Thursday, May 26, 2022

St. John’s Museum Administration Students Tackle Pioneering Technology in Virtual Exhibit

April 1, 2022

The digital age has spawned a raft of new phenomena—and a plethora of concepts that challenge preconceived notions of art and commerce—not the least of which are Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs): unique digital codes that represent a digital item, which could be art or music, among several others. However, NFTs can also track real-world assets, such as a house, car, or song. NFTs allow these assets to be uniquely defined, allowing someone to prove ownership and authenticity.

In February, St. John’s University’s Dr. MT Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery website premiered the virtual exhibition, NFTs: Pandemic Aftermath or Trending Innovation? On display until April 20 and curated by students in the Master of Arts program in Museum Administration, the exhibit features 21 artifacts organized around four themes: digital art, corporate-created content, individual creativity and identity, and traditional fine artists’ engagement with this new and thriving market.

“The students in this year’s class on curating embraced the challenge of exploring a topic about which little was known,” noted Susan Rosenberg, Ph.D., Professor of Art and Design in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Founding Director of the Museum Administration program.

“Their innovative research and knowledge of digital culture and social media were great resources, and I am so impressed by the exhibition they created. The exhibition required a great deal of research and ingenuity. The group collaborated wonderfully as they established a strong exhibition concept and a beautiful exhibition design.”

Student Kristie Siegel said she was not familiar with the concept of NFTs before embarking on this project. “However, I do know a bit about cryptocurrency, so learning about NFTs really enriched that knowledge. I also learned that many familiar images floating around the internet were either turned into NFTs or originally were NFTs, which was fascinating.”

The concept raised another important question for Kristie: Is this art? “This new form has turned the tables upside down for many art historians,” she stressed. “Digital art has been around for quite some time, and it only seems when there is a big value placed on it, it suddenly makes headlines. Now, these artists are definitely getting more recognition and becoming popular very fast.”

Student Arianna McMillon added, “The acronym ‘NFT’ is making headlines, and in part, that’s due to the pandemic shifting the entire world to a digital space. Someday we will find that worth and wealth will be measurable through a computer. Whether it’s in your phone or on your laptop, the digital space is making headway into everyone’s lives, and, who knows, maybe we all will have a digital crypto wallet on hand someday.”

As she began her research into NFTs, Arianna was somewhat discouraged to see artists of color underrepresented in this new space. She then came upon the story of Jalaiah Harmon, an artist who created a new dance on TikTok during the quarantine. The dance itself became an emote for a video game, and Ms. Harmon was compensated for it when she sold it as an NFT. “I’m glad that I was able to give her story a platform to be recognized through this exhibition,” Arianna observed.

With the creation of the “meta world” and more socially interactive markets and platforms, student Isabel Adolphe believes NFTs are here to stay but will evolve. “My favorite part of this collaboration was working with my peers to illustrate a story that informs the reader about something of which they might not be familiar. I greatly enjoyed talking about similarities in all of our research and the excitement of new and sudden developments. NFTs are now an unavoidable medium in my field, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it found its way back into my research.”

“This wave of technology has the potential to provide real value to artists,” stressed student Thomas Ruple. “The digital art market has historically had trouble proving ownership or derived market value, but NFTs solve both those problems with rebounding profits and a ledger of ownership.”

He added, “My favorite part of this project has truly been working with such a talented team of colleagues. It should not go unnoticed that the curators are a majority female. These women continue to inspire me and give me real hope for the future of museum equity. Our diverse backgrounds and opinions made for a comprehensive show, and I’m excited to share that success.”

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