NFTs and metaverses never sleep, so why should a venue dedicated to showcasing them? That’s a cornerstone belief behind The NFT Gallery, which opened in Chengdu’s National Music Industrial Park in late September courtesy of online platform Openlake.
It’s a space for visitors to learn about the heady trajectory of NFTs, discover the artists, local and international, pushing the medium forward, and, for the intrepid, a chance to purchase work, or even create and upload their own. It’s an experience brought to life through giant LED displays and walls teeming with QR codes; and in China’s burgeoning NFT and metaverse sector, it’s the first of its kind operating around the clock.
“NFTs and metaverses are still in a very early stage in China and users are trying to understand them,” Alex Yang, Openlake’s Co-Founder, tells Jing Culture & Commerce. “We want to leverage these technologies and provide a unique place for visitors to really feel them.”
One revelation of the NFT phenomenon has been the willingness of younger generations to spend money on non-physical assets — perhaps somewhat unsurprising in the context of digital habits developed by China’s multibillion dollar gaming industry. Yang wants to harness this new mode of ownership by offering visitors a place to explore, discuss, and stage NFTs. This means creating a personal gallery for visitors, one fully customizable from the lighting levels, to the background music, to the names adorned on the wall.
At a time when Shanghai’s art sector is booming and offering a vibrant counterpoint to Beijing’s long-held supremacy, Chengdu may seem an unlikely landing site for Openlake’s first NFT gallery-cum-museum. But the city of more than 20 million has become a cradle of contemporary youth trends in recent years, making it highly suitable Yang says, noting Chengdu’s cultural consumption reached $46 billion in 2020.
More challenging will be building a broad, well-educated audience, one confident in the future of NFTs and metaverses. China’s NFT sector may have passed noteworthy milestones over the past 12 months from hosting the world’s first NFT exhibition to seeing tech giants Alibaba and Tencent launch marketplaces — successes highlighted onsite in Chengdu — but government crackdowns on cryptocurrencies and mining as well as blockchain scams have added complications to an already steep learning curve.
The gallery complies with the country’s new regulations by issuing work via MEGO NFT, a green blockchain marketplace, and eschewing crypto for fiat currency. But ultimately, growth will most likely come from the quality of the content it platforms online and presents onsite. What’s more, for China’s creative sector writ large, Yang believes NFTs and metaverses are necessary to undermine both rampant intellectual property violation and the stranglehold China’s internet giants have on art and music production.
“In the Internet era, art is vulnerable to piracy issues and third-party platforms are dominant in the distribution market,” Yang says. “[The] NFT presents a possibility for creators to distribute work through smart contracts and directly establish contact with users. This model allows users to choose the product they prefer. This is a great boon for the creators in China.”
Chengdu’s NFT Gallery hopes to become a local cultural center bringing together artists, galleries, and a new generation of collectors in a model OpenLake plans to replicate across major Chinese cities.
If successful, it’ll not only see the arrival of 24-hour galleries dotted across the country, but moreover, begin to tip the balance of power away from tech monopolies and toward individual creatives. A long shot, no doubt about it, but idealism is at the heart of metaverses and the promise of blockchain.