Curators in the CryptoArt Scene – A Necessary Controversy

The role of a curator – a loved yet sometimes hated middleman. Curation in the CryptoArt scene has seen a huge shift in the past one year. Two years ago, a curator, which also implies a middleman of sorts, would have raised many eyebrows, back then the community preferred peer-to-peer relationships over intermediaries.

In the early stage of NFTs, we saw groups form encouraging communities with artists critiquing each other, collaborating on new artwork, or collectors commissioning artists. After all, that is what the space aims to create, a community of autonomous creators, and one of the most remarkable aspects of CryptoArt is the community, with participants coming from diverse and international backgrounds.

But here we are in 2021, and things are looking very different. Each week there are thousands of new artists entering the space and the community is rapidly growing. While many of us want to escape the “old world” structures of the traditional art world and its elitist attitude, it has become clear that without some sort of structure the CryptoArt world will easily become the Wild West.

Curated NFT marketplaces have almost become a necessity with the rise in artists, collectors and tokenized artworks. Without some sort of guidelines to spotlight art pieces, creators and art collections, the number of NFT artworks could easily spiral out of control which would lead to less exposure and value for the artists themselves.

Curation as a Necessary Paradox

Curation, in its most simple form of explanation, is a purely selective process. Curators select collections of works of art or art projects and group them into an idea or theme. Typically, gallery owners curate shows as a way of gathering various artistic voices together to create new meaning or to create a context, a dialogue within a particular community, and represent the art to the general public. Artists can also be curators and launch curated projects in response to ideas they have investigated in their art practice. In the CryptoArt scene there are typically two types of curators; one is a curated NFT art marketplace, and the other, a curated metaverse NFT art gallery. 

Kozachok

However, even though it is easy to recognise the benefits of a curator, it is undeniable that one of the biggest paradoxes is that it is an antithesis to the core idea of blockchain environments as decentralized entities. On the one hand, the upside of decentralization is that there is a potential market for the work of artists outside of cliquish circles of art dealers and art advisors. But on the other, overtokenization is becoming a problem as many artists have the ability to use software to quickly manipulate photos and mint them as an NFT.

This has resulted in CryptoArt platforms being challenged into curation to remain relevant and not turn away buyers and collectors. A lack of critical selection of artworks from critics and gallerists can lead to rampant hyperinflation of artworks and a reduction in the average value of artworks and loss of investors.

As Colavizza (CryptoArt: A Decentralized View, 2019) very accurately describes it: “We are living in a primordial soup, we need selection and evolution, towards higher order and equilibrium in a system with high creative potential. A possibility is for specialized galleries to emerge. The traditional art system, sooner or later ends up assimilating the artistic movements that want to break free from it. Mythology teaches us that the old gods are superseded by new ones. It might be that crypto art, for its own good, will have to be assimilated. It has all the feats of the new forms of collecting proper of millennial and Zgenerations. It is up to us, artists, developers, collectors, gallerists to make crypto art into an experience valuing art and artists first and foremost.”

The Role of a CryptoArt Curator 

The curator’s role in the CryptoArt scene still needs refinement and is very much open to experimentation. Although the curation process for digital art is similar to physical art, when it comes to representing art in virtual galleries, it is still very much an exploratory and undefined activity.

There are an array of situations that have to be taken into consideration when displaying art in metaverse galleries because they do not mimic real-life art galleries. This includes factors such as artwork arrangements in a virtual space, scale customization, how to build structures, which plot of land to build them on, which metaverse to choose, and how to navigate the space.

Chris Saunders

An interesting recent development in CryptoArt curation is the introduction of ‘Auction House’ on the NFT marketplace Zora. The concept of Auction House is truly groundbreaking and seems to be the perfect recipe for blending decentralization principles along with CryptoArt curation.

Auction House is an open and permissionless protocol on Ethereum that allows any creator, community, platform or DAO to create and run their own curated NFT auction houses. Because it has been deployed on mainnet without admin functionality, it is entirely permissionless and unstoppable, making it free of gatekeepers, middlemen or corporate control. It is owned by no one and owned by the community.

However, since the act of curation is critical, the Auction House has been designed with special emphasis given to the role of curators. If an owner of an NFT chooses to list with a curator, that curator can charge a curator’s fee and has to approve any auction before it commences with that curator’s auction house.

Creators and collectors can submit a proposal to list their NFTs with a curator on-chain, which the curator must accept or reject. This creates an on-chain record of a curator’s activity and value creation and curators build their own public reputation for the value they’re creating for creators and collectors.

Emily Megan

The best part is that curators can create and capture value from curation without needing to directly collect NFTs. Curators can create unique contexts and spaces to auction NFTs on behalf of creators and collectors instead of having to front the capital to buy and then resell.

Similarly for creators and collectors, they do not need to sell their NFT and forego ownership to a curator for them to benefit from the curation—simply share in the profit from a successful auction or get the NFT back if it doesn’t sell. There is also the opportunity to create trustless Curator DAOs—community organizations that can collectively own and operate an auction house. This provides a whole new type of system and freedom for both artists and curators, and artists can be the curator themselves.

Curation is Still Highly Subjective

On the negative side of having restricted NFT platforms is that there is always the chance of great artists being left out of the equation. After all, we can’t deny that art curation is a highly subjective process. Curation can also mean the success of an artist is dependent on someone else giving them the badge of honour. If the artist is not particularly great at marketing themselves and they are also not accepted anywhere, it can be hard for them to find their community and individual space.

The emotional toll that rejection can create is also a major point to consider, being rejected from a number of platforms can make one question their value. And lastly, it is a delicate balance between the concept of decentralization and freedom. We all want to be free to display our creations, but it seems that perhaps that is a kind of surrealistic idea of utopia and like with every other sphere of life, a system of structure beckons.

Rukmunal Hakim

Appreciating the Beauty of Art

In closing, curation allows for enthusiasts and collectors to fully appreciate every artwork, rather than feel like they are frantically scrolling through Instagram, trying to keep up with the latest buzzing activity. As many will know, when we enter a renowned art gallery, we savour the presence of the few, selected artworks that are being exposed. This process provides importance and glory to each artwork and allows the public to truly experience it.

Maybe, we need to find a sweet spot between speed and slowness, a new equilibrium in order not to lose sight of the very meaning of art.” – Franceschet, CryptoArt: A Decentealized View, 2019.

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Resources: 
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333679124_Crypto_art_A_decentralized_view
https://medium.com/coinmonks/the-world-of-nfts-part-6-crypto-art-galleries-a-case-study-c6f67fb975e6
https://speculations.substack.com/p/a-collectors-process
https://zora.mirror.xyz/9mQ9AeJK84USTnQ9eBY4Sc7s1bi0N8RoZd3Oy4q82FM
https://www.artshub.com.au/education/news-article/opinions-and-analysis/professional-development/gina-fairley/nfts-the-pros-and-cons-262268
https://www.editorial.superrare.co/curating-digital-art-in-url

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