By Johann König and Anika Meier: NFTs won’t go away. They have already left their mark in art history with Beeple's auction record at Christie's. Someone paid $ 69 million for a digital file, making Beeple the third most expensive living artist. The three letters ‘NFT’ stand for a revolution in art comparable to the ones that occurred with the arrival of the Impressionists or Duchamp.
Digital art has been around for decades, but only the current hype surrounding NFTs has allowed digital art to catch up with painting, sculpture, photography, and video. Thanks to NFTs, digital art can now be collected like painting and sculpture as there is digital proof of authenticity. There are, of course, still countless copies to be found across the Internet, but that is exactly where the value comes from. “In the past, the value arose from a shortage. Artists who do not upload their videos on the Internet may feel that meaning arises when they are seen in sacred spaces like a gallery. The opposite is the case. The more something lends itself to memes, the more it spreads, the more cultural capital it receives. And the more it becomes part of society,” the artist Jon Rafman said at the DLD Conference 2019 in an interview with the star curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
That is the reason why we presented a digital solo show by Andy Kassier entitled NEVER NOT WORKING, ALWAYS LOVING on the ground floor of KÖNIG GALERIE in Decentraland. A picture is worth a thousand words. The Internet has internalized this saying. Instead of words, GIFs and memes are often used to express a feeling. Kassier helps web surfers with a series of GIFs that get up to 250 million views and a total of 850 million views in the online database and search engine Giphy. In the exhibition, his ten most successful GIFs were shown in the manner of an endlessly repeating flip book.
In April 2020, KÖNIG DIGITAL, the virtual gallery space, was launched with the aim of creating experiences online. The digital visitor enters the exhibitions via the app KÖNIG GALERIE. KÖNIG DIGITAL presents digital solo and group shows by new media artists and artists experimenting in virtual space. SURPRISINGLY THIS RATHER WORKS by Manuel Rossner was the first digital solo show, it is both a spatial intervention in and a virtual expansion of the physical gallery.
SURPRISINGLY THIS RATHER WORKS shows a series of digital objects that form a course, which the visitor can explore by means of an avatar. Rossner transforms the brutalist church St. Agnes into a gaming environment inspired by the 1990s game show AMERICAN GLADIATORS and by so-called gyms that are used for cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence by companies such as OpenAI in San Francisco.
Things that are impossible in physical space become possible in the digital environment. In the latter, a treadmill breaks through the floor and the back wall of the nave of St. Agnes. A huge yellow sculpture sprawls like a plant through the stairwell all the way up to the church tower. An amorphous object made up of blue and pink bubbles spreads out beneath the ceiling of the church. Smooth algorithmic material takes over the austere brutalist structure.
Rules that normally apply in exhibition spaces have been suspended in this digital environment. Whereas visitors are typically warned not to touch the artwork, they are now asked to “please interact.” Using the navigation on their smartphone displays, visitors steer the avatar through the gallery with the commands “Walk”, “Jump”, and “Look.” Accordingly, the avatar runs and jumps over large boulders that lead up to the ceiling of the nave, where two more objects need to be traversed before it enters the amorphous sculpture. Another jump – and the avatar runs on, into the blue bubbles, up an enormous yellow sculpture, turning round and round, ascending ever higher until it reaches the very top. After yet another leap, the avatar returns to the floor of the nave, where the digital visitor can explore paintings and sculptures by Rossner. The invitation to interact with these works of art also means that the visitor is allowed to knock them over.
We opened our second virtual exhibition space in April 2021 through a gallery outpost in DECENTRALAND, a virtual world based on the blockchain. KÖNIG in DECENTRALAND is our fourth gallery location; our other locations are in Berlin, London, and Seoul. I have been interested in blockchain for several years, and so it was a logical step for me to be present with the gallery in the Metaverse. Since we have been involved with digital art for a while, we were offered a piece of virtual land in Decentraland by the art collector and crypto enthusiast Shahin Tabassi that he had bought. He is interested in bringing the art world to the NFT space. Manuel Rossner, an artist and 3D-architect, transformed the brutalist architecture of the former church St. Agnes, designed by Werner Düttmann and Arno Brandlhuber, in a 3D model and placed it in Decentraland. Digital art is presented in a genuine environment, and the visitors get to experience digital art in a gallery space. How can art become an experience online as well as offline? How do artists use spaces in which visitors experience something unexpected?
THE ARTIST IS ONLINE
Our first show was THE ARTIST IS ONLINE. DIGITAL PAINTINGS AND SCULPTURES IN A VIRTUAL WORLD. Among others, it featured Jonas Lund, Anne Vieux, Mario Klingemann, Zach Lieberman, Keiken, Thomas Webb, and Addie Wagenknecht. Artists such as Manuel Rossner, Banz & Bowinkel, and Mario Klingemann are among the pioneers in the field of digital art, especially with regard to exploring the possibilities of using new technologies in the artistic production process.
We are planning to keep mounting exhibitions in Decentraland. The next six months are already planned, all of them with associated NFT drops. But we also focus on the traditional role of a gallery and therefore focus on what galleries do, which is making exhibitions. Online, things are possible that wouldn’t be possible offline – for example, a constantly bursting sculpture.
Enter SURPRISINGLY THIS RATHER WORKS here.