What is Contemporary African Art to NFTs?

A New Exhibition at The NFT Gallery explores the impact of technology on Africa Gretchen interviewed curator Jessica Deutsch 


Gretchen Andrew


October 11, 2023

What is Contemporary African Art to NFTs?

It is usually a curious story as to how someone like African art specialist and curator Jessica Deutsch ends up in the world of NFTs.  

Deutsch was a director of public programs at Sotheby's for 10 years. During her time in the annals of the traditional art world, she had a unique approach, leading collectors through 5-day often immersive programs on different topics. With each session a different topic she was constantly learning new areas of expertise and methods of welcoming the curious and cautions alike into new realms of art, a skill which was essential to her dive into NFTs.

Deutsch is used to experiencing the skepticism and questions that greet new knowledge.  

In her years following Sothby’s she took collectors traveling, always sharing artwork through the lens of the cultures that produced it. Having grown up in South Africa, her interest focused on contemporary African art and bringing African artists international exhibition and awareness. In doing so Deutsch became intensely aware of the costs and challenges of promoting and shipping art from Africa. She sought ways to lower the barrier to exhibition of the styles and themes being produced on the diverse and large African continent.  

Enter The NFT Gallery, one of the top commercial galleries exhibiting, selling, and converting traditional collectors onto digital art. Through a collector connection, The NFT Gallery brought on Deutsch to curate their exhibition of contemporary African Art, “How High The Moon”. Not every, or even most, NFT galleries work with established curators, especially curators who are new to NFT artworks. It’s one of the many things I love about The NFT Gallery; their mission to expand the cultural impact of NFTs has not slowed with the market. Another thing I love is how on their exhibition website, when you hover over each image of the work you are presented with what that artwork looks like in a home. This simple and effective use of media does more normalize NFT artwork than anything else I've seen.

Knowing that Deutsch had the eye and expertise The NFT Gallery wanted to bring to presenting African art, they commenced a 6 months education covering what the NFT space is about, who the artists are and how to judge aesthetics of the work.

I was curious about what Deutsch thought of the NFT artwork she explored to curate How High The Moon compared to the more traditional media, artist and practices she champions in other, more physical, realms, “I’ve had 30 years of looking at art and I found that with NFTs that exposure and experiences matters, the same refined eye applies and can spot the works of power.”

What Deutsch had to learn was to distinguish the hand of the artist from “out of the box” technology. There were reasons to look at the works she considered for this exhibition completely differently than other contemporary African art, such as considering technology’s broader impact on the region, and reasons to consider them via a similar criteria such as with the subject matter beyond the technology.  

Through partnering with The NFT Gallery and learning about NFTs, blockchain technology, utility, and the crypto currency world that still has a huge impact on the health of the market, Deutsch began to see NFTs as a possible pathway to digital repatriation of art and a vehicle through which she could continue her curatorial mission of getting African art seen through the eyes of Africa instead of the west.

How High The Moon

Africa seeks a new future expressed through the digital medium.
Online exhibition and marketplace

New York City

88 Clinton Street
New York, 10002
United States

Artists: Lethabo Huma, Anthony Azekwoh, Justin Dingwall, Osinachi, Delphine Diallo, Nearbound (image at the top: “Suspended Realities”), Fanuel Leul, Lana Denina, Young Kev, Vintagemozart, Adesola Yusuf, Kelechi Nwaneri, Terence Ntsako Maluleke, Nygilia Km.

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