Cryptoart as public art: SuperRare and Taglialatella collab for Yorkville Murals
This week in Toronto, new murals and mysterious shipping containers spring up as part of Yorkville Murals, an annual open air celebration of the city’s culture, taking place this year from August 20 through 28.
There, SuperRare has partnered with fest founder Taglialatella Galleries to present NFTs for the first time in event history, constructing an otherworldly portal accessible from street level. The “guerrilla style” show highlights eight artists, curated by Taglialatella and SuperRare: Joe Iurato, Logan Hicks, Zoe Osborne, Guy Bourdin, Untitled Army, Omar Z. Robles, Raylivez and The French Kiss Lab. They span NFT superstars, the gallery’s regular roster, and rising local artists.
Materially disparate but both equally disruptive, street art and NFTs make a surprisingly natural fit.
This partnership between Taglialatella and SuperRare follows previous collaborations like an NFT exhibition at the fine art gallery’s Chelsea, NYC location earlier this year called “Digital Pioneers,” featuring three artists from the gallery’s roster and several blue chip artists from SuperRare’s NFT platform. This is where Joe Iurato and Logan Hicks actually made their NFT debuts.
Yorkville Murals has celebrated culture through public art every year since Taglialatella Toronto leader Alan Ganev founded the fest in 2019. Curated with a contemporary fine art bent, this year’s lineup of nine outdoor artists includes Fidia Falaschetti’s shiny pop cultural cynicism and semi-abstract portraitist Florence Solis—building on the legacy of previous highlights like a floor mural by mega gallery darling Nina Chanel Abney and a 2020 appearance by international muralist Emmanuel Jarus.
The event doesn’t stop at visual art. When he spoke to me, Ganev cited partnerships as a driving force behind Yorkville Murals. STOCKX, the W Hotel, and Hennessey have also come on board to create their own experiences this year. Cafe Artois is providing music, food, and drinks for revelers strolling Yorkville Avenue, closed to traffic just for the event. They’re also staging cultural activations like sculptures and art installations.
Ganev relocated to Toronto to help build and oversee Tagliatalatella’s fourth location. He started the Yorkville Murals program about a year and a half after they opened. Once he got the business up and running, Ganev started seeing resources at his disposal—particularly festival partner Ink Entertainment, who already had experience planning events that pop off, powered by their various restaurant and hotel properties.
“Yorkville Murals is a way to work beyond the scope of the gallery program,” Ganev said. “Yorkville Murals allows the gallery to be in constant communication with new talent, collaborate with that talent, collaborate with brands, collaborate with the city.” Some galleries transacting on the level Taglialatella does just set up shop and clock their sales. Through Yorkville Murals, this branch of their operations talks with the city itself.
The more he learned about Toronto, the more Ganev fell for the place and felt inspired to get involved with it. Toronto is Canada’s largest city—and the fourth largest in North America, after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles.
“It’s a city that has been growing at such an incredible rate, but its culture is barely catching up,” Ganev said. “It’s a very fertile ground for opportunity.” Besides, Montreal and Vancouver each had their own internationally acclaimed mural fest. Toronto was overdue.
Yorkville felt like prime real estate. Since Ganev spends so much time there, he’s built relationships critical to an event requiring big resources like walls to paint and power for permits. What’s more, the fashionable neighborhood (Chanel and Balenciaga are on the same block as Taglialatella’s spot) holds a deeply bohemian past—think Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Margaret Atwood smoking weed outside a cafe, talking art and ideas. Literally.
Now, maybe unsurprisingly, it’s one of the most affluent areas in all of Toronto.
While that’s great for the residents, businesses, and visitors, Ganev noted it’s not necessarily the greatest for cultural advancement. Bloated power gets complacent—isn’t that the appeal of the paradigm busting that Web3 and NFTs seek?
“A lot of these brands are just recycling designed campaigns that are created in New York, that are created in Paris—then, what you see in the neighborhood is that it lost its identity,” Ganev said of the fashion ads dominating Yorkville’s blocks. “There’s nothing that you’re bringing into the neighborhood, it’s just a repetition of something else that is happening somewhere else.”
While Yorkville Murals strategically empowers Taglialatella to partner with artists a bit above their weight class, they equally prioritize partnerships that elevate local artists. Pair that with the opportunities created when Yorkville Murals started bringing other companies into the fold.
“SuperRare is a great example of how you’re able to collaborate with a technology-oriented company, creating a very cool concept—like a shipping container—putting it on Yorkville Avenue, highlighting emerging talent,” Ganev said.
Ganev had no prior experience in Web3 when he started presenting NFTs through the gallery. He’s always been more interested in the tactility of painting and the art business. “I feel a high from seeing this container on the street, seeing the structure of the container, very industrial, very rough, with the doors open,” Ganev said of the Yorkville Murals project with SuperRare. “Then there’s screens inside playing amazing animations and beautiful art.”
“Capturing people’s attention these days is very hard, and to innovate is very hard,” Ganev said. “You have to care and try harder. For me, this container is caring.”
“SuperRare is going beyond their digital space to create this container, the gallery is going beyond its traditional program to create this container,” he mused. “Here we are in completely different contexts, collaborating and doing something that is very interesting.”
Ganev recounted how, upon moving to Toronto, he immediately also fell in love with nearby Detroit, jumping across the American border six times his first year there. “There’s a gallery called Library Street Collective,” he said. “They’ve done so many cool projects within that city, collaborating with Daniel Arsham and creating beautiful mural projects on alleyways or buildings or taking over abandoned buildings.”
“I went to that city, and I got so influenced by the work that they were doing,” Ganev continued. “I’m sure they’re inspiring other galleries, other companies, other creators, other curators to think like this.”
Yorkville Murals and all its experiments—like this year’s shipping container NFT show—are simply a function of their desire to engage Toronto’s cultural community by doing something different: collecting big brands like Aston Martin and SuperRare alongside leading artists of our time and local artists studying at university. It’s a cross-circumstantial idea exchange harkening back to that bohemian Bob Dylan era—maybe better because it’s an evolution, rather than empty recreation. The high fashion advertisements have already co-opted yesteryear’s revolutions.
Doing things differently means doing away with art’s elitism. Gallery shows at SuperRare’s SoHo popup, for example, utilize blockchain’s unique provenance powers. Visitors can scan QR codes alongside each piece to access artwork details and even see the entire ownership history with sale dates and prices. They’re fascinating, like stats for your favorite sports team. They also lay bare the formerly secret machinations of deals made behind the scenes, reducing the intimidation power the art world wields.
And like street art introduces creativity into everyday life, NFTs can be viewed anywhere in the world—even multiple times at once—without compromising provenance. That means bringing out the vast majority of art in this world that’s traditionally languished in private and institutional storage.
Even though Toronto’s a world class city, the white walled gallery space can turn people off. I know thoroughly fashionable folk in NYC who have never been to a gallery opening because they’re a little scared.
“The reality is that there’s these stereotypes that just alienate people that, as you said, have the resources to participate in this market and be a part of it, but they just feel completely intimidated…,” he remarked. “It’s very important that if you do cross that door, you’re treated with respect and you’re treated warmly so you come back, you talk to your friends, and you start building community that way.”
The very nature of the shipping container NFT showcase even has potential to go nomadic, empowering other communities to start building their own relationships with art.
Doing things differently doesn’t mean doing away with the resources of the present. “I do think it’s important to involve galleries, because there’s a lot of ways of presenting art and understanding the market that technology peers are not aware of,” Ganev said. “Coming into this space in the spirit of collaboration is key, and creating experiences that are innovative, that are challenging intellectually, but also created as an environment that people feel good in.”
It’s all a matter of conversation—especially in Toronto right now, where Yorkville Murals runs through August 28.
SuperRare editor Oli Scialdone considers the social experience of provenance and its relationship with community in the Web3 space.