Text and photos by Clare Gemima
Superchief Gallery NFT, 56 E. 11th Street between Broadway and University Place, is said to be the first physical gallery in the world to devote its entire space to the display of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
I sat down with Ed Zipco, an extremely passionate member of the space, to discuss the ins and outs of this crazy new art world, the future of digital spaces and how every type of artist can benefit from this technology. (A special thanks to Ed for letting me pick his brain about this over and over again!)
What does the NFT space do for your everyday artist?
I think it opens up a brand new arena for them where it’s new collectors, new opportunities to be created and a new world of royalties. More than anything and across the board, every artist should be caring about the fact that there is now a way to get royalties for their artwork.
So that’s the main ethos of Superchief Gallery NFT (SCGNFT)?
Definitely. Getting royalties as an artist hasn’t existed in the history of the art world. It’s a huge deal.
How does SCGNFT operate amongst other galleries in the neighborhood? How do you see yourself within the neighborhood’s more conventional art-viewing experience/ gallery culture?
Well, we have two galleries. We have this one and the one in SoHo, which deals with the more traditional side of things. We are a bit bolder and we are really running into this field as fast as we can to champion it without hesitation.
I think other galleries were not yet working with digital artists for the most part, but we have since 2016. We’ve been looking and waiting for this moment to happen and I think a lot of the other institutions, curators and people in the art world have been resigned to the idea that selling digital artwork is impossible. Now they seem to be getting into it.
For us, we’ve been waiting. I think there are so many incredible digital and technological artworks out there and there hasn’t been a way to include them or support them in the best way possible. I think that’s the major difference. We want to include digital artists in a larger discourse and community.
Did you think waiting for a platform to appear that would champion digital artists would correlate with cryptocurrency?
Yeah, of course. Because it all feels so — future. Everything feels like bits and pieces of alien technology that have suddenly become accessible, so I think that’s just what the future feels like, and it’s part of the whole NFT eco-system. I don’t think that we could’ve predicted how it all came about, but it made a lot of sense that it would be crypto-related for sure.
Where does your confidence come from in erecting a physical gallery dedicated to showcasing exclusively digital/virtual work?
Our confidence comes from the fact that we are used to being “new” and early on projects. We’ve been betting on the future for 20 years. It’s kind of a necessary situation for the public to have an opportunity to see what it looks like to actually own this artwork and have it not just be something that lives on your phone.
If there is going to be artwork, people want to live with that artwork, and [you think] how do you inhabit a space, or, how does your home host all of this stuff around you? I think people need to see the work before they start having it in their home.
So SCGNFT really wants to present the digital colliding with the physical. There’s a convergence there.
Well, that’s truly what cyber-punk is. The relics and artifacts of technology and the physical intermeshing.
And obviously, there are a lot of artists working across different disciplines: painting, sculpture, textile, ceramics, video, collage, etc., but all I can see are screens around me. Almost as if the screens are acting as canvases... is this the only iteration or display of NFT work that your gallery will showcase?
No. We are really excited to be as experimental as the NFT experience can allow. Our goals over time will be 3D-printed sculptures, projection mapping, having more interactivity where you can kind of experience NFTs as NFTs become more advanced. Right now, this is still year one of the pop-cultural interaction with NFTs.
Right, so they’re really in their infancy right now?
Well, that’s exciting because I know there are plenty of people working outside of screen-based practices that can participate in NFTs. So what happens when you buy an NFT? I have a screen at home and I would like to experience my own NFT at home in real-time. What does that look like?
Most platforms/marketplaces will sell you an NFT that is roughly 50 megabytes. It will look good on your phone, OK to good on your computer screen but if you put it on your TV it will start to look soft.
If you buy the NFT from us, you get unlock-able content, so you get a link or a way to contact us and once you contact us we send you away to download the high-res file. So you get to experience the high-resolution version in your home.
And that file exists in whatever format it has been uploaded as?
So it could be anything from a PSD to an AI to a JPEG to a TIFF to anything?
Yeah. I think there are a few types of files that aren’t accepted but for the most part, you’re correct.
What is the best advice for launching or transitioning into this space?
I think the most important thing people can do right now is to engage with the audience that they have and start to build and communicate with them as to what their plans are. It isn’t the old way of doing art sales anymore. It isn’t the old art world where you’re trying to sell a piece and once you sell that piece you kind of lose contact with your buyers. It's difficult to have a relationship with your collector base ...
NFTs really allow you to create communities and be able to directly have relationships with your community.
So I think the most important thing I would say to artists is to put work out there, communicate with people before you do so in order to promote it and then don’t set the prices too high or expect it to be a cash-grab.
It is really important for people to recognize that this is the first time that the collectors, flippers and artists are all on the same team. That hasn’t existed up until this point, so now when you sell something at a price and they flip it for more, the artist is getting 10 percent of that every time.
So it’s really about the longevity of your work and setting an ability for it to grow over time and then be something that is a recurring income stream. It really helps everybody.
So how does an artist approach Superchief Gallery NFT to facilitate a physical showcasing of their work?
For us we curate everything. For our gallery, we are looking all day/every day for new work. The way that we take submissions is through Instagram. If we are feeling it, we reach back out and let them know that we are excited and sometimes we get flooded so artists won’t hear back for a couple of weeks but we read everything.
Can you talk more about the nature of the artwork that’s already been submitted? Are they ambitious projects or more screen-based display-type proposals?
Both sides and everything in between. People have reached out with crazy opportunities but there is also a wave of people that are just starting to get excited because they can see people being able to pay their rent and make a lot of money with it.
Because of that, there are now artists that have never made artwork before that are going crazy and trying to do everything they can which is great. It’s not necessarily always the work we want to show, but I am happy that people are encouraged to make artwork because you get that diamond in the rough.
You get that 1 in 100 that’s amazing.
Is the NFT space for everyone or is there a specific type of artist/collector that it is set up for?
I think eventually it will be for everyone. I think right now it's early adopters who I think in every way we’ve all seen tend to do well. The early adopters of Instagram are the ones with the giant Instagram accounts, early adopters of TikTok are the ones with huge TikTok accounts.
The early investors of crypto are now millionaires and billionaires. There’s certainly a mix right now of people that hit it big in crypto and people that are excited about technology and the blockchain in general who have been involved for maybe two years at this point. Financial institutions have gotten into it heavy in the last six months.
But this wave through art has made it appeal to mass culture. Sports is the other side of that and between sports and the arts, everyone is diving in. Celebrities are involved now. I think what is really going to blow the roof off of this whole thing is when sneakerhead culture enters the chat.
Explain sneakerhead culture.
Sneakerhead culture is the people from the last 10 years that found sectors in a culture that they could invest in, recognize scarcity, recognize the system, invest in it and profit off of it. I think those people and those hype beasts are going to completely create a boom now that they are able to invest in artwork.
The secondary market has always been obscured in the art world and the gatekeepers were really difficult to work with and I think there being a transparency that is available now via the blockchain is gigantic. I think that wave is going to bring all of these boats up higher.
There’s already a pre-existing culture in this space, early adopters, specific types of artist’s work that appreciates more significantly than others, etc. Do you think an artist could actually maintain an analog practice and dabble in the NFT space as a secondary income stream or do you really have to embrace this monster of a culture that maybe you wouldn’t usually or naturally?
Like anything, you’re going to get out what you put in, but I don’t think this is about people chasing a fad or changing their aesthetic or art practice to jump into this. To some degree, you will see people do that but I think maintaining their voice regardless of their chosen medium is the most important thing.
As long as they are staying true to themselves, it’s a really good idea to be an early adopter of this. For 100 different reasons crypto, the blockchain and the fact that there are royalties make it a very worthwhile thing to chase after.
When you curated this particular show, what was it that you were trying to present and give out to your audience?
I really want to show a well-balanced portrait of the art community that we work with. I really want to show a balance of traditional artwork, graffiti artists, muralists, street artists, photographers, sculptors and really find the right way to bring each of those practices to the NFT sphere. About 70 percent of the show is from traditional artists and 30 percent from digital artists.
For you, what is the most rewarding part of this experience?
It has been wild handing this much money to artists this fast. We were in our first week of being open and we sold $150,000 worth of NFTs and 85 percent of that goes to artists. It’s not the traditional 50/50.
It just blew my mind.
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Clare Gemima is a visual artist from New Zealand. New-ish to the East Village, she spends her time as an artist assistant and gallery go-er, hungry to explore what's happening in her local art world. You can find her work here: claregemima.com