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Leo Crane, course leader at Sotheby's Institute and an early adopter of Web3 technology in art, shares his thoughts on how technology is disrupting the traditional artworld ecosystem.

A new generation of digital art entrepreneurs is emerging and with them a new creative economy. Power is shifting away from established structures to decentralised communities and peer-to-peer networks, a hallmark of Web3, the umbrella term encompassing blockchain, NFTs and the Metaverse. 

What does this mean for the art market ecosystem? Traditionally, the art market has been controlled and validated by a handful of blue-chip galleries and internationally respected institutions. Curators scout artists at degree shows, ‘incubator’ galleries or art fairs and set them on the path to a strong secondary market at auction and a permanent place in national collections. In recent times, artists have been able to use social media to build public profiles outside this system, but the inner sanctum of success remains notoriously impenetrable. 

Many think Web3 has the potential to dig into the foundations of this fortress and break it open. In Web3, artists and collectors connect directly with each other, participating in the same communities and transacting without an intermediary. Artworks (in their digital form) can be displayed and distributed at the touch of a button, both in interactive virtual spaces and in the physical realm via projections and screens.

T. Julian Farrell (aka Animus) is a collector, producer and curator of digital art. He explains: “As technology advances, it really opens doors and creates markets that never existed before. We’re talking about the bridge between traditional fine art and digitally native art. It bridges the physical and virtual; it bridges communities; it bridges nations; and it bridges artists and consumers.” 

So where does that leave the role of the curator or gallerist? After completing her MA in Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute, Vienna Kim took up the role of Artistic Manager at Artpoint, a Paris-based start-up connecting people to the best digital artists worldwide. She says: “Representation in Web3 has different modes, the first being self representation, which is the original ethos of Web3. If artists feel like that’s true to their practice then they can get connected and forge their own artistic careers. Then there are companies like Artpoint, as well as producers and managers like Julian, who can aid you in areas that you find more challenging. The beauty of web3 is that we can experiment and figure out what works for each of us.”

To illustrate Vienna’s point, oil painter Arne Spangereid explains how he began making NFTs: “I’d heard about the big hype of NFTs, so I had been curious for a while. But when I looked into it, it was so overwhelming I didn’t know which end to start. I was lucky to be introduced to Julian, who explained the basics of it and carried me along. Once I get into that world, there is so much happening there that stimulates creativity, opportunities for collaborating with other artists, and learning about new ways to do art business.”

The decentralisation of Web3 creates a space where every part of the ecosystem can interact. This encourages a blurring of roles, so that collectors are inspired to curate, artists to produce, producers to create and so on. There is certainly a need for onboarding, navigating the fast-evolving technology, and managing partnerships and projects, but the delivery of this is much more diffuse than before. 

Rather than gatekeepers, there are guides, people who stand alongside artists and collectors and play an active role within the same communities. Perhaps, after all, Web3 is not seeking to destroy the art market fortress, but to draw people out of it into the level playing fields beyond.

Leo Crane is a course leader at Sotheby’s Institute and an early adopter of Web3 technology in art. Drawing on 20+ years’ experience working with cultural institutions across the UK and US, as well as his own creative practice, he hosts the Institute’s series of free public Twitter Spaces exploring topical issues on art and tech.

Image: Artpoint