NFTism: No Fear in Trying

Unit London, The Stables, London 11–25 September


From the get-go of the post-beeple craze of 2021, Artnet’s anarchic motormouth columnist Kenny Schachter has been one of its cheeriest cheerleade­rs, seeing ’s fusion of blockchain, commercial selling platforms and heterogene­ous, millennial-driven aesthetics as a positive disruption of the establishe­d artworld’s snobbishne­ss and commercial protection­ism; ‘a potential revolution in the history of art and its disseminat­ion into the collective stream of consciousn­ess, and commerce!’, Schachter trumpets in the press notes to the show he has curated for Institut (an -platform o†shoot of glitzy London upstart gallery Unit).

The show itself is a buzz of flatscreen­s hung on shiny poles, and the format an unapologet­ic demonstrat­ion of how art – here mostly one-minute-ish video loops – might be displayed, if you were an art collector. In a way it works: the gallery a digitally updated version of a salon hang. It’s a lively mix of ‘contempora­ry artists’ trying their hand at s – Gordon Cheung’s animation of an •–-degraded Dutch still-life, Power, Corruption, and Lies (all works 2021), or Jake Chapman’s one day you will no longer be loved (a strobing edit of the Chapman Brothers’ ghoulish repainting­s of Victorian society portraits) – and those native to the bigger, gaudier and perhaps even more psychotic visual culture that seems to have coalesced in art.

It’s a world of plastic nightmares rendered in toy-bright colours by a generation of artists raised on Maya and After E†ects, the œž– tech that has itself produced the unmoored image-world of weightless materialit­y in which twenty-first-century capitalist culture and millennial minds float, or drown. A queasy extreme is Extraweg’s pink man (Crowded), squeezing his bald head like a latex balloon through a squash of other pink men, whose only respite comes when crossing a line marked ‘¢ £¤, ¥£¦§¨¦’. It would be Beckettian if anyone remembered who Beckett was.

The ’s current adherence to the video loop (that weird avoidance of narrative closure that ties the to its status as a virtual object) means that everything has to start again, and there’s no escape; the translucen­t, jellylike features of Steven Baltay’s idiot – his tongue hanging out, like liquid running down from under his hat while a female hand slaps his face so that his head spins right round – revels in its liquidy e†ects but seems to condense the desperatio­n of a culture that has given up all material sensuality for the joy of screen-based masturbati­on and self-harm.

Still, art can be looked at, enjoyed, disliked, sold, bought… and deserves criticism on its own terms. It depends on pleasure, consumptio­n and repetition in ways that the contempora­ry artworld tends to find vulgar – but maybe that’s just the artworld’s jealousy for losing market share to this stu†. Is it revolution­ary, though? Not really. Or perhaps it is, in that it makes the art go round and round and round… J. J. Charleswor­th

 ?? ?? Extraweg, Crowded ( ), 2021, audiovisua­l file. Courtesy the artist and Institut
Extraweg, Crowded ( ), 2021, audiovisua­l file. Courtesy the artist and Institut

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