The NFT Louvre Exhibit That Wasn't: Untangling the Public Mess of a Non-Event
Last week, AI artist Claire Silver announced her NFTs would be displayed at the Louvre Museum in Paris – which The Louvre denied shortly after. Here's what happened.
On Monday, March 6, Claire Silver, a well-regarded non-fungible token (NFT) artist who uses artificial intelligence (AI) in her work, excitedly announced on Twitter and through an exclusive article in Variety that she would be exhibiting her art at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
According to Variety, her work was going to be presented at the Louvre "courtesy of Superchief Gallery NFT" and would premiere on March 21. The "Superchief-Louvre show," as Variety wrote, would be a showing of her latest collection titled "can i tell you a secret," which would be a series of 100 pieces created with AI.
Silver, whose work has been auctioned off by Sotheby's and displayed in galleries around the world, also shared on Twitter that her one-of-one NFT artwork "Love in the 4th Turning" would be on exhibit at the Louvre.
The news garnered praise and support from artists and collectors across the NFT space, who saw the exhibition as a sign of how digital art is gaining legitimacy in the traditional art world. Other museums, including Paris’ Centre Pompidou, the British Museum and the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) have recently embraced NFT art, so a showing at the Louvre initially seemed plausible.
Yet, Silver's announcement was immediately met with skepticism online from members of the traditional art space – some suggested the exhibition would likely be at the Carrousel du Louvre, an underground shopping mall situated near the Louvre museum, while others cruelly implied that Silver was duped by unrealistic expectations.
On Friday, March 10, the Louvre confirmed that Silver would not be exhibiting there, leading to an outpouring of support for Silver by disappointed NFT enthusiasts left questioning how the embarrassing mixup happened.
A case of miscommunication?
When the Louvre finally set the record straight, Silver released (and deleted shortly thereafter) her version of the events. Later, she tweeted that she was "unsure who misrepresented things."
Superchief Gallery, the NFT art gallery that was helping to facilitate the exhibiting of Claire's work, also posted a lengthy statement to Twitter sharing its version of events. It said people at Paris Blockchain Week, a blockchain summit to be held at the Carrousel du Louvre later this month, had lied about the details of the exhibition.
"They told us, Paris Blockchain Week has rented (“privatized”) the Louvre Museum. They said that the Louvre Museum had an event rental area, for the conference, and that they were excited for us to come in as their “Art Partner," Superchief Gallery said in its statement.
Shortly after, Superchief Gallery said its reps called Silver to share the news. The gallery contends that Paris Blockchain Week "did not represent the details and facts in that meeting, or any meeting we had afterwards," only learning of the mixup on Twitter after the story about Silver's exhibition went viral.
Superchief Gallery claims in its statement that Paris Blockchain Week overpromised. Ultimately, the gallery decided to cancel its participation in the event entirely.
Paris Blockchain Week shared a different version of events. Organizers told CoinDesk that the location of the event was clearly expressed in the heading and in the text of the contract they presented. CoinDesk was able to view the contract over Zoom to verify.
"It wouldn't have been in our interest to try to mislead in any way," the organizers said.
The team said that in planning the details of the exhibition space they did not speak directly to Silver.
"We never heard of her. And she never heard of us," they said, adding that in light of the mishap they recently connected with Silver and offered to work together next year.
They shared that while the conference at large is being held at the Carrousel du Louvre, a fact that is splattered across their digital marketing materials, they are planning to host a private VIP dinner inside the Louvre museum, although they say this was never initially discussed with Silver or the third-party agency organizing on her behalf. They asserted that organizing the event came with "very strict rules" and that they have been "extremely attentive" to the images and text used to promote that event.
Messages reviewed by CoinDesk suggest that representatives for Paris Blockchain Week discussed the private VIP event inside the Louvre museum days after Silver shared news about the exhibition.
"Only after the Louvre contacted Claire did the agency start discussions about ways Claire’s artwork could be displayed at any point that could be deemed inside the Louvre museum – out of desperation. We looked into solutions to try to accommodate, but without knowing the full extent of promises that had already been made to Claire by the agent."
A spokesperson for global talent agency William Morris Endeavor (WME), which represents Silver, told Variety in a statement that “it’s unfortunate that a third party misrepresented the details of this opportunity to our client Claire Silver. We fully support Claire and believe that she acted with integrity throughout this process.”
It's unclear if a miscommunication occurred at some point during the negotiating process. Early, informal conversations about the opportunity took place at another event in Paris last month. However, the official contract was only signed between the two parties after Silver's public announcement had been made.
Ultimately, it appears that neither Paris Blockchain Week nor Superchief Gallery intended to deceive Silver or the public deliberately. Neither party would have gained in the long term by lying about something that was so easily disproved, only to hurt Silver's upstanding reputation in the art world.
The artist's burden
Many people on social media came to Silver's defense, noting that complex dynamics involving artists, agents, galleries, brokers and museums often exist. Ultimately, it appears that artists bear the brunt of the backlash from perceived failures, regardless of who else was involved or what happened behind the scenes.
"A gallery’s success is measured by the success of its artists, and success for artists is determined by intricate measures of endorsement: Which important museum exhibitions have they been in? Which biennials? Have the right collectors caught on?" wrote ARTNews in 2020.
Claire told CoinDesk that she has taken a step back from the situation to preserve her well-being.
"I'm way out of my depth and have removed myself accordingly. Things went wrong at every level, and I was naive and flying too close to the sun to catch the issue myself."
She explained that she had reasons to believe the exhibition at the Louvre was legitimate – she noted that the Louvre is closed to the public on Tuesdays and that the proposed exhibition would have been on a Tuesday. "I've seen artists use the museum as a setting for music videos etc., so it made sense to me that an exhibition was possible on a Tuesday," she said.
Ultimately, she said she isn't placing the blame on any of the parties involved for the mishap. "I respect what [Paris Blockchain Week] does for digital artists, and would have loved to exhibit at the [Carrousel du Louvre] if it was under any other context. I also deeply respect and am extremely grateful to Superchief for fighting harder for AI collaborative artists than anyone in the space."
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