The Metaverse Is Already Here. How Will the Art World Inhabit It?
The forward-thinking dslcollection is experimenting not just with NFTs but also VR worlds and art-centred video games.
Still image from the video game Forgetter (2021). Artworks as viewed in the game by Zhang Huan. Courtesy Alan Kwan, Yang Jing, and DSLCOLLECTION.
Forgetter is an unusual video game. You play as a technician tasked with refurbishing the minds of tormented artistic geniuses so they can be reused by the next generation. Wielding an axe and a vacuum cleaner, you hack apart and suck up objects associated with past traumas, including artworks from the dslcollection of Chinese contemporary art.
For Sylvain Lévy, who founded the collection with his wife Dominique in 2005, allowing people to obliterate their art in a $10 Steam game makes a lot of sense.
'During the pandemic, the art world moved online, but many of our experiences were unsatisfactory, even boring,' he told Ocula Magazine. 'Who are the people who manage the screen the best? People who make video games. It's a business model that functions, and it has a community of 1.5 billion people.'
Lévy isn't a gamer himself. He just believes that art should be seen, and for that to happen it needs to speak the language of its time. After all, Chinese artists such as Feng Mengbo and Cao Fei, both of whom have works in the collection, have been making art using video game engines and virtual worlds for over a decade.
In addition to Forgetter, the collection will soon feature in another video game, June: Tales from Cyberspace, which is still in development. They're also partnering with a number of institutions to showcase their collection in Sansar, a virtual world by Linden Labs, the makers of Second Life.
To improve access to the virtual dslcollection, Lévy said they provided Oculus Rift headsets for a devoted VR room at the Pingshan Art Museum in Shenzhen, which opened in 2019, and similar arrangements are being made with the National Museum of Colombia in Bogotá, the The Modern Art Research Institute of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine (MARI), and institutions in Africa. They're also collaborating with the Tisch School of Design at NYU to launch a virtual reality art park, modelled on New York's Washington Square.
Auction houses and galleries also ventured into the Matrix, the virtual reality spaces we're now calling the metaverse, to exhibit and sell artworks this year. Sotheby's, for instance, created a permanent space in Decentraland, where KÖNIG GALERIE also conducted its own NFT auction.
Alongside these adventures in VR, the art world continues to pour energy into NFTs. Christie's announced a collaboration with the largest NFT marketplace, OpenSea, while Pace launched an NFT platform exclusively for their artists called Pace Verso. Increasing ownership of digital art will only make virtual environments in which to view, share, and trade them more appealing.
Asked what the gallery's role will be in the emerging metaverse, Pace's Online Sales Director Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle, who oversaw the launch of Pace Verso, said, 'I believe our role comes into this as being early shepherds within the space, to help guide our artists through an alternative world that's been around for more than a decade and is here to stay.'
VR isn't perfect—it's at its most immersive in horror games and pornography, not when admiring contemporary art. But, like it or not, Facebook's name change to Meta is a fair indication many of us will be spending more time there. What exactly the metaverse will look like remains to be seen.
Lévy has his own vision.
'The metaverse, in my dream, isn't governed by Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. It will be an island of happiness and freedom where cyber-flâneurs are free to go from one experience to another with a focus on art and humanity,' he said. —[O]