The artist Amani Lewis has curated an exhibition for the digital marketplace Liv eArt that features physical artworks alongside related nonfungible tokens, or NFTs.
This first show of primary market art for LiveArt includes an in-person exhibition of works by 13 young contemporary artists at Sperone Westwater gallery in Manhattan, all of which are available for sale through LiveArt Market beginning on Tuesday, June 29.
The NFTs, which are subtly animated versions of the physical art, are being minted on the LiveArt platform.
The exhibition, titled “When Two or More are Gathered,” is a nod to the biblical passage of Matthew 18:20, which Lewis (who uses gender-neutral pronouns) finds peaceful, and which, for them, speaks to a spiritual harmony that results from community.
As they explain, when people come together with an objective—whether they are family, friends, or colleagues—the energy they have opens up the spiritual realm. “It’s unlocking things that are invisible to the eye,” says Lewis, who is 26.
The passage is relevant as all of the artists whose work is being shown are connected in one way or another to Lewis, Lewis’s partner, or to one another, sometimes in surprising ways.
“A lot of us are friends and lovers, and we are influenced by each other,” Lewis says. “I want to see what happens when we put everyone in the same room—what type of energy will be there, and what type of feelings.”
By including NFTs—which are unique, digitized tokens encrypted on blockchain—alongside the physical works, LiveArt is intentionally giving traditional artists an avenue into a sector that has largely been dominated by digital artists and illustrators.
The company created its own platform, rather than relying on existing platforms such as Nifty Gateway or OpenSea, to ensure the NFTs were created to suit the needs of traditional artists and collectors, says Boris Pevzner, LiveArt’s CEO.
“That’s the market we are after across all of the types of things we sell—secondary, primary, and digital,” Pevzner says.
The NFTs exhibited in “When Two or More are Gathered,” for instance, include smart contracts that embed resale royalty rights throughout the life of the NFT.
The show is also artist-focused in how the artists are compensated, as each will get 70% of the price paid, instead of 50%, which is a typical gallery arrangement, Lewis says. The 50-50 arrangement is “something we are all tired of,” they add.
Also, each artist is consigning their work directly on LiveArt Market, and setting the price, LiveArt said. The related NFTs will be offered over several weeks beginning on Tuesday, at specified prices or through an online auction.
For the participating artists in the exhibition—nearly all of whom are in their 20s—working with NFTs opens up another medium for them to work within. As Lewis said in a news release on the show, “It’s a new way for me to think about this interplay between the tangible and the intangible, which is something I think about a lot in my work.”
Many of the works in the exhibition feature portraiture, are brimming with bright colors, and have something of a digital sensibility. Although it’s not necessarily purposeful or conscious, Lewis says there is “a digital thing that’s happening in almost every artwork.”
Both Lewis and the artist Stephen Arboite, for example, “have this collaging of color effect that’s very digital looking,” they say.
Lewis’ work, for example, begins with a photograph that they redraw and alter using photoshop. They then screen print the image using layers of color on a canvas, and then Lewis paints on top of that with “paint, pastel, glitter—you name it.”
For “When Two or More are Gathered,” Lewis created Celestial Kiki: Ode to Lit Liv, 2021 from a photograph of a woman named Kiki taken by the photographer Lit Liv, who, like Lewis, is based in Baltimore. The multi-layered image is rich in deep purples, oranges, greens, and browns, with digital green butterflies flitting about.
Adrian Armstrong’s Tylah, a portrait of a Black man who appears to be wearing colorful 3D glasses and a printed blazer, is rendered in three color sets: one that paints the blazer and glasses in red hues; another where the blazer is blue and the glasses are yellow; and a third where the blazer is brown and the glasses are yellow. The NFT version shifts the single image from color palette to color palette.
For Lewis, an interesting aspect of NFT art is the opportunity it creates for artists trained as illustrators and graphic designers, who tend not to have as much artistic freedom in their work—since it’s usually made for others. “NFTs allow those folks to play around and get creative,” they say.