“What if the Earth was a gallery space, and art dropped down from the sky?” the NFT art collector Chikai Ohazama wondered. “What if it was shown at an enormous scale to match the grand landscape of the Earth?” That, he tells me, is how Monolith Gallery was conceived. In time, the virtual gallery will offer an immersive, augmented reality experience, and while Ohazama says the technology isn’t ready to realize everything he has planned, he’s already hit the ground running.
Monolith represents a reimagining of what gallery spaces could look like in the age of Web3. “When I was looking at all of the NFT galleries that were out there, they were mainly a replication of what galleries looked like in the real world,” Ohazama explains. “It makes sense since you want to give people something familiar to look at when they enter into the metaverse. But I wondered, what if we didn’t stick to the same white walls in a room and we thought beyond that? What would that look like?”
As of this writing, Monolith Gallery comprises eighteen halls, each named for an artist (usually, though not always, a photographer). The initial idea was to use landscape photography to create the halls, each inspired by our planet’s diversity, though it’s since evolved beyond landscapes and now includes other art forms, like 3D art.
“Monolith Gallery is more of a museum than a personal gallery, which I think is an important distinction to make,” Ohazama says. “When you enter Monolith Gallery, it’s not like walking into somebody’s home and looking at their private art collection, which I think is the focus of many NFT galleries out there, but it’s more like walking into a public space designed by a famous architect.”
Exploring the halls of Monolith, you’re greeted by color, starting with the minimalist photographs of Natalie Christensen–her love letter to the quality of light in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Andrés Gallardo Albajar pays homage to Ricardo Bofill’s sunlit La Muralla Roja, while Grayson Lauffenburger collaborates with strangers at the beach for tableaux that are at once humorous and surreal.
Elsewhere, Sherie Margaret Ngigi highlights the importance of talking about mental health, while Julia Sky celebrates vulnerability through portraiture. Isa Rus documents early parenthood amid the pandemic in painterly tones, and Yahdiogo Agbo illustrates the creative process, from artist’s block to revelation.
Some shows delve into the mysteries of the human psyche, from Alina Trifan‘s elusive explorations of light and shadow to the photographs of ailleurs, each tinged with longing. Yalda Eskandari projects works from art history into domestic spaces, changing their context and meaning.
Several of the current shows highlight the paradoxes of urban environments, a theme that seems fitting for a gallery location not in the physical space but in the metaverse. Richard Roberts investigates the utopian/dystopian qualities of man-altered landscapes, while Jacob Mitchell photographs empty signs, signifying change and forgetfulness in the age of capitalism.
Importantly, Monolith is an open curation platform, meaning that anyone can curate work from their collections and submit those curations for consideration. “In some ways, it is democratizing something that was limited to a select few who worked in museums and galleries, letting anybody curate their works of art to be shown in these grand halls that were being created by world-class artists,” Ohazama explains.
“It is meant to be very inclusive and showcase the diversity of art and art forms that exist in the world. The only requirement is that you own or have created an NFT. Monolith Gallery doesn’t take any commission, and it is free to use.”
With that being said, Monolith Gallery also has an independent storefront on SuperRare Spaces, where curated works are promoted and sold. “The Monolith Gallery SuperRare Space addresses two key issues that often come up with curation,” Ohazama continues. “One is the dichotomy between being inclusive yet still exclusive. You want to be open to all artists and types of art, yet you also want to maintain some level of quality and standards.
“The Monolith Gallery website is meant to be very inclusive, where anybody can submit a curation and have a good chance of being exhibited–since it’s the story that matters most in being selected, and everybody has a story to tell. The Monolith Gallery SuperRare Space, however, will be very exclusive and only a select few will be invited to mint/list a piece.”
In contrast to the main website, the Monolith Gallery SuperRare Space includes a commission, which goes to the curator when a piece sells. “My hope for the Monolith Gallery website is to establish the value of curation, which I think can often be dismissed,” its founder says. “My hope for the Monolith Gallery SuperRare Space is to show that curation is worth paying for and should be a respected and valued profession.”
Going forward, he sees curators taking on a slightly different role than what you might expect in the traditional art world. “I think there has been a negative view of curators in the past as ‘gatekeepers,’ and I want to change that in the Web3 era to have people view them more as ‘advocates,’” he says.
Among the exhibitions to have taken place at Monolith Gallery so far is Women by Women, curated from Ohazama’s personal photography collection. In defiance of the historical “male gaze,” the show features work made by women photographers, featuring women. Selections include Calla Kessler’s photographs from the Met Gala and her hometown in the American Midwest, Caitlin Cronenberg’s evocative staged narrative portraits and nude figure studies, lyrical street portraits by Paola Franqui and Michelle Viljoen, and work from Julie Pacino, Natalie Shau, Mia Forrest, Kelly Hsiao, Gabriella Morton, and Grace Almera.
“Representation has been at the top of my mind for almost every project I’ve worked on, even before NFTs,” the gallerist says. “I was one of only two Asian kids in my high school class; my sister was the only one in her class, so I’ve always been very aware of people who might feel left out or marginalized.
“For the inaugural curation, I was able to achieve a 50/50 women/men ratio and also good racial, LGBTQ+, and international representation. Because my closest friends in the community are very diverse, it wasn’t hard to achieve a diverse representation for the launch of Monolith Gallery. As the saying goes, you reap what you sow.”
Exhibition I, which opened today, features more than 150 images, with more shows on the horizon. “As compared to traditional galleries, I think a gallery such as Monolith is able to overcome the physical limitations of space and time,” Ohazama says. “With all of the pieces existing in the digital realm, you don’t need to transport any physical pieces, and you don’t need to limit the gallery experience to just one location. The art can come from anywhere in the world, and it can be shown anywhere in the world.
“Also, they don’t just exist in the digital realm, but they exist on the blockchain, so there is provenance and authenticity to the work that is shown. All of this allows for more exhibitions to happen and on a much faster time scale. From a long-term vision standpoint, these pieces could eventually be shown in an AR experience, floating above the San Francisco Bay, standing as tall as the Golden Gate Bridge–which definitely would not be possible in a traditional gallery space.”