Digital artist, Jaen, published an NFT exhibition manifesto in October 2023 to assess the current shortcomings and propose directions to make this new art scene truly shine, through the 3 pillars of scenography, contextualisation & curation. The spontaneous write-up was born of a call with Teto, and enriched with a few suggestions from him and Lapin Mignon.
We, the digital artists, are grateful for having been exhibited worldwide over the past years - in events, galleries, museums, public spaces & more. However, in a time where tokenised art should reach out to - and convince! - the newcomers, the curious, the physical art lovers who don’t know yet how much they could fall in love with it, we are increasingly frustrated at the poor treatment given to pieces in exhibitions. Still dwelling in an avant-garde, we expect hiccups & mistakes, but it should have stepped up a while ago. Yet, it is merely vegetating in the laziest, least engaging & unwelcoming form without any sight of better tomorrows. Here is an assessment of the current shortcomings and what we propose to make this new art scene truly shine, reviewing the 3 pillars of scenography, contextualisation & curation.
📐 𝐒𝐂𝐄𝐍𝐎𝐆𝐑𝐀𝐏𝐇𝐘 🏛️
This is the digital art era. You’re tired of hearing “we’re early”? Well, we are. But how do we get to the next stage, where tokenised art is as ubiquitous as street art? By treating it properly & offering the stage it deserves.
👁 𝐂𝐫𝐚𝐦𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐫𝐭: stop. Get help. Look at yourself in the mirror. Who’s gonna appreciate - let alone remember! - one piece on a wall filled with a gazillion 1 cm² screens? And 5 seconds per piece on a screen once a day? Really? 𝐈𝐟 𝐩𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐪𝐮𝐢𝐜𝐤𝐥𝐲 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐮𝐦𝐞 𝐚𝐫𝐭 𝐞𝐧 𝐦𝐚𝐬𝐬𝐞, 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐬𝐨𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥 𝐦𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐚. If your exhibition is triggering the same ADHD mindset as scrolling X or Instagram, why should anyone come to your event? Physical exhibitions have to bring something else - get slower, get bigger, get deeper.
𝐺𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ 𝑝𝑖𝑒𝑐𝑒 𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑠𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑒𝑛.
𝐺𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ 𝑝𝑖𝑒𝑐𝑒 𝑒𝑛𝑜𝑢𝑔ℎ 𝑟𝑜𝑜𝑚.
👁 𝐑𝐞𝐬𝐩𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐚𝐮𝐝𝐢𝐨: Soundtracks are not a bonus, neither a side dish. They’re an integral part of the piece. You are lucky to be in a time and space where so many artists are multifaceted and good at it - honour it. If the artist says the audio layer is part of the piece, you’re basically mutilating the art by lazily omitting audio. There are many ways to remedy this, from the cheapest to the most expensive: QR codes (or other ways taking advantage of the viewer’s smartphone), headsets, enough room + sound-blocking curtains, directional speakers (you only hear the sound when you’re in the focus area, it's a real innovation absolutely made for us).
👁 𝐄𝐦𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐞 𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐢𝐭𝐲: if you want to show interactive art, it’s very easy to create a proper experience with a simple tablet. And guess what? People love touching art. People love to play. Make your event more memorable.
👁 𝐁𝐞 𝐜𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞: budget constraints can sometimes kill scenography dreams, granted. But still, think of all the ways you can show art: AR, VR, screens, old monitors from the 80s, 3D printing, screenprinting, flip books, etc. 𝑆𝑡𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑖𝑚𝑎𝑔𝑒𝑠 𝑎𝑠 𝑁𝐹𝑇𝑠 𝑑𝑜𝑛’𝑡 𝑛𝑒𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑏𝑒 𝑜𝑛 𝑎 𝑠𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑒𝑛. Yes, most of the time, the art is not shown big enough, we just outlined it indeed, but guess what? Smaller sizes can also fit certain spaces, works or exhibitions, but only if it does them justice. Not packed like sardines on a fence, or way too low for the eyesight of an adult.
🧠 𝐂𝐎𝐍𝐓𝐄𝐗𝐓𝐔𝐀𝐋𝐈𝐒𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐎𝐍 📚
This is perhaps the most frustrating item of this manifesto. 𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞. 𝐢𝐬. 𝐧𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫. 𝐚𝐧𝐲. 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐱𝐭𝐮𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐬𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧. Even for people who know the NFT space, who know where to find more information, should they want to, it’s not enough. Even worse, picture someone entering the exhibition - an absolute neophyte, but maybe they have the potential to turn into the most passionate digital art champion? They have never heard of digital art, and all they see is screens flashing random nonsense, zero context to cling on to make sense of anything. How do you expect anyone to take interest in tokenised art if you can’t give that someone the desire to discover some more? Where is the transmission of passion supposed to happen, exactly?
𝐆𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐱𝐭. 𝐓𝐞𝐥𝐥 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐢𝐞𝐜𝐞. 𝐄𝐱𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐢𝐭’𝐬 𝐝𝐨𝐧𝐞. It’s referencing a meme? Explain that meme. It’s using glitch? Explain succinctly what glitch art is. Stop throwing art in people’s faces and get away with “well, art should be enough on its own”, that’s unprofessional and lazy af.
G𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐚𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲 𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐧𝐚𝐦𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐚𝐫𝐭𝐢𝐬𝐭, 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐭𝐞𝐜𝐡𝐧𝐢𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐬, 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐲𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐭𝐢𝐭𝐥𝐞. I don’t understand why I have to write this in this manifesto, yet I've seen it so many times. Avoid putting QR codes onthe screen for that, or putting - leave the screen to the art, and print the information. 𝐘𝐨𝐮’𝐫𝐞 𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐠𝐨𝐧𝐧𝐚 𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐤 𝐚 𝐐𝐑 𝐜𝐨𝐝𝐞 𝐨𝐧 𝐚 𝐩𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠, 𝐰𝐞𝐥𝐥 𝐢𝐭’𝐬 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐭𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐭 𝐝𝐢𝐠𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐥 𝐚𝐫𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐚𝐦𝐞 𝐚𝐬 𝐚 𝐩𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠.
🤌 𝐂𝐔𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐎𝐍 🧪
💀 𝐏𝐨𝐩𝐮𝐥𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐬𝐭𝐬 (AKA “community curation” for the hypocrites): curating by number of likes is the laziest, shittiest form of curation, on top of being obviously won by botting in mâny cases. Then, hear again the most common rant in this space: “they’re always showing the same names everywhere.” It is not always true, but even so, said names sometimes also have a special treatment in terms of promotion, or packing the artist plebs on small screens while getting the superstar a huge one. Showing together lesser-known artists and popular ones is the perfect mix, but considering the former as a disposable mass is not going unseen, and does a disservice to your exhibition. As curator Yoda would say - show or do not show - there is no try to show.
💀𝐑𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐨𝐦 𝐜𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧: yo, Imma put whatever looks cool next to each other and because I like the artists, yo. Please, no. 𝑪𝒖𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝒊𝒔/𝒔𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒍𝒅 𝒃𝒆 𝒂𝒃𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒄𝒖𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒑𝒊𝒆𝒄𝒆𝒔 𝒕𝒐𝒈𝒆𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓, 𝒏𝒐𝒕 (𝒉𝒚𝒑𝒆𝒅) 𝒏𝒂𝒎𝒆𝒔. It should be themed, or tied around a common thread (exploring a common technique, a subgenre, a Meme, a colour, a specific era or place, etc.).
💀“𝐎𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐥𝐲 𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐜𝐢𝐬𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐦𝐞 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭 𝐝𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬, 𝐮𝐧𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐲”: this precise combo will have you show mainly raw AI prompts and disposable, shallow stylistic exercises. Many artists need more time to create something proper than 1 week - and that’s also relying on if they’re not working on something already and have the time. On top of it, you ask for unminted artworks and most of the time absolutely fail at helping sell anything at the show, so the artist goes home with a rushed embarrassment minted on the blockchain, you with no commission on sales and a forgettable exhibition, and attendees with a yawn. Make your themes less specific - or curate specific already made pieces, and forget about that obsession of the unminted. Then, maybe you will be buried under unsold gems that will raise the bar higher than you thought possible?
💀Correlated item: mind the difference between ASKING FOR A COMMISSION (a specifically tailored creation of an artwork that should be PAID, very often the case when requesting unminted art pieces with a very specific theme, ratio/format and short deadline to boot) and curating existing art. An artist creating art especially tailored to your needs without proper compensation is exploitation, no matter how you frame it. You don't ask your baker for a free custom baguette, and maybe respecting artists as much as your baker is a good starting point.
💀Collector curator: many shows delegate curation to (big) collectors. Some prove to be good curators, others are going extremely random in their choices, or sometimes lazily go for the most popular or expensive pieces. Maybe check and offer to advise them if needed, or invite them to articulate their choices in a certain direction from the start.
💀Casual woman representation: right now there are still a number of either women-only art shows or shows where women are very scarce. If you don’t want to bother getting absolute parity, fine, but at least make sure there’s not just one or two token female artists, it’s embarrassing.
💀Take footage of all pieces you show: it is truly disrespectful of being very selective on curation, putting tough deadlines, and then not giving the unattending artists any proof of exhibition (PoE™). They end up having no idea of what they contributed to, often no sales - they basically spent time & energy for a vague item to add to their CV.
🌞🌞🌞 TL;DR 🌞🌞🌞
Digital art deserves to be exhibited better. Being a relatively new boom or having budget constraints is not an excuse anymore - all one needs for their first steps is to be thoughtful, creative and long-termist. Do less but do it better. Digital artists are frustrated, but also motivated to make art truly shine - if you have doubts or lack ideas, pick their brain! They’ll be happy to help you go next level. Passionate curators & gallerists who want to do this the proper way and take the time to raise the bar, we support you, and we're available.
Let’s make the Digital Renaissance the host of innovative, amazing and compelling experiences of art.