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 oshoot 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 Eects, the 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 eects 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