As a curator at one of the world’s largest online art galleries, I'm often asked, What is curation? What is a curator's role in the arts? And, more recently, does curation have a place in the rising space of art NFTs, especially given that it is such a decentralized movement?
I wholeheartedly believe that curation does have an important role in the space. The industry will not only need artists to create NFTs and collectors to purchase them, but it also needs curators to help develop and foster talent, and guide buyers towards finding the next work to add to their collection. A curator can also help society better understand what art NFTs are, and provide insight into an individual work’s value and meaning within the context of this historic art movement.
While much of the promise of crypto art lies in its potential to democratize art creation and collection, curators remain essential. Here are a few ways they will play a role in the shaping of the crypto art scene.
There really isn't one definition of what it means to be a curator, and it's even more undefined in the NFT space. Traditionally, as Sotheby’s puts it, “The curator is a steward of art objects, as indicated by the Latin etymology of ‘Curarae’ or to take care of, attend to. … A good curator provides information, connections, and even contrasts to understand what makes art relevant today.”
How does that apply to new spaces created by technological advances, where art is no longer only a painting or sculpture in a museum or gallery, but accessible to everyone to view online? What does curation mean in a new industry where artists and collectors are bypassing traditional gatekeepers?
Whether it be for NFTs or physical artworks, I see the role of a curator as having several different facets, each of which is important in the development of great art, and having that great art be appreciated by a wider audience. We already know that the archetypical picture of who “can/should” be a curator is changing, which means that what curation looks like is going to change, too. However, there are a few core attributes that curators must possess, even if the people and processes change.
Curators are dedicated to an artist’s craft and career. Curators not only identify new talent, but work with that talent to foster their creativity and develop their career objectives. Getting to know artists and their inspiration means that curators can better write and speak about artists’ work, in order to generate interest within a wider audience. Curators also provide portfolio reviews, advocate for artists’ work, and lend needed support throughout the artistic journey. This type of patronage is incredibly important, as it allows artists the ability to focus on what they are best at: creating.
In the context of the crypto art universe, curators can usher artists into the space by helping them to better understand how they can maximize their creativity, what type of NFT approach will be best for their career growth, how to price their art (our recent report on “Making a Living as an Artist” found that the biggest challenge to artists was correctly pricing their NFT), and how to use NFTs for income generation.
Curators also curate art by thoughtfully organizing and arranging works and collections in a way that tells a story to the audience. This can include not only organizing exhibitions and shows, but writing about artists, trends, and movements, too. You could even say that this role makes curators preservers of history, art, and culture.
Because curatorial efforts teach a broader audience how to appreciate art and help them understand why that art is important, curators will play a critical role in communicating the value and necessity of art NFTs. Since curators are aware of the many players in the space — artists, collectors, galleries, other curators, institutions, and more — they can better understand the ripple effect of a single drop or series, which can better inform their work with artists and collectors.
Curators also play an important role in working with interested buyers in order to connect them with pieces of art they'll enjoy and want to own. Curators meet the collector, and seek to understand their goals, which could vary widely from person to person — from wanting to build a collection focused on a medium or theme to focusing only on those works which will increase in value over time. Another way curators advise collectors is by spending time keeping up on artists and art movements so they can better inform buyers who may not have the time to dedicate to researching artworks.
With art NFTs, this means not only understanding a collector’s goals — are they looking for generative works? important NFT drops? a name behind the art? — but educating them on the technology of the space, helping them to properly set up asset storage, and more.
In the rising crypto art space, curators will play the necessary role of guide: they'll know every inch of this new landscape, and be able to lead both artists and collectors through this relatively unknown world, providing education and direction along the way. This will be especially important as many artists and collectors seek to learn more about what NFTs are, the technology powering them, the value they can bring to both artists and collectors, and where the future of the industry is going. Ultimately, curators help make art accessible, both to collectors through education and contextualization, and to artists by breaking down the barriers to creation.
In a New York Times article dissecting the overuse of the term “curator,” critic and historian Hans-Ulrich Obrist defines the role as “a catalyst, generator and motivator — a sparring partner, accompanying the artist while they build a show, and a bridge builder, creating a bridge to the public.” I’ve personally never been a fan of the word “curator” because of the sometimes stuffy connotations that come with it, which have never felt true to who I was or what my role at Saatchi Art entailed. But I like Obrist’s more dynamic interpretation, and that it speaks as compellingly to NFTs as to traditional art. The role curators will play in the emerging category of crypto art is one of catalyst and motivator, helping us to find a new way of comprehending art, and as bridge-builders creating ease of access to new artistic approaches.