SuperRare, a digital art market on the Ethereum blockchain powered by the RARE token, opened its first pop-up gallery on May 19 in SoHo, the historic New York City neighborhood known internationally for its affinity for artists and their artwork.
The gallery's opening is a prime example of the metaverse, a digital reality that exists both in people's collective imaginations and in a network of computer nodes. It, too, seeks to leave its physical footprint on art history.
The brightly lit, two-story exhibition, curated by An Rong and Mika Bar-On Nesher, focuses on works by 15 SuperRare artists that explore sci-fi and cyberpunk, themes essential to the idea and concept of the "metaverse." The gallery, which is open to the public through August 28, aims to revolutionize the way we interact with art in an increasingly digital age.
SoHo's child, SuperRare's first.
Before SoHo welcomed a virtual world, it rose to fame in the 1960s, when artists flocked to the neighborhood, lured by its open spaces, large windows and cheap rents. In the decade that followed, the area, once known for its industrial workforce and influx of businesses and artists, was plagued by displacement, forcing some of its residents to move out.
Despite turbulent conflicts and divisions, this did not stop SoHo's development. Today, the coveted neighborhood is an ideal place to explore the meaning of art.
Visions from Remembered Futures is the first marketplace to take place in the real world. In the past, SuperRare's artwork was on display in a seventh-floor gallery in Decentraland's Metaversum, a 3D-based platform where users can buy virtual properties.
The digital marketplace has come a long way since it was once run by a four-person startup in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, New York. Before the gallery found a home on the bustling streets of SoHo, Jonathan Perkins, chief product officer, and John Crain, CEO, traveled Europe with backpacks full of iPads, building DIY gallery pop-ups wherever they could.
That experience gave them the impetus to take it a step further.
Perkins told CoinDesk at the gallery opening that "while digital is great and the metaverse is exciting, it's important to have physical places where people can come together and enjoy art."
"It makes the whole thing feel much more real," Perkins said.
But it's not just about the art, Crain adds. Physical spaces, and especially first-time exhibitions, give the public a chance to interact with the artists and learn more about them. "It humanizes their artistic process," he says.
While the duo did not disclose the cost of the gallery or the cost of the exhibition itself, Perkins noted that it is "certainly the most beautiful and highest quality exhibition."
NFTs Participate in Art Revolution.
Mika Bar-On Nesher, the exhibition's curator and production manager, sees a shift in the way non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are being used.
She compares this shift to her background in traditional art and explains one of the biggest misconceptions: For traditional art systems, combining NFTs with digital art "can actually be quite scary." In part because it empowers the artist.
"It revolutionizes existing structures in a way that has implications for the future," Nesher says. "It's not a trend, it's a revolution in the way we monetize and experience art."
Nesher's remarks come at a time when the burgeoning industry is shifting the conversation about what ownership can look like, what it can mean, and the ways in which cryptocurrencies play a role in disrupting the financial status quo.
Flowty founder Michael Levy recently alluded to a similar point during the CoinDesk Road to Consensus "The Future of NFT Investing" Twitter Spaces. Levy notes that "it can be dangerous to take old-school valuation approaches from older technologies or from previous generations of collectibles and commodities and apply that kind of valuation thinking to future projects."
An Rong, the exhibition's lead curator, found that new technologies associated with NFTs were more of a reason to organize the exhibition.
Her first experience with NFTs came after she graduated with a degree in museum studies earlier this year. She jokingly recounts a conversation with a friend and Ethereum researcher who said that "blockchain could solve everything."
We're moving into the future.
The NFT industry in general is expected to continue expanding in droves.
In January, banking giant Jefferies revised its market capitalization for NFTs to more than $35 billion for 2022. It predicts the industry will be worth more than $80 billion by 2025.
Data from blockchain analytics firm Nansen shows that the total number of users buying and selling NFTs per week in 2022 is generally higher than the number of users in 2021.
While users can be classified as both buyers and sellers within the same week, the number of wallets that traded NFTs per week in 2022 was over 300,000, with the exception of the week that ended on May 16, 2022, possibly due to the lingering effects of the collapse of Terra's UST stablecoin.
In comparison, the week ending December 20, 2021, was the only week in 2021 in which the total number of users trading NFTs exceeded 300,000 wallets.
The increase in wallet activity in 2022 compared to wallet activity in 2021 indicates continued enthusiasm and interest in NFTs.
Meanwhile, an estimated $240 million worth of NFT-based digital artwork was bought and sold on the SuperRare marketplace. Artists earn from both the original sale and the resale.
Getting in meant changing the narrative.
When NESSgraphics finished his digital studies at the University of Connecticut, he felt stuck in a repetitive cycle. He wanted out, often skipping class for days at a time. But for good reason, which his professors, though tired, supported.
"I realized that if I just keep doing what I'm doing, I'm going to get spit out with everyone else and basically be just another number," NESSgraphics told CoinDesk at the gallery opening.
He turned to social media and began posting his artwork on Instagram, where he caught the attention of music industry executives. At the time, creating graphics for pop-rock band Imagine Dragons seemed more his thing. And so he pursued the unknown.
But the unknown was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic that destroyed the live music industry. And although NESSgraphics helped produce art for other prominent artists like Megan Thee Stallion, "streaming shows weren't the same." In 2020, NESSgraphics stumbled upon SuperRare and dove in.
Instead of creating visuals based on someone else's ideas, as he had done in the live music industry, NESSgraphics was able to work on projects for longer periods of time while earning a higher income through NFTs and SuperRare.
Five weeks of work creating images for Imagine Dragons, for example, earned him $18,000.
In terms of annual income, NESSgraphics was making six figures a year, or about $120,000, before he joined NFTs.
Sure, that was good, but NFTs are more lucrative. "You can make that in a day," he said, in addition to back-end royalties.
Take, for example, "R4G3QU1T," a unique NFT that NESSgraphics coined on SuperRare a month ago. A user calling himself "artifaction" bought it nine days ago for 55 ETH, about $115,032.
NESSgraphics' story is unique in that there is no other NESSgraphics, nor is there any other "R4G3QU1T." NFT, and yet his experiences in both the physical and digital worlds reflect the general mood of empowering and celebrating artists who specialize in digital creations.
"This is a new chapter in galleries," Rong said after the exhibition.