Who will be the guardians of digital art?

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Next week will see the opening of the all-new Seattle NFT Museum (SNFTM), apparently the first physical space for displaying digital art and NFTs. It is founded by local entrepreneurs Jennifer Wong and Peter Hamilton, both of whom come from a technological rather than an artistic background. Thanks to a partnership with Samsung, the space, located in trendy Belltown, on the waterfront, features 30 high-fidelity digital screens and will feature digital works on loan from owners or primarily Seattle-based artists.

But why create a physical space for digital art? Shouldn’t such art – created on the Internet, which lives on the Internet – be shown in online museums? There are already many such “museums” in cyberspace, some more like sales platforms than real museums. A quick browse on my computer brings up an issue, of the Museum of Digital Life (which is currently on sale as NFT, price 8.88 ETH, around £ 25,200); at the “Beeple” B.20 museum on Cryptovoxels.

The answer has more to do with the traditional art world than you might think. It’s all about validation.

In the world of traditional art, there is a whole structure that endorses art: researchers, curators, museums, collectors, critics and art galleries. They are the “keepers” and their opinions are crucial for the acceptance of works of art and artists in the canon. And that also translates into value, and whether such works will hold their price over time.

But the sudden explosion of NFTs happened so quickly that no such validation structure had time to fall into place. There are a few NFT collectors out there, but their experience only goes back a few years, if this is true. Art historians, curators, gallery owners, few have in-depth experience in this new field and are not yet able to have a long-term vision of what is significant and what is not. The land is just too recent.

And yet, the very absence of custodians is celebrated in the digital world, allowing artists to bypass traditional structures to show and sell their works directly to collectors. They can also do without galleries entirely.

But sooner or later validation will be necessary. There is an overwhelming amount of digital art, most of it pretty terrible, some very good. Perhaps a new Raphael, Renoir or Rothko is among them; It is too early to tell.

If the prices paid are a few hundred dollars, then it is okay if a work loses all of its value. However, the danger is that with sky-high prices, as is the case right now, a lot of money could be lost when the market cools down, as I think will inevitably be the case.

Who will emerge as validators? Some online digital art museums such as DAM already present lectures, interviews, etc. More and more galleries like Pace are getting involved, and they have every interest in creating a structure that ensures the sustainability of the sector. But in doing so, they will increasingly reflect the world of traditional art, with the same system of curators, specialists, etc. So don’t dismiss the gatekeepers, for that matter, anytime soon.


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