After centuries of "business as usual," traditional art houses like Sotheby’s and Christy’s began exploring new digital asset classes, particularly NFTs, just prior to the 2021 crypto bull run. According to Forbes, Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart hadn’t heard of NFTs in the fall of 2020 but he was intrigued, saying “he didn’t know what was going to happen over the next 12 months.” Of course, we saw what happened: From the fall of 2020 to the fall of 2021, Sotheby’s posted its highest-grossing year ever, according to Fortune — boosted specifically by millennial art sales and NFTs. Sotheby’s now curates and hosts regular online NFT auctions, undoubtedly expanding its reach and accessibility for collectors all over the world, even those outside of major cities and art markets. And, of course, curation has changed, with the influence of digital art changing our definitions of “art” and aesthetic tastes.
[Web3 is] a movement of all creativity towards the digital realm. It's an exciting evolution that fits into the story of art. We spend so much of our time in digital spaces and online. It's just so exciting to see innovators and just follow along and see what they're doing. I'm about supporting emerging artists and doing shows and virtual worlds and interviews to try and promote people who are doing, thinking and creating art.
I'm an AI collaborative artist. I've co founded Accelerate Art (A2) with Ben, which does focus on promoting emerging artists and also pushing forward art as a medium in general for the space and getting it in front of some traditional galleries. I'm really excited to talk about emerging mediums, AI and about traditional art structures today.
My partner and myself have run traditional art galleries for well over 10 years now. Our primary focus has been contemporary street art and pop up. We found the street and the pop up movements. There's there's a lot of similarities between these movements to the digital art and crypto movement. We've always tried to give artists a platform and somewhere to showcase and be seen as as true artists. So whether that was from the graffiti — or now turned highly acceptable and highly regarded street artists of the world. In 2018 we were already in the blockchain space. Our gallery was approached to help us see students in how to onboard artists with their artwork and provenance and to start documenting that process. So I guess we were all in at that point, in terms of of trying to make the connectivity between the artists and blockchain easier. We've always been public facing; we've always wanted to surround ourselves with incredible artists and start relationships with collectors, so it was a no-brainer for us to set up a digital gallery. I believe we were the first to have a digital art NFT exhibition in the world. Oshi Gallery has now only been open at the current location for four months now, but we've been having NFT exhibitions for two years.
My background is actually in urban planning and I think I had a funny way of entering Web3. I was on maternity leave and just had really big urge to paint canvases. That's really how I started and then I got comfortable sharing and working with different clients and galleries and really just put myself out there. Fast forward to now, I've got two kids. When I was on maternity leave last year, it was really hard to paint. So I tried to focus my whole year on just learning digital art — learning about AI through Claire's posts. Being in the same room as her chatting about AI, really exploring what Web3 can do for artists — it's just so exciting. So I feel like Web3 has really given me a new sound inspiration in the space, but also really, really excites me on how I want to explore further. I'm playing around with 3D animation, motion graphics and things I've previously haven't explored, while still painting canvases. The intersection between the two is something that really excites me.
My experience with traditional galleries before this was basically that I had none. I was making some physical pieces and I did have one local gallery that was interested, but I got into NFTs and kind of stopped drawing in that realm. I think that's part of the magic with NFTs and with this movement in general. First of all, you don't necessarily need traditional gallery representation. But if you do decide that you would like it or if you're approached and you would like to be part of it, there's an absence of gatekeeping — at least the perception of gatekeeping. I used to go into galleries and I would feel like I didn't belong there. You don't get that when you're online looking at galleries. In the NFT space — or now that galleries have started becoming more accepting and integrating NFTs — there's kind of this populism, I suppose, but in a good way. There's a decentralized level playing field. I think that is really special and it's one of my favorite parts of the space.
I can speak from many different sides here because I grew up as an artist. I also have been working with galleries and in the gallery scenes since I was in school. I showed at some of the biggest galleries in Victoria when I was 16. I also started curating exhibitions at that age as well. I come from a whole bunch of different sides, probably at least three there. I'm also a huge art collector. As a collector I always found there was a lot of judgment. I could walk into a fancy a gallery that was showcasing my friend's artwork, and I would go there with the intention on buying a piece for $8,000 or something and say hi to everybody, and just kind of never get any interaction back. I would leave feeling bad because I don't want to buy that work from that gallery because they just ignored me. I think a lot of traditional galleries have rested on their mailing lists. They've rested on the same 100 collectors to buy every single show. So I think with the NFT space, being able to connect with the artist is probably one of the most rewarding things, not only not having to pay exorbitant amounts of customs duties for artwork from overseas or huge amounts for storage insurance and stuff like that — but one thing I really noticed with traditional galleries was they didn't have a good enough relationship with the artists. That was kept separate because obviously they would want to retain management or wouldn't want you to purchase the artwork directly from the artist. As a gallery owner, I also wouldn't want that if I was showing the artists but I always want the artist to have a relationship with their collectors. I think it just strengthens the bond.
So I entered my first overseas group exhibition at the end of my year of maternity leave, and I sold nothing but the experience was a huge learning curve for me because I got to connect with a lot of experienced artists get their perspective. I connected with other curators who are based in Shanghai and got my physical artwork into those galleries. So I think that the connection is really important because unless you're there talking to the people, it's really hard for people to understand your art but also learn the story behind some of the art and the meanings behind it. That's something I feel like when I first jumped into Web3, it was hard for me to express but the good thing was that I got those connections.
Another example, which is good and bad, is that I applied for a merchant artists competition and got selected to be part of a group exhibition. And that's how I got a contract with a local gallery. But I think when you when you have the relationship with the physical gallery, I understand that they've got brick and mortar costs to pay. So the commissions that I paid for these artworks was really high. Like I paid up to 30% to 40% of every piece that I sold to them, which kind of really made me think. [Commission] is something that I'm willing to pay, but materials are expensive, so [I ask myself] what's the volume of artwork I actually want to give them versus the one that I sell myself?
So I think for artists who are new or entering the space, it's really important for you to build your own brand because that's what customers are going to connect with. That's how you're going to tell your story because a lot of the pieces I sold through that gallery, I actually don't know who owns them, and I really wish to have a conversation with them and explain the influences and inspirations behind the work. Some of the stories are really beautiful. It's hard to reach out to these buyers when you go through a third party. So I don't feel like you have to be one or the other, but I think ultimately it comes down to yourself and the work you put in because you [as an artist] really are a small business.
I would probably echo Joy. I'm also thinking about scarcity. I do know lots of people who either work for galleries or are represented by galleries. And a lot of the time it's just hard for them to make money. It's hard to put limits around how many artists they can represent. Just having physical space is a limiting factor, versus [selling art on] the internet. So I think scarcity is a big theme around my experience with with traditional art galleries.
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This is not financial advice. If you don't want to spend money investing in crypto or Web3 — you don’t have to. The intent of this article is to help others educate themselves and learn.