I am an art collector. This is a confession and a point of pride. I love art, I love seeing art and experiencing art and being surrounded by art. It’s inspiring and makes the world a better place. Here are some observations I’ve had recently that, while unrelated, somehow fit together…
One: I have been collecting art for over 30 years. When my family and I moved to Tokyo from Los Angeles, we put it all in storage with the intent to have it crated up and shipped up once we got settled long term. Visa struggles and what not, that didn’t end up happening so we never shipped the art. Then we moved to Canada and thought we’d get it then – but COVID and border closures threw a wrench into those plans. Now we’re not sure how long we’re staying in Canada so the thought of spending a bunch of time and effort to move art here seems perhaps ill advised. The result of all this, is that the vast majority of our physical art collection is sitting in storage in another country, and we haven’t seen any of it in almost 7 years.
Two: Being an admitted art collector, over that time I’ve continued buying art from artists I love. Many of these pieces were shipped to me rolled up and as any art collector knows you do not want to keep flat art rolled up for too long. In the old days, when I co-owned an art gallery, I had flat files as a safe and secure place to keep unframed art. I no longer have flat files and have committed to framing work so that I can hang it and enjoy it. I recently took about 10 pieces to a local framer and while the results look amazing the multi-thousand dollar bill was a reminder that everything about collecting art isn’t always fun or easy. This print by Sean Higgins looks amazing though.
Three: Once I got those pieces back I had to find room to hang them. In some cases that meant moving other pieces around. This is fun, but also not fun. It’s hard to explain but if you have made a habit out of hanging and rehanging and rearranging art, you know what I mean. If you have any kind of ADHD then you really know what I mean.
Four: When art collectors get together a very common topic is “how do you find new artists?” and earlier this month while I was in Tokyo hanging out at Bright Moments this topic came up a lot. The answer to that question, time and time again, was Deca. I’ve had an account there for a while now but I confess to not really understanding it. After that trip I spent some time exploring and playing with the galleries that you can create, curating collections and art into many different easily browsable pages and I easily made some little galleries showing off some of the photography and generative work I’ve collected, as well as separate galleries for artists like Derech, Piv and Crashblossom from whom I have many works, among others. It’s also incredibly easy to browse around and see what work other people are putting into galleries and quickly find curators or groups you want to follow because you have similar tastes. I’ve really enjoyed looking through the genart group for example. It became very clear to me why collectors are spending time here.
Five: Deca isn’t the only way to show off digital work, I’ve long had a gallery space in Voxels and have enjoyed looking through galleries others have created in OnCyber. I have some OnCyber galleries myself but haven’t had the chance to update them recently. There are at least a dozen other gallery platforms people are using as well. Point being, people are spending a lot of time building ways to curate blockchain based digital art, and collectors are dedicating just as much time to showing off what they have.
Then it hit me.
If I’m out, anywhere in the world, it’s very easy for me to pull up an online gallery and show off artwork that I love. It’s very difficult for me to show off physical work that is hanging in my house (or worse, in storage). If I move (as I’m known to do) it’s very easy (and free) for me to bring my digital collection with me. It’s very hard (and expensive) for me to bring my physical collection with me. Worse if it’s international.
Six: Another thing that became apparent to me in Tokyo while visiting several galleries is how quickly the “digital canvas” products are improving. Currently Whim and Grail and other digital art displays are quite pricey, but Infinite Objects frames are super reasonable and satisfy the object lust thing quite well. And truthfully when you consider professional framing can cost $400 for a single piece, a digital canvas that shows your entire collection being $4000 isn’t insane, it’s steep for sure, but that price will come down over time as well. And as we more museums exploring ways to show off digital artists like Refik Anadol people will continue to get more comfortable with this idea of real art on screens.
Just to argue against myself for a moment, for more than 20 years now I’ve had friends telling me the wonders of dumping their CDs, DVDs, Books etc in favor of digital libraries & streaming. I’ve largely resisted, and while I’ve mostly transitioned to a digital movie library to be honest it’s not the same. I miss scanning the spines of DVDs and being reminded of a favorite film I want to watch again. This is why I still have all my books and vinyl, I can’t imagine not browsing or holding the objects in my hands. But yes, this comes with a cost – both in space around the house and a monetary one if/when I move. Not to mention the stress. But it’s worth it, because if I don’t see these items, if I’m not accidentally surrounded by them, I don’t experience (and enjoy them) the same way.
As someone who has been buying and collecting physical art since the mid 90’s, and loves looking at the texture and process in physical work, I assumed my position would forever be the same here too. I’m not saying it’s changed, but I’m more open to it than I might have been before. I was never opposed to digital art, don’t get me wrong, but I see a much larger use case and adoption potential now than I did say even 5 years ago. Consider these bits of conversations I’ve had recently:
“I never cared about art until 2 years ago when someone gave me an NFT, now it’s all I think about and I’m buying new art almost every week.” – An accountant
“I used to spent money on 5 digit wine, now I buy jpgs.” – A lawyer
“A water pipe broke and flooded my basement, at least 10 large canvas pieces were ruined” – A collector
“I used to go crazy when I was away from the studio, I had ideas and no way to move on them. Opening myself up to working remotely with my iPad, I can’t imagine ever being so locked down again.” – An artist
That last comment piqued my curiosity and it didn’t take long to find out that Procreate, the most popular professional iPad illustration app is primarily used by “younger artists” with official recommendations that it can be used by kids as young as 8, and unofficially as young as 4. While artists today might have a hard time learning new tools (and honestly, they don’t need to), looking ahead 20 years from now, artists who grow up with them aren’t going to think twice about it. They will be making natively digital art already. Qubibi is an artist I learned about in Tokyo and immediately bought a piece from, this is work that couldn’t exist physically.
The problem with digital art has always been provenance – if all copies are the same then where is the motivation to collect an original, of course NFTs and blockchains solve this (as well as many other problems artists have had like attribution, royalties, etc) and again this next generation of younger artists are growing up with this knowledge inherent. While the old people, the “thought leaders and influencers” argue and fret about it, the young people are embracing it and moving forward. The old people will die and the young people will take over, just as always.
And to be clear I’m not arguing for a move from physical art to digital art, I’m just observing that I think the adoption of digital art is going to be massive. As an art collector I’m always excited to walk into someones house (or office) and see an original piece of art and I think in the very near future people will have displays showing off their bad ass 1 of 1 (or small edition) digital art collections. And to people who might worry about the new wave of digital artists putting the physical artists out of work – that’s nonsense. First of all many artists who have successful careers making physical art have easily integrated digital into their world, just as they did prints or any number of other things before. I think the world is big enough for all kinds of art in various formats, and I think the ease and access that digital art provides is going to introduce way more people to art than we could have ever anticipated. I’m also so excited about new opportunities for artists and collectors – for example I’ve been lusting after the hardware customizations by tachyons+ for over a decade and their work inspired a lot of what I did with CMHHTD, recently I learned they were not only making hardware but also now selling digital art produced with their own devices and I was able to buy this piece. I love it, and might have to get an Infinite Objects frame for it.
I’ll always have physical art, I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but if I’m honest, I think it would be pretty amazing to be able to swap out all the art in my house with with a different “exhibition” from my collection with a single click. Lets see where the future takes us.