Carsten Höller Booed at New York’s NFT-Themed Dreamverse Event

Carsten Höller Booed at New York’s NFT-Themed Dreamverse Event

Art, tech, and music converged on November 4th at Dreamverse, an NFT-themed event that saw New York’s Terminal Five transformed into a dimly lit gallery that played host to various projects, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) experiments. On tap at the event were three big headlers: Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple, the darling of the NFT world; Alesso, a Swedish House Mafia DJ; and German artist Carsten Höller, who has had a long and successful career in the traditional art world. Beeple and Höller’s appearances were particularly anticipated because the artists were presenting new work.

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Höller, who is best known for his sculptures resembling giant slides, had partnered with Acute Art to create a new piece called 7.8 (Reduced Reality App). Once users had scanned a QR code and downloaded the Acute Art app, their phones were supposed to start vibrating and flashing at 7.8 beats a second. As Höller described in an interview with ARTnews last month: “It makes the phone freak out.”

It was also expected to make Dreamverse’s attendees do the same. Concert lights were to sync to this pulse, and there loomed that the possibility that the 7.8 hertz frequency would cause some to experience hallucinogenic effects. (One might have feared that this glitchy participatory art piece might cause some attendees to collapse.) But the result was all too dull to bring anything other than indifference from the hundreds of people in the crowd. 

The party kicked off successfully as the venue filled with more and more cryptoheads, finance guys, and NFT artists, Winkelmann among them. (Höller, who is based in Sweden, was not present.) Dance music was intermittently disrupted to remind people to download the Acute Art app using the QR codes pasted on the walls not covered in screens displaying NFTs. The crowd was eventually alerted to the fact that the main event was about to start, and people started streaming closer to the stage.

The music lowered, and the MC reminded everyone to download the Acute Art app that was now displayed behind the DJ booth. A giant 60-second countdown flashed on the ceiling, and everyone was reminded not to activate the app until the countdown finished. The hall was silent. In the dark, people murmured and shifted, deflated from the sudden loss of energy.

That’s when the technical difficulties began. A few phones started flashing ahead of time, generating a kind of sleepy rhythm that only dimly illuminated the screen. A freakout, this was not. All the while, others struggled to activate the app. By the time the countdown finished, the crowd stood together silently as a a few phones lit up. Every once in a while the giant screen would turn white.

Terminal Five began to rumble with boos. As if in deference to the fact that 7.8 (Reduced Reality App) had not gone quite as planned, the MC awkwardly ignored Höller’s piece altogether.

Thankfully, there was Beeple to save the day. The artist was on hand to display his NFT Everydays: The First 5000 Days, which memorably sold at Christie’s earlier this year for $69.3 million. In that work, there are 5,000 images—one for each day that the artist worked on the piece—that are arranged in rows. Taken all together, the piece is a neon-colored mishmash of barely identifiable pictures, but at Dreamverse, where the work was displayed on a big screen for the first time, audience members were able to see the individual works within the larger composite.

It’s not a stretch to say that the crowd that attended Dreamverse—if not the whole industry—owes something to Beeple for putting NFTs on the map to the Everydays sale at Christie’s. In fact, throughout the night, multiple people said that it was the Beeple auction that had convinced them to get into the NFT game in the first place. As might be expected given that reaction, a loud round of applauses erupted began as the screen zoomed around the giant composite work, focusing on a few select tiles, many of them depicting Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story. By the time the screen zoomed out to show a full picture of the piece, the crowd had gone wild. Beeple: 1, Höller: 0.

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