SuperRare, a digital art marketplace on the Ether blockchain powered by RARE tokens, debuted on May 19 in SoHo, a historic New York City neighborhood known internationally for its affinity for artists and their artwork.
The gallery’s opening is a prime example of a metaverse, a digital reality that exists both in people’s collective imagination and in a network of computer nodes. It also looks to establish its own physical footprint in the history of art.
This piece was part of CoinDesk’s Metaverse Week
The brightly lit, two-story exhibition, curated by An Rong and Mika Barn Nesher, centers on the work of 15 SuperRare artists dealing with science fiction and cyberpunk, themes integral to the idea and concept of “meta-space. The gallery, which will be open to the public until August 28, hopes to revolutionize our relationship with art in an increasingly digital age.
SoHo’s child, SuperRare’s first
Before SoHo welcomed the virtual world, it made its name in the 1960s when artists flocked to the gallery, lured by its open spaces, large windows and cheap rents. By the next decade, the area, once known for its industrial jobs and influx of businesses and artists, was plagued by displacement, prompting some tenants to move out.
Despite the tumultuous conflicts and divisions, this did not stop Soho from thriving. Today, this coveted neighborhood is the ideal place to explore the meaning of art.
Visions from a remembered future are the market’s first real-world experience. In the past, SuperRare’s artworks have lived in the seventh floor gallery of the Decentraland metaverse, a 3D-based platform that gives users the ability to purchase virtual plots.
This digital marketplace has come a long way from the four-person startup that once operated out of a coffee shop in Brooklyn, New York. Before the gallery found a home on the busy streets of SoHo, Chief Product Officer Jonathan Perkins says he and CEO John Klein would travel around Europe with backpacks full of iPads, building DIY galleries where they could.
That experience gave them the leverage to go further.
Perkins told CoinDesk at the gallery opening, “While digital is great and meta-space is exciting, it’s important to have physical space to gather and enjoy art.”
“It makes the whole thing feel more real,” Perkins said.
But it’s not just about the art, Kline added. With a physical space, and more specifically, with a first-time exhibition, the audience has the opportunity to interact with the artists and learn more about them.” It humanizes their artistic process,” he says.
While the pair did not reveal the cost of the gallery space or the cost of putting on the show itself, Perkins did note that it was “certainly the most beautiful and rewarding production.”
From left to right. SuperRare Chief Product Officer Jonathan Perkins, CEO John Kline and Chief Technology Officer Charles Kline (Weston Wells)
NFTs join the art revolution
Mika Bar-On Nesher, curator and head of production for the exhibition, sees a shift in the way that non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will be used.
She compares this shift to her traditional art background and explains one of the biggest misconceptions. For traditional art systems, NFTs combined with digital art “can actually be quite a scary embrace. In a way, because it empowers the artist.
“It completely revolutionizes the structures that exist now 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 comments come as the burgeoning industry is changing the conversation about what ownership looks like, what it can mean and in what ways cryptocurrencies are playing a role in disrupting the financial status quo.
Flowty founder Michael Levy recently hinted at a similar idea in CoinDesk’s Road to Consensus “The Future of NFT Investing” Twitter space, where Levy noted that “taking an old-school approach to valuation from old technology or previous generations of collectibles and utility products and applying that valuation thinking to future projects. This can be dangerous.”
An Rong, the exhibition’s senior curator, finds that new technologies go hand in hand with NFTs and are even more of a reason to hold exhibitions.
Her first experience with NFTs came after earning a degree in museum studies earlier this year. She jokingly shared a conversation she had with a friend and Ether researcher who suggested that “blockchain can solve everything.”
Into the future we go
The broader NFT industry is expected to continue to expand in droves.
In January, banking giant Jefferies revised the market cap of NFT to more than $35 billion in 2022. It predicts the industry will be worth more than $80 billion by 2025.
The total number of users buying and selling NFTs each week in 2022 is typically higher than those in 2021, according to blockchain analytics firm Nansen.
Weekly NFT wallet activity (Nansen)
While users may be categorized as buyers and sellers in the same week, the number of wallets trading NFT per week has been greater than 300,000 during 2022, except for the closing week of May 16, 2022, which may be due to the lasting effects of Terra’s UST stablecoin collapse.
In contrast, the closing week of December 20, 2021 was the only week in 2021 where the total number of users trading NFT exceeded 300,000 wallets.
The increase in wallet activity in 2022 is tied with wallet activity in 2021, suggesting continued enthusiasm and interest in NFT.
Meanwhile, SuperRare’s marketplace has seen approximately $240 million worth of activity in buying and selling NFT-based digital art. Artists generate revenue through original sales and resales.
Getting in meant changing the narrative
For NESSgraphics, completing his digital research at the University of Connecticut left him feeling trapped in a sort of repetitive cycle. He wanted to get out of it and often skipped classes for days at a time. But there was a reason for that, and his professors, weary as they were, supported him.
“I realized that if I kept doing what I was doing in these classes, I was going to get spit out with everyone else and essentially just be another number,” NESSgraphics told CoinDesk at the gallery opening.
He turned to social media and began posting his work on Instagram, where he caught the attention of music industry executives. At the time, producing graphics for pop-rock band Imagine Dragons seemed more his speed. With that, he pursued the unknown.
But that unknown world was plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, which destroyed the live music industry. While NESSgraphics helped other well-known artists produce artwork, such as Megan Thee Stallion, “streaming performances are not the same”. By 2020, NESSgraphics stumbled upon SuperRare and dove in.
Instead of creating visuals based on other people’s visions, as he had done while working in the live music industry, NESSgraphics was able to work on projects longer through NFTs and SuperRare to create a higher level of income for himself.
For example, in five weeks of work creating visuals for Imagine Dragons, only $18,000 came into his pocket.
In terms of annual income, NESSgraphics was earning up to six figures, or about $120,000 a year, before moving on to NFTs.
Sure, that’s great, but NFTs is more lucrative. You can make that money in a day,” he says, “plus there’s the royalties in the background.
Take “R4G3QU1T.” for example, a unique NFT that NESSgraphics minted on SuperRare a month ago. a user named “artifaction” bought it nine days ago for 55 ETH, or about $115,032.
“R4G3QU1T”. (NessGraphics, SuperRare) (NessGraphics)
NESSGraphics’ story is unique because there is no another NESSGraphics, nor another “R4G3QU1T.” NFT, however, his lived experience in the physical and digital worlds reflects the larger sentiment that artists who specialize in digital creation are empowered and celebrated.
“This is a new chapter for the gallery,” Rong said after the exhibition.
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