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Ignasi Monreal is a Barcelona-based multimedia artist known for his trompe l’oeil paintings of dirty dishes, Plats Bruts (2019), and his collaborations with brands like Gucci, Bvlgari, Moncler, J.W. Anderson, Mercedes-Benz, Airbnb, Adobe, and Zara. His most recent project is BL00M, an online exhibition of interactive painted flower NFTs presented by 1stdibs and launched in collaboration with the creative animation studio No Ghost. The exhibition is not only an auction but a social experiment and a crypto-market commentary: each flower blossoms as the work’s price rises and wilts as it falls. This visual critique of the relation between art and value also references the period during the Dutch Golden Age, when contract prices for tulips reached astronomically high levels. After 16 years of digital art creation, this is Monreal’s first NFT project.
Whitewall spoke with Monreal about his past digital artworks, these new generative NFT pieces, and future projects.
WHITEWALL: What advantages (and disadvantages) does digital art present for you?
IGNASI MONREAL: Let's start with the bad news: when it comes to disadvantages, I find that I spend too much time (hours, days, or even weeks) in front of a screen, and my eyes hurt, unfortunately, I need them for work. Also, working benders make me long for the outdoors; an excellent illustration of this is my artwork, which was recently published on your cover.
There are numerous advantages; it is a medium full of potential that would be endless if it did not rely on electricity and hardware. When compared to other traditional or tangible mediums (which I discourage to do), two advantages to highlight are its endless capacity for replication and its ability to withstand the passage of time; a digital file does not decay, break, or grow mold; it remains consistent over time unless you design it to do otherwise.
WW: What attracted you to the idea of NFT artworks, now, after so many years as an artist in the digital space?
IM: For many years, I refused to make prints of my digital paintings because they were created on a screen, and hence belong there. For decades, painters attempted to capture light using only pigments; now, we have light in the form of pixels; why should we turn it into pigment just so someone may hang it in their living room? I hoped that someone would create a means to sell the copyright to digital creations; that's how it made sense for me to trade them, until NFTs came.
I initially learned about NFTs while painting a mural for Gucci inside their palazzo on Piazza della Signoria in Florence. In that context, it felt like the Renaissance of digital art.
NFTs provide monetary value to the work, and because we live in a capitalist dystopia, it felt like the digital medium was finally being legitimized. I believe that I was overly optimistic, but we are on the right track; these changes take more than a couple of years to establish themselves and be accepted by a larger section of society. Our role as artists is to push the medium's boundaries and bring work with poetry and soul to NFTs, so that we can transform their perception as merely an investment and show the world that they can be art.
WW: What led you to consider flowers as the subject for your first NFT project?
IM: I sought to encapsulate a complex idea in a very simple form, something my 70-year-old neighbor would understand if I showed her an NFT; she does, therefore I consider it a success in that regard.
This series is inspired by the Tulip Mania, a period during the Dutch Golden Age when prices for newly imported tulip bulbs reached extraordinarily high levels beginning in 1634 and then abruptly dropping in February 1637. It is often regarded as history's first documented speculative bubble.
WW: What kind of feelings do you hope that the pieces will evoke?
IM: I wanted the works to raise questions about the relationship between art and value, but also to provide a poetic touch to something as sterile as finance.
WW: Why was it important for you that this project offer a commentary on the relation between art and value?
IM: NFTs were created to give monetary worth to digital art, thus I wanted to create something true to its essence, a piece that can only exist as an NFT because it wouldn't make sense in any other medium.
Also, I notice that a lot of the criticism directed towards NFTs is stemming from their speculative nature, which strikes me as rather hypocritical given that blue-chip galleries and auction houses promote speculation through provenance, which everyone accepts. My goal was to create poetry out of speculation.
WW: How is this relation different for artists today than it was in the past, or how do you see it changing for artists in the future?
IM: We have a relatively new medium just waiting to be explored and disrupted. Everyone believes that everything has already been invented, yet with code, everything is possible. Let's get creative and play to be God.
WW: What sparked your interest in the Dutch tulip craze and how do you see that in relation to our current moment?
IM: My fascination began with a specific tulip, the Semper Augustus (always magnificent in Latin). The now-extinct Semper Augustus was the rarest and most valuable of the high-end tulips during Tulipomania. The flower was remarkable, with dark blood-red streaks on white petals. A single Semper Augustus bulb sold for the equivalent of fifty times a laborer's annual income in 1637, or enough to purchase a fine townhouse on Amsterdam's Grand Canal. I couldn't help myself; this tulip was a wonderful reflection on value.
WW: What future projects or collaborations do you have in view?
IM: I have many things piled up, but I'm most excited about my upcoming sets for the ballet “'La Bayèdere,” which will premiere in February 2023 at the Opera Theatre in Rome.