SuperRare, the digital art market on the Ethereum blockchain, recently opened its first physical space in NYC—a (literal) groundbreaking move, as it is one of the first NFT marketplaces to put a stake in the physical ground.
For now, this location will be a summer pop-up gallery, running from May 19-August 28 with rotating exhibitions featuring a mix of established, underrepresented, and emerging artists.
SuperRare has always been at the forefront of digital art curation, with the team carefully selecting which NFTs could be minted, curated, and sold on the platform. This process is the antithesis to Opensea or Makersplace, where any artist can mint and show their work. While SuperRare is not the first NFT gallery—Superchief changed its programming to focus on NFTs—it is the first one that began as a marketplace.
The first-ever NFT to be uploaded on SuperRare was Robbie Barrat's Nude Portrait #7, a work from his GAN machine-learning-powered nude series, which soared in value amid the NFT art craze. The color palette, illusion of brushwork, and discernible form give Barrat’s work a nineteenth-century feel. The fact that SuperRare chose to select this nude portrait—one with an art historical subject matter—to be its first minted artwork is significant. In effect, it positioned SuperRare as the premiere NFT platform and created an immediate connection linking NFTs to art history.
Arguably, this type of work stands in stark contrast to the early crypto art scene, which was dominated by cartoons and memes and by OG creators like CryptoPunks and CryptoKitties. Now, with SuperRare’a move from the digital, 2D realm into an IRL space, will the brand continue to be a pioneer in the ever-evolving Web3 space?
The inaugural show, Visions from Remembered Futures, was curated by SuperRare’s senior curator An Rong and associate curator Mika Bar-On Nesher. The exhibition includes 15 digital artists whose work portrays futuristic worlds with a hint of nostalgia. Some works visually seem close to the present day while others feel light years away; all convey elements of space, nature, and architecture and draw on sci-fi themes to create “cyberpunk landscapes” (as dubbed by the SuperRare curators).
All of the works are reminiscent of recognizable landscapes or architectural scenes but have the contemporary touch and look of a 3D-rendered space because the artists use diverse software programs like Unreal, Unity, Cinema 4D, and others to create the works. Some methodically handcraft their elements in 3D, while others pull content from premade assets, ultimately creating unique ideas of possible future paths. Some portray a future of ruins; others appear to have a more optimistic outlook.
One of the featured works is by Krista Kim, who presents her infamous Mars House depicting a virtual “Metaverse home” that follows Kim’s digital zen philosophy. The piece received international accolades and in March 2021 was the highest-grossing NFT sale on SuperRare.
I was impressed by this collection’s overall presentation of the NFTs, which is playful and dynamic. They utilize different display hardware, enabling a range of scale while showcasing the myriad ways NFTs can be displayed. In the very front of the gallery by the window, the first work a viewer comes into contact with is displayed on a massive LED wall—a very chic way to display art and is in keeping with gallery or museum standards.
Other artworks are displayed on signage monitors, which are traditionally used for retail or commercial display but have been repurposed by a vast majority of established digital artists in the last few years. Toward the back of the ground floor, a grid of Infinite Objects screens showcases an artwork. On the mezzanine, there is another group of artists, some of which are shown on the LAGO square screens.
Over time, it will be interesting to see which artists the different curators will decide to put on the different displays, and if the displays themselves will be moved around (deinstalling and re-installing can be an expensive endeavor).
By exhibiting the NFTs in a physical space, the curators create a dialogue among the pieces, which is a huge mental shift from just looking at NFTs on a webpage or in your wallet. In this space, viewers are able to contemplate works just as when they are at a gallery or museum. In fact, the space offers benches where people can sit and reflect and absorb the works, whether individually or with others.
In the spirit of having a decentralized community, the space will not only have SuperRare’s curators who organize exhibitions, but also other artists and independent curators. I am looking forward to the next show titled ICONS, curated by Nicole Ruggerio and Sam Clover (aka PLANTTDADDII) which will feature 16 artists and include work by the curators themselves. Apparently many of the artists chosen for ICONS were onboarded to SuperRare through its first show; it’s exciting to see the influence and impact creators are having in the space and the way they appear to be gaining authority.
Ruggerio and Clover informed me that their “curation embraces artists that have powerful voices, play a vital role in the LGBTQ+ community, and make artwork with a similar passion” as them. They went on to say “these are artists that have been brave enough to fight through diversity to support others in the LGBTQ+ community, they are all truly all iconic individuals.” This show, which begins on June 9, coincides with Pride month, and the team is “excited about this historical event and this rare opportunity to invite powerful queer artists to the NFT space.”
This, no doubt, will be another landmark show.
We saw a shift from the physical world to the digital sphere during the COVID pandemic, and now we’re moving back to the physical. I can’t help but wonder how this might change our understanding of NFTs and digital art at large. Can this IRL environment and the concept of rotating shows and curators foster new inspiration for creating and displaying NFTs? Perhaps it will even alter the future perception of NFTs for collectors—crypto and traditional alike.
Hopefully this IRL space aids in giving credence to the Web3 platforms, companies, and initiatives, while attesting to SuperRare’s dedication to legitimizing and advancing NFTs as art. It certainly builds their reputation as a cutting-edge art platform while helping to build and foster the recognition of artists, which is much needed.
SuperRare has become much more than a marketplace: it’s now a gallery, museum, and art market, all in one. I hope it begins to break down the semantics and antiquated vocabulary used to define “fine art” and demolishes differentiating between digital and physical, as well as fine art and digital art.