A longtime leader in Seattle’s physical art scene is trying her hand at the digital world of NFTs, and she’s teaming with a tech veteran to create a curated approach to the hyped phenomenon.
“I’m always interested in what the kids are doing,” said Kirsten Anderson, who started Roq La Rue gallery in 1998 as a space for what was then called the rising “Low Brow” art scene. She said she didn’t see NFTs coming, but she’d been waiting for a new art movement to come along and make her feel like she didn’t understand what was going on.
“This is it,” Anderson said.
She’s launching Phosphene, an online portal that will be a gallery of sorts, with expert curation. Phosphene will strive to connect legitimate artists with serious collectors and cut through the overcrowded NFT marketplaces that are home to an endless expanse of digital art of varying skill levels and price points.
Anderson is partnering with Art Min, an investor, consultant, Microsoft vet and onetime vice president of impact for the Pal. G. Allen Family Foundation, where he ran projects related to wildlife, ocean health, community development, the arts, education and climate change for the late Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist.
“I’ve always gotten energy from when the rules haven’t been written yet and trying to, not just establish the rules, but bring the existing community along for the ride,” Min said. “In this case, whether it’s galleries like Kirsten’s or collectors that don’t have a crypto wallet, I think there’s a really exciting opportunity to bridge that gap and create more value than just a JPEG or a multimedia experience.”
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have, in a short time, seemingly gone from the stage of “what are they?” curiosity to “of course it sold for that” resolve. The tokens are virtual certificates of ownership that are recorded as part of a blockchain computing network and have ignited a craze among collectors and cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Random internet memes, trading cards, NBA highlights, news articles, tweets and serious digital artwork are among the items being assigned unique digital authenticity and sold for breathtaking sums.
Anderson herself admits to first perking up when the digital artist Beeple auctioned an NFT at Christie’s for $69 million and turned the fine art world upside down.
“It took me a while to sort of figure out what was going on with the NFTs. I could see very quickly that this was going to change the landscape of art going forward,” Anderson said. “Seeing all the rumbling around digital arts starting to have a more viable platform, to be taken seriously in the fine art world, that was very exciting to me.”
While there’s no shortage of NFT content flooding the system right now, there is also an ever-increasing number of marketplaces aiming to position themselves as the one-stop shop. Phosphene’s goal is to help artists enter the space and get placed in the right marketplaces, with sustainability as a key consideration.
The environmental impacts of the craze are a leading concern due to the carbon emissions associated with the computing power required by the blockchain. Anderson’s art background includes a notable pause in 2016 when she closed Roq La Rue for two years to focus on a wildlife conservation project Creatura. Min said there’s an opportunity to rewrite the rules of how a for-profit company could succeed by leaning in on things like climate and sustainability embed that into the business model and the workload.
“There’s obviously the big guys sucking the air out of the room and getting the high profile people,” he said about NFT marketplaces. “But there are also some really great ones that are better for the planet — they’re more efficient, they’re actually more community friendly and those are the ones that I think are really exciting.”
Phosphene will be working with a number of advisors across technology, sustainability, climate and arts and culture, who Min said will ensure that Phosphene is connected to the best projects at any point in time, whether it’s high quality carbon offset credits or carbon capture projects, or other sustainability projects. Phosphene will rely on this peer review process and validation for where it allocates money for future efforts.
And Anderson said Phosphene will be a platform and voice calling attention to artists — rather than just casting them adrift “on the open sea, if you will,” she said in a nod to the largest and longest standing NFT marketplace.
Anderson and Min also see Phosphene as an opportunity to better blend the worlds of tech and fine arts. She says it’s a conversation that art institutions have been trying to figure out.
“This is such a tech city, how do we get people interested in the fine art here in Seattle? I think this is 100% the way to go,” Anderson said. “Tech people understand buying things in the digital world. It makes sense to them.
She thinks traditional collectors of physical art might be a little bit more interested in buying digital art now that there’s an authentication process, an ownership, and a resale value.
“It opens up pathways for both sides to explore art even more, which means artists can really go crazy and start to create some really innovative stuff,” Anderson said.
A Phosphene-branded crypto address will be used on NFTs that are placed in different marketplaces. Like a traditional gallery, Phosephene will take a cut of any sale.
Electric Coffin is Duffy De Armas and Stefan Hofman, a studio that uses a variety of mediums to present what they consider a “visual archeology” of sorts, dissecting, distilling, and reinterpreting elements of our daily lives.
Electric Coffin has had success in the commercial market and has done several installations for large tech companies as well as numerous public installations. The pair, along with their House of Sorcery design studio, has created work for Amazon, Facebook, T-Mobile, Zillow Group, Microsoft and more.
“As contemporary artists, we feel to be relevant and able to continue our dialogue with society, we need to incorporate digital and tech-driven elements into our work,” De Armas said.
For Phosphene, Electric Coffin is offering up some animated artworks based off their current body of work.
“Our work has always been a mix of digital and handmade, so bringing it back into a final format that is a moving digital file is really fun,” De Armas said. “We are also experimenting with 1/1 and open edition ‘digital stickers.’ Trying to find that right balance of accessibility and still a valuable expression for our collectors.”
He said working with Phosphene is really the only reason they feel confident diving into the world of NFTs.
“Kirsten is an amazing curator and has always been an advocate for ecological responsibilities,” De Armas said. “Knowing that her and Art are doing everything they can to create a positive impact from the purchase of NFTs resolves many of the issues of ecological concerns we had by participating.”