You’ll need art on those walls – what does your metaverse look like?

Charlotte Eytan
August 23, 2022

Web2 platforms typically degrade into status games where we’re all competing for an algorithm’s attention. Charlotte Eytan argues that web3 enables a more balanced and accessible environment for art curation, creating an ecosystem where conventionally distinct terms like collecting, curating, and even creating become almost indistinguishable. But this should not stop us recognising the value that curators, with expertise, lived experience, and a trained eye, can bring to the space.

The term ‘work-life balance’ has always been a dangerous misnomer. Why should work be such a taxing idea that we completely detach it from our lives? Over the past couple of decades, tech startups and increasingly many others have begun to recast that traditional dichotomy, normalising higher expectations by providing souped-up workplaces with gourmet kitchens, ping pong tables, and other amenities all to promote a richer work-life.

Largely due to Covid, employees from all sectors have now been afforded the same agency and freedom previously reserved for in-demand employees, like software engineers and senior executives. It is not surprising, then, that the startups which have emerged as tech leaders create products that champion more autonomous ideals. Take platforms like Instagram which democratise curatorship; suddenly, we are all photographers and tastemakers and trendsetters — or least we can be, if we play by their rules.

Web2 platforms tend to operate as zero-sum status games where we are all competing for an algorithm’s attention, and some go to extreme lengths to win, from creating bots and rent-seeking tools to spending hours optimising content for a platform we ultimately have no ownership in. Simply put, equal access does not mean equal return.

By marrying democratised access with financial incentives and ownership, web3 makes a more balanced environment for art curation possible. Now, when a curator discovers an emerging artist and invests in their work, they have a stake in the artist’s success. You can buy upside so that not only is the curator incentivised by the ‘tastemaker’ status that comes with discovering the next Basquiat, the graffiti artist who rose to prominence in the 1980s, but through the aligned financial upside that comes from their success. When they win, you win.

Curation in web3 has consequently been more about empowering collectors and artists in the NFT space to be curators themselves. In a sense, conventionally separate identities like curator, advisor, and collector become almost indistinguishable.

Two people observing Obnoxious Liberals, by Jean-Michel Basquiat, at The Broad contemporary art gallery in California, USA. The African American graffiti artist had a huge impact on art from outside the traditional ecosystem. Web3 makes it easier for anyone to discover and support new talent.

Platforms are emerging that are reflective of that overlap, where collectors curate their own exhibitions and anyone can host virtual galleries to showcase art. JPG, for instance, brands itself as the 'NFT Curation Protocol', allowing anyone to curate NFT exhibitions regardless of what they own. Creators can make a single repository of their work, allowing for easier discovery, or create stories with work of their own and their collaborators, whilst collectors can curate their own NFTs to guide the story of their collection, juxtaposing owned and unowned pieces to add further context and meaning. The biggest opportunity is nonetheless for curators, who can share their knowledge by spotlighting important works and creating relational and contextual meanings, all permanently on-chain.

It is the polar opposite of the traditional art world, where curators need permission from artists and owners and have to navigate gatekeepers like art institutions and gallery representatives. Factor in the logistics of flying artists to shows, shipping physical art, and coordinating with galleries too — the entire process is very slow.

In the NFT space, both creation and curation can flow unencumbered at extreme speeds. Curation in web3 is generally a more collaborative and community-driven mentality that creates a far healthier environment than the competitiveness of the traditional art world.

A frame from x*y=k, by Pplpleasr for UniSwap, the decentralised cryptocurrency exchange. The title refers to the XYK pooled liquidity model that underlies some of the technology behind the platform.

Speed and malleability, however, should not be left unchecked. We should still honour the tenets that make curators an integral part of our lives: research, lived experience, and training the eye through consistent engagement with the space. Curators in the art world live and breathe their work: it is embedded in their lifestyle and hobbies because it’s the only way to absorb this world. There is so much to absorb in the NFT space — an impossible amount. So we need to build in opportunities that allow us to learn collectively. Platforms like JPG lean into that.

We should still honour spaces that yield profoundly imaginative artwork. We should prioritise Venice Biennale-like moments where celebrated curators gather and provide a filter through which everyone can understand, comment upon, and share in the zeitgeist. I am convinced that as established art curators continue to move into the space, we will find the balance that we need: between speed and quality, and rapid iteration and deliberate retrospection.

“Curation in web3 is generally a more collaborative and community-driven mentality.”

As the role and definition of curator shifts in the coming years, so too will the opportunities for curatorial work. With fewer overheads and bottlenecks — physical and metaphorical — curators will have more time to work across more projects. New bridges will emerge between traditional art curation, metaverse-native projects, and everything else web3. Forward-thinking workplaces across the board — like Big Tech, for which art and aesthetics have always been key focal points — will begin to incorporate the metaverse in brand new ways. With each innovation will come curatorial opportunity. 

What if your DAO could loan its Bored Ape to Google? Or you could hang your Banksy NFT in your office? Or don a VR headset to meet your team virtually in a renaissance castle? The abstract ‘vibe’ is a big factor in where we choose to work — and that is not going to change. Even as the future changes and our concepts of work and life intersect, you are still going to want art on those walls.

“Conventionally separate identities like curator, advisor, and collector become almost indistinguishable.”
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Charlotte Eytan
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Charlotte is the Director of Particle. She is an art historian, curator and consultant who has experience working with both emerging and established galleries, institutions, artists, as well as seasoned and new collectors around the world. Charlotte started her career at some of the world’s leading galleries and auction houses like Pace, Christie's, and Phillips before moving into web3. She runs the Particle Foundation and leads partnerships with institutions, galleries and artists.

Charlotte is the Director of Particle. She is an art historian, curator and consultant who began her career at leading galleries and auction houses like Pace and Christie's before moving into web3 with Particle. Charlotte runs the Particle Foundation and leads partnerships with institutions, galleries, and artists.