Chris Talbott Jan. 4, 2022 at 6:00 am Updated Jan. 4, 2022 at 2:00 pm
Special to The Seattle Times
Back in the not-so-great days of January 2021, not many people were putting much thought into NFTs and the possibilities when combined with digital art.
A year later, the Seattle NFT Museum is set to open its doors to highlight the work of those who have ridden the billion-dollar boom and changed the lives of people like Bellevue conceptual artist and illustrator Robbie Trevino.
“It’s great for people like me, right?” said Trevino, who has two pieces in the Seattle NFT Museum’s debut installation. “Because we finally can make a really good living off of what we’re doing and have a lot of respect. I mean, Christie’s and Sotheby’s weren’t even looking in the direction of any of us a year ago, you know?”
If you’re a bit confused by the whole NFT thing, join the crowd. It is a bit dizzying to think that digital assets that were once free and widely available now sometimes carry immense value when combined with nonfungible tokens that provide instant proof of authenticity and verifiable provenance.
Though NFTs aren’t new, the large, bold headlines around NFT-marked digital art began early last year when a pseudonymous buyer purchased in March a collection of digital pieces by the artist Beeple for $69.3 million, a staggering sum called a “milestone” for digital art by auction house Christie’s.
Seattle NFT Museum founders Jennifer Wong and Peter Hamilton hope to create an appreciation for the limitless potential of digital art with their Belltown space that will display the work of artists and collectors for those who want a more tactile interaction with what’s largely an ephemeral art form.
“We started to visit our first NFT galleries a few months ago and started to see the dramatic effect it can have to see digital art live in person in full scale in a physical space and how that makes you think about the art and experience it in different ways,” Hamilton said. “And we believe that there was an opportunity to create a physical space that can show the breadth of art and technology that is being developed and that can explore new domains and categories and show the general public really how expansive this medium can be.”
The museum, located at 2125 First Ave., will differ from the growing NFT gallery experience in a couple of ways. First, while the art may be for sale from the artist or the collector, this isn’t a sales space. And there will be educational and social components, as well, including a series of events around its opening on Jan. 14.
“We felt like the aspect that was missing was just the education, learning and context for what we were looking at,” Wong said. “I think we love the experience of being able to see physical art together with friends and to be able to talk about it like you would with any shared experience. But without being a deep NFT expert, we didn’t really understand the true value of what we were looking at. And that’s why for us we wanted to really focus on more of the museum aspect versus just a gallery, so that we can focus on bringing context to the art pieces versus just having someone walk in with the expected knowledge of already understanding what they’re looking at to potentially buy it.”
Wong and Hamilton, a pair of tech executives who married recently after meeting during stints at marketing-platform company TUNE (he’s now head of television commerce at Roku, she’s head of sustainability at Convoy), have assembled an expansive group of artists for the opening. Los Angeles’ Blake Kathryn is the headlining artist. The Lil Nas X and Jimmy Choo collaborator will attend and participate in a Q&A about her work. The collector’s showcase will highlight the collection of the Bird Family, and artist representation firm H+ Creative will provide an artists showcase.
The work of Seattle-area artists will be highlighted as well with exhibits from Trevino, iconic grunge photographer Charles Peterson and environmental designer and 3D artist Neon Saltwater.
The two contributions from Trevino, who’s worked for Lucasfilm on “Star Wars” projects, for Netflix on the popular “Love, Death & Robots” series, and the music acts Tool and deadmau5, come from his multimedia project “Numinous.” It began as an illustrated book project, but like the NFT boom has shown, he now sees far more applications for his ideas.
“The book project could be anything,” Trevino said. “It could be a video game, it could be a board game, it could be an AR/VR type experience, it could be an anime. But NFTs seemed like the next obvious facet of exploring that story, ‘Numinous.’”
Trevino marveled at the speed of the NFT phenomenon. He remembers the idea of pairing art with the tokens catching fire in February and March 2021, and now he has a thriving market for work he once would have been willing to give away in some instances.
“The big bullet-point concept this year was that digital art does in fact have value far beyond what most people perceive,” Trevino said. “It’s something that we consume so regularly people just assume it’s free, right? We’re constantly seeing tons on social media — Instagram, Twitter, Facebook — all these sites that would just be walls of code without art, without a user interface or some sort of website design or the content that the content creators like myself upload for people to look at.”