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Mar 22, 2022

Virtual Art Galleries Hit Different

Jack Burt
Jack Burt

Writer

It doesn’t matter if you're a collector, a speculator, or an artist, the question of how and where to display your NFTs only becomes more relevant with further adoption.

It seems intuitive that not every artist can get their NFTs displayed in digital frames at Art Basel, not every speculator wants to swap out their profile picture of their beloved dog for a Bored Ape, and not every collector wants to/can afford to make printouts of their favorite NFTs.

What happens then . . . once the dead collections have been separated from the blue chips, where do all these high-value NFTs end up for display?

One possible answer is that they end up being displayed within virtual art galleries.

In this article, I take a dive into the world of virtual art galleries and ask myself the question: are virtual art galleries worth getting excited about?

Testing, Testing

Faced with dozens of different metaverses and hundreds of virtual galleries within each respective metaverse, I realized that, at some pragmatic point, you have to close your eyes and pick. So I did.

Starting with Oncyber’s platform, Justin Aversano’s exhibit for Twin Flames might have felt pretty standard, but standard in a good way. The space is open, tastefully modern, and optimistic. It’s traditional without being so grand or flashy that it hypnotizes you away from the twin-themed photography. For the world of NFT photography, it’s a success but maybe not revolutionary in terms of configurative risk-taking.

Twin Flames Virtual Gallery

Twin Flames (Oncyber)

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the aforementioned exhibit much more than some of the galleries on Cryptovoxel or Decentraland. That might have to do with the fact that people pay significant sums of money to purchase plots within those metaverses (~2 Eth for a cheap plot in CryptoVoxel and ~3.5 Eth for a cheap plot in Decentraland) and then possibly pay even more for people to design their plots for them.

Within Cryptovoxels, I visited Green Fuse’s virtual gallery for British painter Hughie O'Donoghue:

A two-story minecraftian structure composed of psychedelic glass blocks. As you enter, an audio clip starts playing in the background, “painting is a process,” Hughie says over and over again. Looking straight ahead, six of Hughie's works are pasted to the back wall but you’d need to get nose-close to see them in any detail. You can go upstairs and find an unmanned DJ booth with Green Fuse’s logo blown up behind it, a single Hughie painting hanging from the ceiling, and a gaping hole in the floor (a hole which seems more haphazard than it is an artistic choice.) All to say, the whole gallery itself felt in process . . .

Green Fuse Gallery

Green Fuse (Cryptovoxel)

I figured it wouldn't be right to survey virtual galleries without checking out what the big guys had to offer. So, my next stop was Sotheby’s gallery in Decentraland, which I should add repeatedly crashed my browser until I downloaded firefox. I did finally get into the building, only to realize the doors for the gallery were locked up. Fitting, but as far as I could see from the lobby, Sotheby’s went the route of hyperrealism and produced something closer to a dental office reception area.

Sotheby's Virtual Gallery

Sotheby’s (Decentraland)

Left with a bad taste in my mouth from Sotheby’s, I irrationally concluded that I’d seen enough of Decentraland. Instead, I went in search of some degen galleries . . .

Back on OnCyber, hope was revived again by @freezecorleone, a popular french rapper’s Meta Trap House — you enter the Blade-Runner-esque studio to be greeted by a dancing, fish-headed stick figure, and a digital Doberman Pinscher. To your left, seated on the counter is a monkey smoking a joint, and looming in the corner of the room is a giant CyberKong VX Gorilla. The walls are splashed with a wide array of NFTs that Freeze owns and playing through your speakers (his speakers?) is Freeze’s newest song on Spotify. It’s maximalist but entertaining.

Meta Trap House Gallery

Meta Trap House (Oncyber)

I’ll spare you another lengthy description, but if you want to get a taste for some well-curated, high-rolling collectors galleries, it's worth checking out 6529’s (link) AB+1 and Cyber Friends & Family gallery.

Cyber Friends & Family Gallery

Cyber Friends & Family (Oncyber)

That’s enough for now at least.

And as I wrap up here, I do so with full admittance that sampling a few dozen galleries leaves me in no position to make significant claims. The virtual gallery space is as varied as the cereal section in your local grocery store. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to separate some of the signals from the noise:

On the one hand, it seems that NFTs necessitate the continued existence and proliferation of virtual art galleries. After all, the virtual art gallery is imbued with utility, you can slide your way around 3D virtual space, and with a simple mouse click or hover, you can get direct information regarding an artwork’s history/provenance, listing, and marketplace — in effect they take art display to another level where even small spaces can double as museums.

I feel undecided on the idea that artists would or should be flocking to build their virtual galleries. The reality seems that some of the best galleries I came across were those produced on free platforms by collectors. It was the collectors who took risks, popped wheelies, and leveraged these virtual platforms for displaying their NFTs. Meanwhile, artists and art brokers seemed to play things safe, recreate physical frameworks in a virtual form, and basically drive below imagination’s speed limit.

Does this mean virtual galleries are a collector’s game?

It’s too soon to say.

I believe part of what I witnessed is that artists, especially the big kahunas, haven’t yet transferred into the virtual galleries because they see no need to (yet.) Perhaps they’re comfortable with their physical galleries, more typical website displays, and marketplaces. Or, maybe they’re interested but waiting patiently for the metaverse space to converge on fewer points of entry, or better user experiences for setup.

It seems important to point out that virtual galleries, no matter how convenient and sensorily immersive they can be with NFTs and VR, are a separate beast from physical galleries, or typical web galleries. I think galleries are as much about showing art as they are about feeling the bass from some generic techno song pumping through a tight retail space; as much about shaking the sweaty hand of an anxious, debut artist; and as much about awkwardly locking eyes with a mildly drunk art buyer who didn’t want to but showed up anyway.

Virtual galleries still have a long way to go; however, they are undoubtedly a way to experience the NFTs you love, but at another level.

Happy flipping,

The Flip Team

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