While the traditional art world has all eyes on Switzerland and Art Basel, the NFT community is flocking to New York for the 4th annual NFT.NYC event. Bringing together 1,500 speakers to fill a program over 45 pages long, the four-day event takes place June 20th to 23rd across seven venues in and around Times Square. With general admission presale tickets starting at $600 and $850 for those less punctual, the event is undeniably targeted towards the NFT diehards. Thankfully the week also includes over 200 satellite events, such as NFT launches, parties, and programs, many of which are free to attend.
Included in these events is an exhibition hosted by the carbon neutral platform Voice to celebrate the launch of NFTs by 14 street and contemporary artists. Part of its residency program with Street Theory, a creative agency that supports community engagement through street art, the launch marks a significant foray into the digital realm as the artists’ first-ever NFTs.
While the role of NFTs as an asset class has floundered in recent months, amplified by the dramatic drop in value of major cryptocurrencies over the last few weeks, including Ethereum’s staggering loss of over 75% of its value since its all-time high in November 2021, transacting on Voice is done entirely free of crypto. “Allowing purchases of digital art using credit cards dramatically expands the collector pool, which enables us to support more artists,” said Emily Drewry, Director of Marketing at Voice. “Our platform reduces the burden on artists needing to explain cryptocurrency to their supporters, but still provides all the benefits of NFT technology.” NFTs are validated and verified using blockchain technology, making them traceable, unique, and protected, and allowing artists to earn royalties from future sales through smart contracts.
The benefits have proven particularly strong for the artists included in the residency: 123Klan, Alice Mizrachi, Decertor, Don Rimx, El Cekis, Indie184, JC Rivera, kaNO, Marka27, Nicole Salgar, SEX el niño de las pinturas, Sheefy McFly, UPENDO, and Sydney G. James. The residency has provided an innovative way for collectors to own a form of art that is traditionally ephemeral and large-scale. “Most street art, murals, graffiti and public art are ever-changing and temporary in nature. This Residency is important because it introduces street artists to a space where their work can live on and be collected by their supporters and enthusiasts forever… from the block to the blockchain,” says Liza Quiñonez, co-founder and CEO of Street Theory, who co-curated the residency along with Kesia Ramos, curator and founder of The Art at the Table. Asset class or not, NFTs still provide artists the opportunity to access a new revenue stream and collector base.
NFTs and digital art also allow for the artists to expand and adapt their practices. Artists involved with the residency commented on the ways in which their forays into the digital realm pushed the boundaries of their art beyond the street. “I’ve only just begun exploring this facet of my visual art, and I learned how vast this medium is. The possibilities are seemingly endless,” said artist Nicole Salgar. “My work always explores the concepts of dimension, reality, nature and perception, and these pieces are no exception.” Salgar’s NFTs explore previous projects and ideas she has had for murals and paintings. Her physical works often feature women with long, flowy hair surrounded by tropical flowers and looking out at the viewer. Embracing the capacity for motion in NFTs, Salgar has added slow winks to her figures.
Artist Sydney G. James echoed Salgar’s sentiments. “The residency has been a breath of fresh air,” she said, adding that the Voice x Street Theory team made the minting process easy to manage. James’ work addresses the marginalization of black women in society and seeks to reframe this narrative. Her NFTs include “Codeswitchonya” Decoding, a digital reimagining of a work she did in 2018 for the Pow Wow Hawaii mural festival. James created the piece to pay homage to OutKast’s “Stankonia” album and shows two versions of a Black woman as she code switches, wearing culturally different clothes and hairstyles in each depiction. Replaced the following year by a new mural, James’ NFT memorializes this lost work and adds animated elements impossible in the original, physical format.
Also transforming his murals with digital technologies is US-based street artist Victor “Marka27” Quiñonez, whose practice also includes paintings, product design, and mixed media work. His style, which he has coined “Neo Indigenous”, is a blending of Mexican and indigenous aesthetics. His NFTs completed during the residency include Neo Indigenous Jaguar, a mixed media piece featuring a jaguar taken from Olmec and Mayan tradition as an important, martial symbol of power. Pushing the boundaries of his static work, he has added animation with fire, fog, and moving flower petals.
The work will be available for attendees to purchase at the launch exhibition on June 21st and will be released publicly on Voice the following day. The Voice x Street Theory launch also includes a charitable element with portions of the proceeds benefiting the Coalition for the Homeless.
While the future of cryptocurrency is proving to be tenuous, NFTs have progressed beyond a tool for speculative investing. Projects like Voice x Street Theory are allowing artists to expand their practices with digital technologies to create collectible versions of their often ephemeral, large-scale art while also benefiting from the tools provided by the blockchain. Such collaborations are a refreshing reminder of both the financial and creative capacity of NFTs and digital art.
Voice x Street Theory NFT Residency launch exhibition will take place June 21st at the EDITION Times Square with the NFTs launching publicly June 22nd on Voice.
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Annabel Keenan is a New York-based writer focusing on contemporary art, market reporting, and sustainability. Her writing has been published in The Art Newspaper, Hyperallergic, and Artillery Magazine among others. She holds a B.A. in Art History and Italian from Emory University and an M.A. in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture from the Bard Graduate Center.