The Future is Unwritten

by Ivan Quaroni

Much has been said and written about it. The new hype is Crypto art, the digital art that can be purchased with cryptocurrencies (Ethereum above all) on platforms such as SuperRare, Nifty Gateway, Rarible, Opensea, or Foundation, just to name a few. An art that, to tell the truth, already existed but was completely, or almost, ignored by the traditional mercantile system because of its immateriality and, therefore, unsaleability. These are, in fact, works made only of images, animations, Gifs, or short videos that collectors do not use (at least not all) to furnish their living rooms, but that can still be exhibited in virtual galleries or through monitors in museums and art galleries. In the vast majority of cases, it is digital native art, created with image processing software and tools such as Photoshop or Cinema 4D. Still, it can also be the product of digitizing traditional works, such as paintings, photographs, or sculptures transformed into NFT.

The NFT (Non-Fungible Token) is a cryptographic system that provides evidence of authenticity and ownership of digital art. The innovative scope of this system is to prevent forgeries of any kind. The image of a crypto work may be copied, but not its certificate of ownership, whose information is fixed in the blockchain - a sort of digital register of cryptocurrency transactions - and therefore cannot be altered in any way.

Numerous articles on the subject have contributed to the emergence of this phenomenon, but they have limited themselves to underlining the economic relevance of this new market, piling up figures and auction records, as in the case of the $69 million totaled by Christie's for the sale of "Everydays: The First 5000 Days" by Beeple while neglecting the cultural aspects of crypto art and the reasons that have favored its emergence.

The great merit of the Crypto revolution, in many ways comparable to the explosion of Punk at the end of the seventies (so much so that it contains elements of filiation all too obvious, from the phenomenon of CryptoPunks to Hackatao's collaboration with Blondie, up to the DIY aesthetics of XCOPY), has been that of having freed an abnormal creative potential, providing a mercantile dimension to languages, expressions, and artistic grammars until then marginalized by the traditional art system. Among the hundreds, indeed thousands, of artists who have ventured into the world of NFT, in addition to those who come from previous artistic experiences and who can boast a respectable curriculum, there are many who, however, have made their bones in the film industry or the videogame industry, in advertising or television, working as a graphic designer, conceptual artist, character designer, art director, matte painter, 3D artist, visual designer or game designer, and others who simply enjoyed producing art for themselves. For many, especially those who fall into the category of commercial artists, the discovery of NFT has been a way to return to an artistic and authorial dimension, finally free from the obligations imposed by the client. This way, new personalities emerged that otherwise would not have found a place in a sector, such as the artistic one, spoiled by systemic distortions now known to all.

Another revolutionary element of the Crypto Art wave concerns the shortening of the traditional art supply chain, which has brought artists into direct contact with collectors, erasing, in fact, the economic mediation of galleries and, at first, even the cultural mediation of curators and art critics, who were then reintegrated as an indispensable element of dissemination and storytelling. In fact, it can be said that the economic mediation has passed to the aforementioned sales platforms, which, however, are satisfied with much lower percentages on each transaction than those applied in the old market. Many believe that this revolution is cutting out the elements that were unjustly considered parasitic and that constituted the "value chain" through positioning strategies and critical and documentary elaboration, and that it has finally returned centrality to the figure of the artist (and perhaps also to that of the collector and patron). But it is an approach that some platforms have immediately abandoned, equipping themselves with internal boards made up of curators, collectors, artists, and community members that guarantee the presence of procedures that assess the quality of artistic proposals.

The problem, however, remains that of orienting oneself in the endless galaxy of Crypto Art. To find the compass, one must first familiarize oneself with the strictly technical jargon of this new world, learning to distinguish, among the plethora of neologisms, those that can help us better understand the phenomenon. First, we need to understand that the so-called "NFT," or Non-Fungible Token, is not the work but the device that makes its presence on the blockchain possible. It often happens to refer to an artist's work with this term, but it is only a convenient approximation to distinguish this type of work from other digital works. Even "Crypto Art" is a suitable definition to indicate - as Domenico Quaranta explains in Surfing with Satoshi (2021, Postmedia books, Milan) - "a digital or digitized art made rare by its registration on the blockchain."

That means that Crypto Art is not an artistic phenomenon in the same way as Impressionism, Futurism, or Dadaism, characterized by a coherent style, technique, or programmatic contents, but something extremely varied, sprawling, multiform, and, therefore, very difficult to define. What can and must be done to explore this new territory is to reconstruct the value chain. What is missing, in fact, is literature that knows how to interpret in artistic, critical, aesthetic, stylistic (but also political and sociological) terms the value of works that seem to be linked more to the sci-fi imagery of Cyberpunk or to that of network subcultures such as Vaporwave and Retrowave, or the popular imagery of comics and cartoons, rather than to the evolution of art history. The only way to build valid documentation is to start dealing not with the phenomenon but with the single artists, their cultural genealogies, the recurrences, and iterations that characterize their researches. Only this way is it possible to draw a map and build a geography of this universe that - I have a distinct impression - is anything but a passing fad or a temporary trend of the pandemic season.

The exhibition "The Future is Unwritten" was born as a selection of works among the hundreds of NFT that make up the collection of the Poseidon Group, one of the largest and most conspicuous in Europe. The selection criteria first considered the principle of authorship, which led us to discard all the NFT productions that are not specifically artistic, such as collectibles and cards. Secondly, we evaluated the relevance of the names and their contribution to the birth and development of Crypto Art. Alongside artists of international importance, such as Beeple, XCOPY, Hackatao, Dangiuz, Federico Clapis, Skygolpe, Fabio Giampietro, Raphael Lacoste, Giovanni Motta, Andre Chiampo, who have played, with different weights and measures, a role of anticipators, pioneers or activists in the definition of this new structure, we have selected a nucleus of artists debuting in the NFT universe, such as Niro Perrone, Nicola Caredda, Giuseppe Veneziano, Adriana Glaviano, and Giò Roman, for the quality and originality of their works.

The only exception to the principle of authorship, but not to that of pioneering innovation, is the inclusion in this exhibition of collectibles such as the two CryptoPunks from Larva Labs and the Bored Ape Yacht Club specimen from Yuga Labs, chosen for their iconic value and for all that they have represented and continue to represent for the crypto community, a set of brands, status symbols and, above all, codes and signals of recognition and belonging.

The exhibition provides us with an inevitably partial but significant vision of the languages that characterize this new sector of digital art, a world that has just been born, but that we believe, as the title suggests, will be a precursor, in the coming years, of further and perhaps unpredictable developments.