This weekend, gmw3 stopped by the Annka Kultys Gallery in London to view one of its most recent installations — a metaverse gallery titled Web 3.0 Aesthetics: In the Future Post-Hype of the NFTs. The programme, which showcased a total 27 animated and interactive NFTs, was curated by founder Annka Kultys for LaCollection.io — a new NFT marketplace that works with world-renowned museums and galleries across the globe.
The show, which allowed viewing of all 27 NFTs inside the metaverse, was accompanied by a three-part online auction — the first respective segment titled ‘Metamorphosis of the Body’. The following auctions, which will be shown later this year, will be titled ‘Digital Florascapes’ and ‘Digital Abstraction’. According to the official website, these trilogies have presented “the NFT aesthetics as a continuation of traditional art”, exploring “the historical bridge in these two apparently separated spaces”.
Using a Meta Quest 2, we were able to traverse a digital gallery built by Kultys — equipped with specialised rooms that housed each respective NFT. The NFTs ranged from still images to 3D animated segments — each one springing to life when digitally “approached” inside the metaverse. Notable featured artists included Black trans activist Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley, digital artist and animator Marjan Moghaddam and renowned avatar project LaTurbo Avedon.
In her own words, Kultys has noted the propensity for NFTs to focus more on interests, cultural outlooks or community goals, rather than the quality of the art itself:
“I have noticed that NFTs have created a focus on hype itself, rather than the art behind it, which was accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hype around the cryptographic token, the prices paid, and the novelty of the blockchain consumes all press coverage, not to mention private chat apps and online platforms. We don’t, however, talk about the digital art it points to, the conceptual work, the content, the art itself.”Advertisement
Throughout the programme, Kultys also calls us to question: what actually defines a good piece of art? While it might seem simple, it’s also a deeply complex question that has been raised many times throughout the course of art history.
If they’re counted as an art form, then NFTs are now statistically among some of the art world’s best-selling pieces (Beeple’s now infamous piece sold for a total of $69 million). However, this hasn’t prevented the quality of NFT art from being called into question. While much of the well-known artwork is certainly (or arguably) endearing in its own right, the general chunk of the most well-known NFT projects — including Bored Apes, CryptoPunks and CryptoKitties — don’t quite feature something you’d find on the average art collector’s wall.
In fact, many of these images have primarily been created through a programme that algorithmically randomises different traits (such as hairstyles, accessories, clothing items and skin colours). At the time of writing, creators don’t even need any preliminary coding knowledge — machines just take care of the work.
Moreover, the quality of NFT art has been so heavily debated by art communities as of late that in January of this year, five out of six community voters opted to exclude NFTs from any articles listing the most expensive artworks by living artists. One argument among voters was the idea that NFT technology is too new to be considered a viable art form. And if you ask J.J. Charlesworth, art critic and senior editor at ArtReview, Bored Apes can be summarised as a “collector aesthetic” that “isn’t aspiring to be great art.”
It might seem apt that the backlash against NFTs can be compared to previous aversions to modern art forms. Kultys, who is ever-aware of these trends, highlights how “abstract art has frequently baffled many people, largely because (unlike body and still nature) it seems unrelated to the world of appearances. Around 1910, several artists began to experiment with abstraction (Picasso, Cezanne and Braque). Today, we live in a world which generates abstractions. With the right software, an image on a screen can be morphed from figurative to abstract at the press of a key.”
Leading art experts have also weighed in on the visual calibre of popular NFT art, insisting that it appeals much more to cultural appeal as opposed to artistic integrity. According to J.J. Charlesworth: “Trying to apply art world standards to some NFTs is missing the point. A lot of the NFT market is based on collectables and there’s always been a visual culture in collecting — from comics, to trainers, baseball cards — that is very mainstream.”
With all the above taken into account, Kultys has done an excellent job at exploring “canonical themes within art history”, In her curatorial statement, she addresses her belief that “NFTs have created a focus on hype itself, rather than the art behind it”. By “examining the gap between the separated worlds of NFT and ‘traditional’ art”, she uses both the gallery’s Instagram account and her curatorial goals to compare her chosen NFT works with reputable classical and contemporary art pieces (including Sir John Everett Millais’ popular Pre-Raphaeliate gem ‘Ophelia’ and Marina Abramović’s performance piece ‘The Artist is Present’).
As we see a considerable expansion of Web3 technologies, we’ve now learned that both digital and crypto art has entered a first of many steps in progression. While crypto collectors and artists continue to work in the NFT space “without being aware of the rich art history that exists elsewhere”, she’s simultaneously raised the most important message of all: that “traditional art and NFTs are two sides of the same river — and to navigate from one side to the other we need bridges or to jump in the water”.