So far the institutions have been reticent. But now there are three serious museums exhibiting the work of two very prominent digital artists working with NFTs.
Let’s remind ourselves that NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are certificates of digital ownership inscribed in a perennial and secure way using blockchain (a form of technology that stores encrypted information). NFTs are seen as the ideal solution to the problem of reproducibility in digital creation. In March 2021 the American artist Beeple (born in 1981) made headlines for selling a compilation of 5000 of his digital images at Christie’s for 69 million dollars. I interviewed him on this occasion.
But much more interestingly, in 2021 the same Beeple created what is being called a “phygital” artwork: one that is simultaneously digital and physical. In a kind of oscillating aquarium made up of four rectangular screens, “Human One” features an astronaut walking through a series of backdrops in perpetual metamorphosis, remotely operated by its creator.
This work, reminiscent through its imagery of Giacometti’s “L’homme qui marche” (Walking Man), is displayed at Castello di Rivoli museum in Turin, alongside a portrait by Francis Bacon from 1956-1957 not far from a futuristic work by Giacomo Balla from 1915 (See here the interview of the buyer of Human One, Ryan Zurrer).
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev has a proven track record in the art world with her direction of Documenta in 2012 and the Istanbul Biennale in 2015, among other things. Today she is director of the Castello di Rivoli. She strongly believes in it: “In Bacon’s painting, like in Beeple’s sculpture, there’s a kind of existential box in which the figure is enclosed. Beeple is a Warhol of our age.”
And when we point out the illustrative side of the images produced daily by Beeple she counters by saying: “Do you think Andy Warhol was accepted in his time when he first presented his Campbell soups?”
At the Centre Pompidou Metz, in the Grande Nef gallery space, director Chiara Parisi will soon be exhibiting “Machine Hallucinations, Rêve de nature”. This is an NFT taking the form of a gigantic installation by the Turkish artist who lives in Los Angeles Refik Anadol (born in 1985). 100m2 of moving images are made up of a synthesis of public data on nature and recomposed using artificial intelligence.
He spoke to me from his studio in Los Angeles: “I have been working with data for 14 years and I was part of the first generation of AI artists (artificial intelligence) in residence at Google. Data is everywhere. In six years I worked with 2 billion images. It’s a way of using humanity’s memory.”
Not everything is art in the NFT market
In his view, entering museums is a new and crucial step. With regards to the art market he thinks “not everything is art in the NFT art market”. He adds a sentence that could only be uttered by users of the Metaverse: “I love the physical world.”
Michelle Kuo at Moma
Last November Moma in New York brought Anadol onto its site but without buying a piece from him or giving him a physical space at the museum. “He deploys technology in an unprecedented direction,” justifies Michelle Kuo, who is a curator at Moma. “We are exploring new audiences.” Refik Anadol reveals that a new collaboration will be on display with Moma next November.
At the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, not far from the stunning exhibition dedicated to Renaissance sculptor Donatello, we also find Beeple and Anadol exhibited. Visitors seem hypnotized in front of the giant moving image by the latter, which plays sinuously with illusions of depth and texture. “We want to display unprecedented things,” concludes the director Arturo Galansino, who is not, however, prepared to make a statement on the future of these two artists who, in their own way, are already part of the history of our times.
-Refik Anadol. From 11 June to 29 August. https://www.centrepompidou-metz.fr/refik-anadol-machine-hallucinations-r-ves-de-nature
– Let’s Get Digital. Until 31 July. https://www.palazzostrozzi.org/en/
– Expressioni con Frazioni. Until 25 September. www.castellodirivoli.org
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