Breadcrumbs: Art in the age of NFTism, Nagel Draxler, Cologne, DE, 2021

Group Show | 12 May – 21 August 2021

A “breadcrumb” or “breadcrumb trail” is secondary navigation scheme that reveals the user's location in a website or Web application. The term comes from the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale in which the children drop breadcrumbs to form a trail back to their home. The intent of the exhibit is to embrace and showcase a diverse and eclectic group of early and recent adapters employing NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain to create and disseminate digital art via a gallery context and into the wider stream of commerce. The show will put to rest two demonstrably false assumptions widely held by today’s art industry: that this is a fad, and/or not art.

We are already in the midst of an NFTism hangover. One thing is certain though, this mode of dissemination of digital art isn’t going anywhere—not now, not any time soon—if not forever. The backlash has been swift and shrill resulting from mass-media overload to concerns about environmental devastation wrought by excessive energy usage. Importantly, the industry is fast in the midst of improving power consumption. By the way, where was the outcry during the heyday of incessant art fair air travel, i.e. every year pre-pandemic since Art Cologne launched it all in 1967; and the destruction caused by single-use wooden shipping crates?

The art world isn’t keen on willfully adapting to change, especially when the upheaval entails a shift in the landscape of access and gatekeepers that control it. Rather than embrace an entirely new universe of collectors (the techies) and a passing of the baton to a generation of digital natives, many would still prefer to hang onto the status quo. But the ETH is in the ether, the genie is out of the bottle. There’s no reversing from where we are at present, and Breadcumbs is an effort for art to coexist in a bricks and mortar space as well as online in the form of NTFs.

Already there is a gallery in New York devoted exclusively to displaying this form of digital art and dedicated hardware is available to showcase these works. A significant portion of seemingly traditional art exhibited in galleries was born of digital means—from studies for paintings and sculptures, to pretty much every video and photographic work. Breadcrumbs will be indistinguishable from a non-NFT show inasmuch as there will be an installation-based framework upon which photos, computer printouts, paintings and objects will be presented, as well as a parallel life as Non-Fungible Tokens (details to follow). The artists range from the earliest pioneers in NFTs like R. Myers, Kevin Abosch and Anna Ridler to established gallery veterans like Darren Bader and Eva Beresin. Welcome to the new now.

- Kenny Schachter

NFTs are not new. Artists have been experimenting with NFTs at least since 2015. But over the last year the crypto market has gained insane momentum and crypto currencies like Bitcoin have skyrocketed. The crypto-aristocracy has an interest in seeing a lot of trading in these currencies in order to add credibility. Art is a value that is similarly abstract as cryptocurrency and a trophy market, so overnight there has been an insane velocity in NFT art trading which adds a lot of publicity to crypto.

But there is a disconnect between the attention on the one hand and what people with art expertise can see in NFTs on the other. Our exhibition examines and questions that. We don't want to give the moral art-historical authority and are open to surprises. But it should already be clear that when you look at art history, after Warhol, Polke, Richter, the next to come is not Beeple. And NFTs will not replace physical art any more than NFTs from a Nike sneaker will replace real sneakers.

There seem to be different ways to approach the new NFTism: purely affirmative, in the sense of „I want to participate in the hype“, and creative, in the sense of „how can art make a difference here“, because NFTs will not go away. The art world is currently more on the affirmative side. We believe there are opportunities for a creative approach, but one has to look at the bigger picture: Art now has to define itself in this field of forces.

With Kenny Schachter, we invited an artist, art critic and curator who is not a digital native but has been making digital art since the mid 1990s. He knows the scene from inside out and also has in-depth knowledge of pre-digital art. We think the transitions between the two worlds are interesting, that’s why we will have both, physical works placed on the margins of the NFT realm and pure NFTs. 
Schachter has become one of the most prominent moderators of NFT art. In the gallery space, in addition to digital art shown on screens and printouts of digital images, there will be fragments of written commentaries on the subject by Schachter, some drawn from his most popular recent articles on NFTs.

- Christian Nagel, Saskia Draxler


Curated by: Kenny Schachter

With works by:
Kevin Abosch, Olive Allen, Darren Bader, Eva Beresin, Tracey Emin, Sarah Friend, Rulton Fyder, Rhea Myers, Osinachi, Max Osiris, DotPigeon, Anna Ridler, Robness, Koichi Sato, Kenny Schachter, Theo Triantafyllidis

As part of the exhibition architecture, walls of the gallery space are painted with a physical feature of "Cultural Consensus in Hot Pink“ by Devan Mitchem. The work was created over a conversation between Kenny Schachter and Devan Mitchem on the picks and shovels of creating cryptographically rare relics: proof of work, proof of stake, cryptoeconomics, hot wallets, stablecoins, decentralized identity, and trustless storage.