at the 6529 NFT Fund (which owns the “Living Architecture” NFT) told CoinDesk. “Digital and multimedia art has the ability to a viewer where a canvas can be physically limited, and that’s how you bring people into NFTs.”
Head of Digital Art Sales at Christie’s Sebastian Sanchez told CoinDesk that digital art requires flexibility and invites artists to be creative about how they display their work and engage with audiences.
“Artists may have instructions on how they want to display their art, but you can put it on a projector, you can put it on the screen, you can print it, you can put it on your computer … there are endless ways to showing it on digital art, which I think is the exciting part and kind of lends itself to this fluid nature,” Sanchez said.
Susannah Maybank, CEO of digital art marketplace Tonic, noticed a core problem in the early days when she founded her Web3-native company: The growing appetite for NFT art was missing a real-life component.
“We started with a lot of customer research to find out what were their priorities, what were they hesitant about?” Maybank told CoinDesk. “And this utility of display was a recurring theme where people really valued the ability to live and appreciate art in their homes and in their lives.”
When a collector purchases an NFT from Tonic, they also receive a physical derivative of the work to own and display IRL. Maybank said this consumer model encourages more collectors to appreciate the art rather than just collecting it for market value or promised utility.
“When you’re looking at something on a screen with a 12-inch MacBook, you lose so much and it’s such a pale experience,” Maybank said. “When you’re in a room with people, you feel the energy, you’re able to meet the artist and that’s when you really get to experience the work as it was intended.”
J. Douglass Kobs, CEO and founder of digital art marketplace and residency program Wild, told CoinDesk that their mission is to expand opportunities for art collectors by creating experiences that transcend physical boundaries.
Wild is building out its Wildverse, an art-oriented metaverse that aims to bring communities together in a digital space where they can discuss their work, see their counterparts’ creations, and learn how to build art collections on-chain. Kobs said Wildverse also aims to help onboard new users, “to welcome people with open arms” as they explore new mediums to create art.
“I really felt that if we could start engaging more senses, then you can connect with people in a completely different way as an artist because you’re trying to build an emotional connection and you’re trying to convey a message,” Kobs said. “My top priority is not ‘how can I print this and put it on the wall?’ but rather ‘how can I enable artists to connect with their collectors in ways that weren’t possible before?’
As creators and collectors continue to find new ways to make art on the chain more accessible, museums and galleries around the world have slowly begun to embrace digitally native art collections.
Beyond viewing digital art in galleries, startups like Bright Moments allow collectors to be part of the art-making process.
Bright Moments has brick-and-mortar gallery locations in Berlin, London, Mexico City, New York, Venice, and Tokyo, and holds in-person events year-round in the six locations. It also has its own NFT collection, CryptoCitizens, which gives holders access to Bright Moments DAO – a decentralized community that can vote to decide which Bright Moments venue will host the next event.
Brougkr, a full-stack engineer at Bright Moments, told CoinDesk that a unique part of every Bright Moments event is that the artists and collectors get to stand in the same room to see their NFT minted and the art made for the first time.
“It’s such a beautiful moment to be able to watch unfold in real time, to see the culmination of an artist’s work and all the time and energy they put into the algorithm to create the collection,” Brougkr said.
Christie’s Sebastian Sanchez said that while NFT art is attracting Web3-native buyers, more “traditional” art collectors are starting to see real value in the space.
“The majority of people who walk through our halls and galleries in New York are ‘traditional’ customers, so they are non-NFT people who are seeing this art for the first time, and I think that’s great,” he said. “The value of digital art is almost equal to the idea of owning it and the idea of loving it.”
Andre O’Shea, an NFT artist and animator who uses artificial intelligence (AI) in his practice, told CoinDesk that the definition of art continues to evolve through NFTs.
“I grew up watching film, TV and animation as art. So when I see NFTs and digital art becoming more popular to display, it feels like a natural progression,” said O’Shea. “Our world is increasingly digital, so our art should be too.”
Auguste Wibo, a pseudonymous NFT artist who has participated in the Wild residency program, told CoinDesk that art has historically reflected the cultural zeitgeist, which now demands NFT representation. When he experiences art, he believes the context is as important as the content.
“Museums have a responsibility to tell these stories,” Wibo said. “Whether it’s AI or the algorithms behind these new pieces that galleries are showing, they reflect our time and that will be very interesting to observe in context with pieces from the past.”
And like expensive works of art hidden away from the public, Wibo noted the importance of pulling rare NFTs out of digital storage and inviting everyone—not just the ultra-rich—to experience them.
“It’s not just expensive NFTs that are kept behind closed doors – very expensive physical art will likely never be seen by the public and only enjoyed by private collectors or institutes,” Wibo said. “There’s a long way to go before both mediums are considered equal, so it’s important to push digital art in front of non-crypto natives to educate viewers.”