Cincinnati is getting its first NFT (non-fungible token) digital art exhibition this month.
Hosted by NFTxCincinnati – a group of digital artists, collectors and NFT enthusiasts UNFIT on February 25th and 26th at the Sample Space at The Banks with the mission to educate, create a welcoming space for the public to learn more about this tech-heavy concept and provide the tools and knowledge to participate. And of course collectors and artists present their art.
But how? Digital art and the trendy phenomenon of owning and trading it is not easy to understand for those who haven’t bought into the virtual communities, possibly because everything in virtual reality (or the metaverse) exists and thrives on and with comes with its own vocabulary. Currencies, market and culture. Consequently, most people literally cannot put their finger on it.
“A non-fungible token is really a way to prove ownership of unique digital items, and the history of that ownership is fully recorded on the blockchain,” it says UNFIT Co-curator Noah Beiting. “There are several blockchain technologies, but buying and selling NFTs is done exclusively with cryptocurrencies. There are also a variety of them, but the most popular for the NFT space is Ethereum.”
There’s an air of exclusivity too, considering the limelight is mostly focused on multi-million dollar sales. Arguably what sparked the mainstream status of NFTs was the $69 million sale of Everydays: The First 5000 Days, a collage by digital artist Mike Winkelmann, popularly known as Beeple. That was nearly a year ago, and since then, mainstream companies like Taco Bell, the NFL, and Coca-Cola have been making their own NFTs.
Now the global trend is catching on locally, a sign of longevity and an opportunity NFTxCincinnati has seized to bring it to our city, says Beiting.
Sample Space is a 7,000-square-foot “white-box experience,” says Beiting. It’s a venue that hosts pop-ups, weddings, and galleries. The exhibition includes a wall space with more than 20 televisions and digital screens ranging from 47 to 65 inches. Each screen can display multiple images, allowing each artist or owner to rotate as much or as little of their collection as they like. QR codes accompany each screen, providing artist and work details, prices, and the platform to buy or bid on.
“We are really trying to preach inclusion here. We want everyone to feel welcome with some of the themes we share,” says Beiting. “We are definitely trying to promote and support local artists in this space. I think the other part is, you know, obviously the goal and some of the underlying tones around NFTs and cryptocurrency is the whole message of decentralization that excludes some sort of central or authoritative party. So I think it’s up to people who are personally well-versed in this space to take the reins of education.”
annie burke, UNFIT Co-curator and featured digital artist, says there will also be some tactile parts, including a real-world mural of a digital work (the artist and specific piece have not been revealed). She says for her that the metaverse is an extension of where we are now, and the mutual and necessary trust in all things crypto certifies that NFT communities and discords are full of like-minded people. With a background in architecture and design, Burke’s work is usually a mix of something culturally or visually significant.
“When you bring two things together, you get the best of both,” she says. “I usually photograph something real and re-imagine it spatially or draw something in space.”
She couldn’t say exactly how many works she will be filming for the exhibition, but did confirm that one of her notable pieces, Ice Cream Paint Job, will appear. The piece depicts a Chicago skyline in which clouds morph into ice cream drops and seep across the cityscape in a range of shades of blue and pink, depicting the tonal aura of a sunset.
“We’re lucky to have the space,” says Burke. “The biggest obstacle was exhibiting. Do we have enough screens? How fast will things move on the screens? Are the words displayed on screen or off screen? That, and if people want to actively participate, are they educated? Because you have to have a digital wallet, a Coinbase, a MetaMask, whatever, to get involved. And we don’t want anyone to feel, ‘Oh, I don’t have one, so I’m lagging behind.’”
The NFTxCincinnati team created a glossary for terms like MetaMask, Blockchain, and Web 3.0, just a few examples of the Metaverse jargon to embrace and understand in order to participate. Corresponding UNFITon MetaMask’s website is a software cryptocurrency wallet used to interact with the Ethereum blockchain. Blockchain is an encrypted, decentralized, public ledger of transactions (public proof of ownership). Of course, slang is dependent, but scans in the gallery provide definitions upon request.
Still confused? UNFIT offers hours of panel discussions and helpdesks led by industry experts like Andrew VanSickle and Nick Fontova on topics related to NFT 101, buying and selling, managing collections, setting up a digital wallet and more. VanSickle is a local pop artist who has been collecting physical art for 35 years and started collecting NFTs in July. Fontova has been collecting NFTs since May; he will address sharing and global interaction. Their joint discussion “Giving Up Physical” is about buying, selling and displaying NFTs and the “arts community” in general.
Panel discussions and debates will take place on Friday, February 25, from 12:15 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Buying or bidding should be easier after hearing from the experts. Both Burke and Beiting say pricing is at the artist’s discretion, but there will be addressable options.
Before NFTs, digital artists were burdened with verifying credit, authenticating work, and collecting royalties. In its mission to empower local artists, UNFIT offers these new, virtual practices to locals like Thomas Osorio, who is hoping for a groundbreaking moment of great success. Once a digital piece is minted (becomes part of the blockchain) it is immutable and the artist can sell it at any price and continue to profit from sales after the first few purchases.
Osorio hasn’t found the virtual market for his work yet, being fairly new to the NFT game, he says, but he likens it to the traditional world of art, where you nurture a community of support and start selling from there .
Osorio has been creating digital art since 2013, but his foundation is drawing and painting. Sometimes he scans hand-painted works and digitally alters them, and sometimes he downloads pictures and toys with lighting, glitch filters or colors. The result is a manifestation of his notion of the subjectivity of reality, and the sometimes abstract, collage-like result is captured in a distinctive style.
“I feel like digital art is the future in a lot of ways,” says Osorio. “The possibilities of technology and computer generated imagery, we can do so much with it. So it’s here to stay, and I feel like like any medium in history — some people didn’t like rock & roll when it started, or pop art or abstract expressionism — you can name so many things that people didn’t like it like in the beginning it affected everything in a good way. I feel like that’s just culture in general. People will pull away from it at first because they don’t like change, but there are many positives to digital art.”
As for the future of NFTxCincinnati, Burke and Beiting agree that a successful show means the majority of attendees will leave the show with no questions asked and look forward to the next event. And yes, in case you were wondering, there are locally owned Bored Apes (a popular NFT collection of 10,000 unique collectibles) and they are on display. That UNFIT According to the website, work by Damien Hirst, Dalek, Ian Murray and Shepard Fairy will also be on display.
UNFIT runs February 25th and 26th at Sample Space (140 Marian Spencer Way, The Banks, Downtown). More information: unfit-art.com.
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