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Art Dubai Launches New Section Dedicated to Digital Art

The region’s leading art fair will present a new curated section focused on the expanding digital art sphere entitled Art Dubai Digital

By Rebecca Anne Proctor

Harm van den Dorpel, Mutant Garden Seeder, 64 pre-minted NFTs, Courtesy of the artist

Art Dubai will launch a new digital art section at its upcoming 15th edition, showcasing artworks from the rapidly expanding digital realm. The fair’s new division will examine the context out of which NFTs, cryptocurrency, video art, virtual reality (VR) have been borne since the rise of digital art during the 1980s.

“Each year we look at what is particularly exciting in the global scene and gauge how contemporary art is evolving and shifting,” said Pablo del Val, Art Dubai’s Artistic Director. “There is now a serious drive—from galleries to auction houses—to do something discursive related to digital media.”

The new section at the fair is curated by Chris Fussner, web3 specialist and Director of Tropical Futures Institute, a leading design strategy studio in Cebu, Philippines that elevates early stage artists and web3 tech startups.

“The use of NFTs in art and media over the last two years has been a huge catalyst for a lot of the hype and news in the space,” says Fussner. “Before this, crypto was largely about finance and financial systems – NFTs have created a wider ecosystem of which culture is an important part.”

This cultural application of NFTs, underlines Fussner, adds a critical dimension that has been important for introducing cryptocurrency to an entirely new set of people outside of its core demographic. With this new layer, these new networks become much more dynamic ecosystems encompassing everything from art and design to gaming. While most collectors are still acquiring traditional media, the interest in NFTs has created what Fussner calls a “massive explosion of new media art collectors.”

“Dubai is one of the top crypto centres in the world,” says Fussner. “In recent months, many HNWs from all over the world have moved to Dubai because of the appealing regulatory framework put in place in the UAE.” This Bitcoin Youth of young collectors and entrepreneurs are looking to diversify their portfolios, both financially and, perhaps more compellingly, through their art collections.

Art Dubai’s new section will explore how digital art has become part of an artist’s daily practice to develop new artistic trends and ways of creating art. “Digital art has been around since the 1980s,” says Del Val. “Since then, contemporary artists have been employing new digital technologies, fostering dialogues between the digital and the physical realms, and creating universes using cutting–edge softwares.”

NFTs, which have been around since 2017 but have only gained popularity over the last two years, are a hot topic and mark a significant evolution in the digital art world. As Del Val states, “artists are now not just searching for a dialogue between traditional art practices and technology, they are starting to create their art directly in the digital universe, and this is an entirely new approach.”

Art Dubai’s new section will provide a platform to engage all visitors— from digital experts to those still grappling with this new rapidly unfolding metaverse of digital art. It will include a dedicated gallery section, featuring several international platforms working with NFTs like Emergeast, FingerprintsDAO, Bright Moments and NFT Asia; contemporary galleries with projects devoted to digital art and NFTs like Institut (London), Keumsan Gallery (Seoul) and Window Project (Tbilisi/Moscow), and those that have been working with digital art since the 1980s, like Postmasters Gallery (Rome/New York/Blockchain). There will also be a space introducing visitors to the main players in the digital world—organisations, companies and associations that make up the ecosystem of the digital world—explaining where to buy bitcoin, and trade in crypto, among other activities. Importantly, the section will feature a discursive strand shedding light on the conversations unfolding in the new digital space; and an education programme – as part of Campus Art Dubai – that will offer mentoring to UAE-based practitioners interested in exploring or expanding their digital practice.

As part of the section’s discursive strand, the 15th edition of Art Dubai’s celebrated Global Art Forum, entitled ‘This is the Picture,’ will examine the worlds of digital artifacts and crypto economies. Commissioned by Shumon Basar, Global Art Forum 2022 will invite artists, curators, creators, thinkers and technologists to explore a range of topics from NFT art and curatorial projects, to crypto gaming, digital fashion, Web 3.0, and new models of institutions.

“The section has two main missions,” explains Del Val. “firstly, to be an educational tool to guide viewers on what the blockchain and NFT world is about. Secondly, we want to build a bridge between those who have no prior experience of the digital world, supporting them on their journey to collect digital artworks. Likewise, for the generation that only collects works online, we want this section to introduce them to the physicality of the art world.”

Del Val reiterates, “The section is sure to be an experiential think-tank that thoughtfully answers many questions about the digital media landscape, and encourages a lot of questions too.”

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