Last week during Frieze in Los Angeles, VerticalCrypto Art (VCA) presented “ART & NFT: The Digital Roots” at NeueHouse Hollywood. The exhibition was curated by VCA Founder and CEO Micol Ap and featured work by artists like Mario Klingemann, Marjan Moghaddam, Lucas Aguirre, Jesse Draxler, Yinka Ilori, and others. It investigates the impulse to separate fine art from digital art, wondering why the art world feels the need to do so. It asks, isn’t it all just the art of our times—contemporary art?
On view at NeueHouse Hollywood February 17 and 18, and online via auction through February 23, “ART & NFT: The Digital Roots” features work by artists using AI, VR, GANs, 3D, and more. Nine unique pieces have been minted on Tezos, a partner alongside Rarible, Whitewall, and TMINT.
We spoke with Ap in advance of the project to learn more about the intersection of art and NFTs.
WHITEWALL: What was the starting point for this exhibition?
MICOL AP: The initial idea of the theme of the exhibition started in December last year. I often get asked to speak about the term “NFT ART,” but I’ve always questioned if this definition is truly reflective of the art movement we are experiencing and started wondering what if it’s actually just art, or more specifically contemporary art—the art of our times? From this initial idea, I shared it with our partners, Tezos, Whitewall, and Rarible, and we all thought there was no better time and place than during Frieze Art Week in Los Angeles.
WW: Why were you interested in expanding the understanding of NFTs as fine art?
MA: For almost two years I’ve had the honor to curate and be exposed to some incredible artists who I believe are producing what can be defined as the fine art of today. To separate NFT art with the broader term “art,” or more specifically with categories such as “fine art” or “contemporary art,” is something I wanted to question and provoke. Why? What if NFT art is fine art? The artists we are presenting in this exhibition “ART&NFT: The Digital Roots,” marry this concept beautifully, from pioneers of AI like Mario Klingemann to digital artist OGs like Marjan Moghaddam, to VR oil painter Lucas Aguirre, we are exhibiting how the digital medium is a canvas for what can be defined as “fine art” too.
WW: How did you go about selecting the work of artists for the show?
MA: The selection of the works for the exhibition began by looking at the breadth of how the digital medium is being used in the artist’s creative practice and looking for artists who are both diverse in their use of this technology, as well as pioneers and innovators. We are featuring artists using AI, VR, generative art, audio-visual art, GANs, 3D as well as the more traditional art form of oil painting. All of the featured artists are transcending and experimenting with the medium of blockchain and NFT technology both in a digitally native way, whilst also creating a bridge into the contemporary and fine art space.
WW: Who are some of the artists with backgrounds in physical art who are participating? How are they engaging with this medium?
MA: Jesse Draxler comes from a traditional art background. He has been exhibiting his iconic black-scale canvases and moon-sick reality collages since 2012. Since engaging with the blockchain and NFTs, Jesse has been working across both the analog and digital mediums by interchanging his practice and moving across both. He sometimes starts digital and moves back to his canvases to then end up the process in the digital medium. Similarly, Yinka Ilori is a
multidisciplinary artist of a British-Nigerian heritage, who specializes in storytelling by fusing his British and Nigerian heritage to tell new stories in contemporary design through architecture. He is now experimenting with how his practice, contemporary and analog at the core, is translated into the digital medium and minting his first NFT on Tezos for this exhibition.
WW: Who are some of the digital native artists? How are you seeing their work grow in the NFT space?
MA: Lucas Aguirre, a digital artist from Argentina, works using an iPad and a 3D scanner, often he works with live models and choreographs his composition. He then scans the model and loads them onto Virtual Reality where he then manipulates them by adding and subtracting painting material that adds real-world elements to his pieces, rather than generic 3D mannequins. This gives his pieces a sense of livelihood which is truly unique and beautiful—you wouldn’t think these are digital at all.
Similarly, Marjan Moghaddamis a pioneering digital artist and animator, working primarily with 3D CG and digital media for animation, NFT, Net Art, print, sculpture, installation, and AR/VR. She is known for her original and influential style of 3D figuration and animation. Her works question the figure of bodies, which she started in 2016 with the concept of #digitalbodies, also part of the Art Basel 2018 art hack, an effort to radicalize the form for digital art and “hack” traditional curation and exhibition spaces. Marjan’s work is distinctive—her digital style is instantly recognizable and already an icon of the NFT art space. This is the definition of digital art as fine art.
WW: Can you tell us about the choice of creating an immersive project activation for the show? What can guests expect?
MA: We wanted to recreate the feeling of being in a contemporary museum while embracing the digital medium. We have created an immersive experience through projections on canvases built into Studio A of NeueHouse Hollywood, which recreates a feeling of polished yet raw—fitting of the overall curatorial theme. The vision of the production, co-created with The Mynt Lab and Rarible, has been brought to life in a way that feels immersive yet museum-like, allowing for guests to experience what digital art looks like in a native way.
The “ART & NFT: The Digital Roots” VerticalCrypto Art auction is live from Thursday, February 17 at 7PM GMT to Wednesday, February 23 at 7PM GMT.