‘Ethereal Aether’: World’s largest museum launches NFT art exhibition

The Russian State Hermitage Museum continues diving in the nonfungible tokens (NFTs) industry by debuting its first fully-virtual exhibition of digital art.

Shortly after raising over $400,000 via its first NFT auction on Binance in September, the Hermitage is now hosting a free exhibition of NFT artworks existing exclusively in the virtual space, the so-called “celestial hermitage,” or the museum’s digital avatar.

Launched on Thursday, the Hermitage’s exhibition is called The Ethereal Aether and is based on the concept of the metaverse, allowing users to create digital avatars and surf across the virtual site using PCs, smartphones, virtual reality glasses and other devices. The virtual site mimics the interiors of the local landmark Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange, but the actual exhibition has nothing to do with trading, according to a senior curator of the project.

Source: The Ethereal Aether exhibition

“The exhibition’s artworks are not for sale. We avoid all topics related to the price of these pieces in order to focus on showing what digital art really is because the cost of art is secondary to its value,” Hermitage’s director of contemporary art, Dimitri Ozerkov, told Cointelegraph.

Ozerkov noted that Hermitage will return all of the artworks to its original owners including artists and collectors right after the exhibition ends on Dec. 10. “Further events are outside the remit of the museum,” he added.

At a press conference on Thursday, Ozerkov emphasized that Hermitage has “no financial interest” in conducting the free exhibition, noting that the museum is striving to find out the real value of NFTs. “We want to see what’s left of the NFT if you take away the money aspect,” he said.

The selection of artists and works for The Ethereal Aether exhibition was made by curators Ozerkov and Anastasia Garnova, a member of the Hermitage’s Department of Contemporary Art.

“We believe that selection by curators is crucial for a museum exhibition, as it makes it more integral in terms of topics and chapters. The selection principle is based on the artworks’ importance for understanding the essence of the NFT,” Garnova told Cointelegraph. “Artists were not able to apply for participation in the exhibition,” she added.

The full list of artworks is available on the official website of the exhibition, featuring a total of 37 pieces including Schrödinger’s Cat by CryptoKitties, a popular blockchain game built by Canadian studio Dapper Labs on the Ethereum network. The list also includes artwork by a Saint Petersburg-based artist known as ​​Darkzuu.

The exhibition also stars NFT platforms and major industry players like Snark.art, Masters digital, The Art Exchange, Rarible, Superrare, KnownOrigin, ArtBlocks, Alterhen.art, and OpenSea. As previously reported, the exhibition is organized with support from The Aksenov Family Foundation, a local cultural and social innovation fund.

Related: Beyond the NFT hype: Creating lasting business models for artists

The exhibition space is a joint work of the augmented reality startup Arhead.io, Masters Digital and meta-architect Oleg Soroko. Arhead.io co-founder Ivan Puzyrev pointed out that socialization is one of the most important components of the exhibition. “We built the project based on the idea that the digital experience should be shared. People share instructions, discuss work and laugh when they fall into the textures of space,” Puzyrev noted.

Nadia Taiga, executive director and curator from the art production platform Snark.art, is one of key people behind The Ethereal Aether, serving as an exhibition consultant. “If a year ago we could just predict that museums would digitize their collections and create digital exhibitions in the metaverse, now, seeing the example of the Hermitage and this exhibition, we know that this is already reality,” she said.