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Information Technology and Culture: Virtual exhibition project of the State Hermitage Museum "The Ethereal Aether. An Exhibition of Digital Art" launched

18 November 2021

The State Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg) hosted the opening ceremony of the exhibition "The Ethereal Aether. An Exhibition of Digital Art". It is the first fully virtual exhibit project by the State Hermitage Museum, to be held until December 10, 2021.

The idea at the core of the exhibit is a study and reimagining of the meteoric rise of NFT technology and its influence on contemporary art practice from 2014-2021. For this reason, showing digital art in digital art - its natural environment, without translating it into a physical reality - is one of the conceptual decisions that shaped this exhibit. The name of the exhibit harkens back both to the poetry of Fyodor Tyutchev and the multi-faceted meanings of the word “аether”: the original Greek, mythology and philosophy, and its use in the sphere of contemporary cryptocurrency.

The first part of the project is celestialhermitage.ru. Here you can find an online catalogue of the exhibit, curatorial texts, information about exhibit partners, an online guestbook with comments – and the entrance to the virtual gallery.

The second part is a virtual gallery, created using the Masters digital multifunctional digital art platform. Inside the gallery, visitors can virtually walk through the halls, studying exhibits and interacting with each other. The gallery can be accessed both from the project site and from the Masters digital platform. To help visitors get their bearings in the still-unfamiliar environment of an online exhibit, there will be a set of detailed instructions on the site.

The exhibit will also be accessible using QR codes placed at the entrance to the Hermitage and on the facade of the Exchange Building.

The virtual space for the exhibit is based on the interiors of the Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange, the central architectural landmark of the Strelka on Vasiliev Island, created in 1816 by Jean-Francois Thomas de Thomon. NFT technology is inseparable from the functioning of crypto exchanges and cryptocurrencies, so the image of the Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange, the leader that drove the development of exchange trading in the 19th century, was chosen as the most organic analogue for such an exhibit.

The exhibit will showcase 38 NFT projects that follow the developmental story of tokenizing artworks from different points of view. These are both landmark works in the history of NFTs and completely new ones, created especially for the exhibit. Here you can see examples of generative art, on-chain works, collective ownership of works and projects with collective creation algorithms. Various aesthetic and genre approaches to creating NFTs are represented: utopian visions of the future, a return to the images of classical or modern art, glitch art, digital sculptures and projects about the connection between the real and the virtual.

The exhibit was prepared by the Hermitage’s Contemporary Art Division as part of the Hermitage 20/21 project and is a continuation of a series of projects about the forefront of art: Artificial Intelligence and Cultural Dialogue and Innovation as Artistic Method.