Why Dubai is well placed to become the digital art capital of the world

Expert explains how phygital art works, and why it brings digital art closer to collectors


Joydeep Sengupta

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Published: Wed 1 Jun 2022, 8:09 PM

Last updated: Fri 17 Jun 2022, 3:52 PM

Generative Gallery is a live audiovisual project driven by the global art community collaboration. Among its many formats are offline exhibitions, online special projects, non-fungible token (NFT) integrations, and public talks delivered by artists and explorers of digital art.

Khaleej Times spoke with Anna Smirnova, the creative producer of Generative Gallery and Radugadesign Studio in Moscow. As an art manager with more than eight years of experience, Anna unravels how a new art form appeared, and why Dubai is well placed to become the world's capital of digital art.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

What is phygital art? How can you describe it?

Phygital (physical + digital) is a hybrid form of art. In fact, it is digital art that exists inside or outside a physical object. The simplest example, which has already hit the mainstream, is an NFT displayed inside a unique screen.

The Revival of Aesthetics by Orkhan Mammadov. Generative Gallery, ToDA
The Revival of Aesthetics by Orkhan Mammadov. Generative Gallery, ToDA

What do I get as a collector when I buy a phygital art?

At our gallery, we make sure that in addition to a digital asset (NFT) the buyer gets a ready-made solution for displaying NFT at home. There is no difference from acquiring a piece of painting in a gallery and placing it straight in your living room.

We create physical objects and art separately. When collectors buy a piece of phygital art, we deliver a material thing, for example, a TV, where art is displayed. Some technologies, like electronic chips, help create a direct link between the physical object and the NFT.

The Revival of Aesthetics by Orkhan Mammadov. Generative Gallery, ToDA
The Revival of Aesthetics by Orkhan Mammadov. Generative Gallery, ToDA

Currently, we are at the dawn of phygital art, so there will be new forms of presentation in the future.

How long has phygital art existed? Everybody talks about digital art, but phygital art feels like something new. Explain.

Let’s have a look at some facts the emergence of phygital art is tied to.

The new type of marketing: The word ‘phygital’ comes from marketing. Over the last few years, brands have been launching projects where physical objects become digitised. For example, there was an Adidas project where people could buy sneakers through phygital service. Customers would come to the shop, scan the QR code, and use the phone camera to try new shoes virtually.

The history of the art form: Back in the early 1970s, when video art emerged, it was challenging to sell. Gallerists and distributors wondered what to do with something that cannot be put on the wall like a painting. And the solution was to sell not just art, but also devices to show it, like TV or projectors.

A big rush for NFT: It started in March 2021. As the number of NFT platforms and marketplaces increased, galleries began to work more with digital artists. And that’s when artists started connecting digital art with physical objects. All the puzzle pieces have come together! Since then, we categorise phygital art as a separate art form.

What is the current situation in the digital art market? There has been a lot of talk lately that NFT collections are not selling well. How correct is this assessment?

Every market expects fluctuations. There are ups and downs due to the overall economic situation because art is not a necessity but an added luxury commodity that raises prestige and prosperity.

Many people see NFT as an investment. At some point, it was so overhyped that eventually prices dropped. If you look at the history of NFT, there were times of ‘cold snap’ when currencies would fall. Only back then, the market was not that big, so it was not affected by those falls.

In 2021, when the NFT market boomed, many predicted the imminent burst of this bubble. It did not though. Now people foretell a cryptocurrency winter. Well, maybe it won't be as terrible as everyone thinks, because it will wipe out all unnecessary speculators from the market.

But speaking of phygital art, do people still buy it?

Yes, they do. A recent example is the collection of Orkhan Mammadov’s phygital artworks. Generative Gallery organised an exhibition, "The Revival of Aesthetics" in ToDA, Dubai, and it came with a Phygital NFT drop, which included nine unique Infinity Objects frames. Also, three Infinity Objects frames were provided, a Samsung Sero TV display and one multimedia installation among them. So far, we have sold five frames, one TV, and one installation from the drop. We still have five frames to buy, but it shows a clear demand.

The Revival of Aesthetics by Orkhan Mammadov. Generative Gallery, ToDA
The Revival of Aesthetics by Orkhan Mammadov. Generative Gallery, ToDA

If you ask who are the top phygital art buyers, I could point to several collectors or entrepreneurs, who are already into NFT and would like to demonstrate their collection not only in a crypto wallet, but also physically. Other buyers are just looking towards NFT and generally choose digital art solely with the soothing accompaniment of a tangible object.

The phygital art market is growing, especially in the UAE. Galleries pop up one after another in Dubai, and the city has a great chance to become the heart of the phygital art world.

How is phygital art connected with the Metaverse?

The Metaverse is a gateway into virtual reality. It seems that all future NFT related projects, including phygital art, will move towards different metaverses. Our gallery is already getting requests to create NFT for a metaverse, which will be embodied in natural objects. Soon, it will be possible to put real things into a Metaverse and sell them with the help of NFT.

What are your gallery's upcoming plans?

Generative Gallery has projects related to NFT but without phygital art. On June 10, the first digital art exhibition in Israel will open at the Ramat Gan Museum, where, among other things, works by some of our artists will be on display.

Being quite picky in selecting works and artists to work with, we are always open to ideas, proposals, and collaborations. We are turning NFT into sound works of art and are happy to work with anyone who cares about the market's future.

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