Reflections on Digital Art Mile at Art Basel

Explore the Digital Art Mile at Art Basel 2024 with Johnny Dean Mann from The Tickle, highlighting the evolving presence and acceptance of digital art.

By Johnny Dean Mann from The Tickle

2,600 words, 13 minute read

Cover for Digital Art

Disclaimer: This is a guest blog post. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author Johnny Dean Mann from The Tickle.

Art Basel 2024 was a narrative of separation, but also meaningful progress. Digital art, once again, existed awkwardly at the periphery, for the most part outside the grand halls of the Messe, but a refiguring of the genre within the big picture of the art world was encouraging.

In previous years, Tezos had facilitated the visibility of a few notable digital artists, initially a showcase of the leading lights of Hic et Nunc (RIP) and in subsequent years, a display of generative artistry from fx(hash). The location of these booths, past the onerous security barrier of the main entrance, was a statement of intent among an art world not historically too kind or even aware of the more obscure outposts of the genre.

The absence of a similar presence in 2024’s edition, in this context, could have been taken as a step back. However, Tezos instead supported the first dedicated satellite event during Art Basel - the Digital Art Mile - and despite being situated downtown a few streets, the presence of the genre was emboldened, showing a maturity in both content and expression. One step back, two steps forward, perhaps. The Tickle travelled to Switzerland to compare the old world with the new.

The Old World #

There was always a sense that, despite some encouraging moves towards digital art acceptance by the organisers of Art Basel, the premier art fair in the world was pushing back slightly against the inclusion of artists too heavily associated with the notion of NFTs. Digital art’s enthusiasm for the technology - understandably so, given its transformative effect on the genre - was seen as a little too outwardly associated with pure commerce.

This was at the point of NFT’s during their worst (publicly perceived) moment of greed, speculation and environmental damage, so the reaction is perhaps understandable. This is all in addition to the historical ghettoisation of digital art, often seen as the lesser cousin of photography and video art.

Each Tezos presence at the fair was, of course, entirely separate from the worst excesses of the NFT boom - their environmental credentials, at the very least, have always been peerless. Each booth was a superb aesthetic experience - a tightly curated expression of the best of Tezos-based art and subsequently, as its appeal broadened, the mostly generative web3 avant-garde, backed by the expertise and reputation of fx(hash). A wide range of panels complemented the experience, featuring some of the most cerebral practitioners and eloquent voices from both within the space and the traditional art world.

While touring these booths - expertly put together though they were - a feeling developed that visitors unaccustomed to the space would simply enter bewildered and leave nonplussed. There are sure to have been exceptions, but the sense that a space full of screens inhabited by geometric, shifting forms representing only a sliver of the full scope of their long-form nature, was a little too much to process. After a tour of the paintings, sculptures and other analog artworks in the main hall, this strange world, with its uncertain scope and fiddly mechanics and distasteful crypto connections, would have been perhaps too alien and intangible to care about.

The screen is, of course, the native environment of the artform, so why not dazzle visitors with huge examples and celebrate the ephemeral, light-based nature of the genre? It makes a good deal of sense and it formed the general direction of thinking around the abundance of exhibitions in the newly NFT-emboldened digital art world. From outside, however, and from the viewpoint of a traditional art world more used to simply enduring screens when real art wasn’t around, this insistence on an experience that amounted to a room full of big TVs felt like a recurring mistake. Perhaps a new approach was needed.

The New World #

The new, ‘post-NFT’ approach began to develop meaningfully, generally speaking, during 2023. There were, of course, exceptions to this ‘big screens’ rule in the years previous, and without doubt during the pre-NFT years of digital art obscurity. In that sense, we are simply returning to the multifaceted approach that developed over decades from the inception of the genre, but taking advantage of a new, post-NFT world in which digital creativity has reached a heightened level of external visibility.

One of the successful attempts at engaging with the analog in a digital context was the ‘Node to Node’ exhibition in Paris hosted by Kate Vass Galerie in October 2023. This was an attempt to physically represent the two forms of digital art perhaps most confusing to the traditional art world or the average punter - generative and AI.

Nestled in a cosy side street in the heart of Paris, the show featured an oil painting by William Mapan, a photo collage by Iskra Velitchkova and a live plotter performance with audience-interactive elements from Zancan. Compared to the multiple-screen approach, this was bordering on theatre, and refreshing to witness.

The exhibition blurb put it succinctly:

“A common misconception is that computer-generated art exists exclusively in the digital sphere due to its digital nature. In truth, the movement boasts a rich materiality… As generative art gains newfound popularity, there is a resurgence in the importance of the physical component, reviving early practices.”

In this context, the urge to broaden the display horizons of digital work represents both an attempt to bridge the gap to the traditional art world and a conscious re-connection to the genre’s often misunderstood and poorly documented history. For the second point, the Tickle’s mission aligns with Kate Vass, as our columnist, researcher and historian Catherine Mason, continues her work to uncover the rich history of the genre. For the first point, the standard was set, and the baton passed to the organisers of the aforementioned and inaugural Digital Art Mile, helmed by the digital art advisor Georg Bak and gallerist Roger Haas.

Art Meta #

Art Basel 2024, through their new Chief Digital Officer Craig Hepburn, have made some encouraging moves in recent times, including this year’s ‘Digital Dialogues’, a series of discussions around the future of the artform, featuring Sasha Stiles, Cory Arcangel, Krista Kim, and more. They also hosted the ‘Digital Art Meetup’ with Refik Anadol, Lukas Amacher and others.

The most encouraging digital art event, however, was elsewhere. Supported once again by the Tezos Foundation, marking their commitment to the digital art community, ArtMeta’s Digital Art Mile consisted of a broad collection of partners, including the generative art experts at Le Random, and a host of platforms arriving with superbly curated shows, including Objkt, MakersPlace and fx(hash).

Spanning three venues, including an underground cinema hosting a number of panel talks, the event attempted to reframe digital art as a comprehensible thing, something of beauty and simplicity that happens to be attached to notions of digital currency rather than being defined by them. The presentation question was answered elegantly, in differing and various ways.

Objkt, the biggest NFT platform on Tezos, approached the event, via their curator Kika Nicolela, with a two-pronged approach, assembling works from a coterie of genre-spanning artists from their home platform and a single room dedicated to the pioneering, and still practising, digital artist Analivia Cordeiro and her countrywoman, Regina Silveira, a key figure from Brazil’s visual arts scene.

Each instance of the display was varied, from anonymous artist Oona’s mini-installation piece, involving a curtained-off display of silicone breast inserts accompanying her video work, to Auriea’s holographic portrait triptych with bespoke framing. For the video-based work of Monica Piloni, a small plinth nearby hosted a sculpture of the figure on-screen. In this varied context, the screen-based work sat more naturally, not burdened with the responsibility of representing the genre purely with pixels on a wall.

Analivia Cordeiro in front of her work featured in objkt booth’s at the Digital Art Mile. Courtesy of objkt.

“It was extremely refreshing to see and be part of the birth of an art fair that gives space to this new market, of blockchain-based art, and to new ways of thinking how to sell, present and collect digital art.” Kika Nicolela

Perhaps the artist most suited to a physical component, with their work frequently crossing the digital/physical divide during a long career, was the artist duo LoVid, who incidentally feature in the latest issue, #93, of The Tickle. Known for accompanying their video and digital works with stunning, wall-size tapestries, fabric pieces and bespoke analog synthesisers, the single video work ‘coloringbook’ was appropriately enhanced with Auriea’s LoVid-designed outfit, neatly tying in with the evolving nature of the [exhibited] space.

objkt booth at Digital Art Mile. Courtesy of objkt.

Next door in the same venue at 31 Rebgasse, the fx(hash) team appeared to have also got the memo, with two tapestries on display from the generative artist Andreas Rau, alongside an audio-enabled digital display from the same work, ‘Klangteppich’. Another standout was the intriguingly framed pieces from Aleksandra Jovanić, part of her ‘GM.GEN.MATH’ project, with the artist having stated the challenges of transmitting such a kinetic work to a fixed medium:

“It was a special task figuring out how to compromise the least. Moving from an animated piece with interaction to a fixed physical piece was a challenge.”

The elegant solution was an edge-on placement, with two-way framing - the position and movement of the viewer evoking the sense of movement achieved in the original animated piece.

fx(hash) booth at Digital Art Mile. Courtesy of fx(hash).

The fx(hash) space also, intriguingly, featured a ‘generative art kiosk’, a mini gift shop featuring unique printed works from existing generative projects on the digital platform, framable and tangible. This proved an immediate and enduring success - soon after the event, fx(hash) announced the online rollout of the kiosk, enabling all non-Basel attendees to join in the physical fun.

Crucially, this proved a key success with some critical figures within the larger Art Basel family. On a tour of the Digital Art Mile conducted by the artist/poet Sasha Stiles, the head of editorial for Art Basel, Jeni Fulton, commented to the Tickle enthusiastically on the effectiveness of the kiosk. In the midst of purchasing a selection of prints for her personal collection, Jeni described exactly in her house where they would be proudly displayed. Quite the success then. Sasha agreed, and had some positive comments on the merging of the two worlds:

“A clear highlight of the week for me was touring Jeni Fulton through Digital Art Mile – pausing to peruse (and buy) prints at the fxhash booth, dancing with Analivia Cordeiro’s interactive piece at the Objkt space (which itself was a duet with Operator’s choreographic installation nearby). It was a proud moment to share the work of so many brilliant peers – artists, curators, founders, writers, producers – and feel digital art becoming a palpable, visceral presence during such an important time for the art world at large, much more so than on my previous trip to Art Basel in June 2022.”

fx(hash) Generative Art Kiosk. Image courtesy of fx(hash).

A note of positivity on the increasing likelihood of digital art acceptance by the Art Basel behemoth, amid sightings of other important figures gracing the Mile, including the Serpentine Director Hans Ulrich Obrist, but a word of caution was sounded by Leander Herzog, another exhibiting artist:

“It feels like it will happen soon, but remember, this is Switzerland. Things happen very slowly around here…”


It would be remiss not to mention the other curations visible at the Digital Art Mile, with perhaps the most notable being the multiple screens and cocktail reception afforded at Space 31 to the charitable endeavour curated on behalf of Switzerland for UNHCR. UNHCR is, in their own words, the agency mandated to “aid and protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities, and stateless people” and the ‘Nowhere To Run’ collection, featuring several high-profile Tezos artists, asked for works that capture the effects of climate change on displaced people.

The exhibition, in association with the Tezos Foundation, Objkt and the Collector’s Club, stuck to the simple, big screens approach, rotating through two or three pieces per screen in the social area and entrance hall. The impact of such a beautiful collection of artworks from among the finest in the space, and the generous framework of the project - at least 50% of artwork sales were donated to UNHCR - represented the old way of exhibiting, but that was, perhaps, tenuously relevant as a statement on the isolation and suffering of refugees. The line-up of artists and their connection to the theme was strong, including Violet Bond, LeChatN0ir and Diane Drubay. GoldCat, whose upbringing in Kenya and recent experience added a personal touch to her piece, was showcased during Art Basel for the first time:

“I don’t think I need to explain what a privilege it is to have my artwork as part of the first ever Digital Art Mile. I must also commend Tezos for increasingly bringing philanthropy to the web3 world. Creating art for the UNHCR exhibition felt as natural as it could possibly be. Having worked on a refugee program as a student and having witnessed the effects of extreme weather firsthand, the issue of displacement is close to my heart.”

Detail of Troubled Man by GoldCat, created for the Nowhere to Run Fundraising drop.

The Future? #

Diane Drubay, another artist long associated with environmental and charitable causes, was a natural fit for the UNHCR and attended the Digital Art Mile after being invited by the Artistic Director Georg Bak to organise the ‘Museums in Web3’ portion of the event. She gave us her thoughts on the Digital Art Mile, and mirrored the sentiments of many attendees who saw a positive new direction after some recent troubles:

“Christiane Paul, from the Whitney Museum of American Art, told me last week that for years, digital art was always present in art fairs - it’s only in recent years and the arrival of the word NFT that it’s disappeared. The division between the two worlds is not symptomatic, it’s contextual.

We had to do something to show that the web3 art world is different today from what it was in 2021. And so the Digital Art Mile was born, standing under the noses of fair visitors and inviting them to create a bridge.

We saw exhibitions of the highest quality, whether in terms of curation, works presented, scenography or hanging. The names of the artists on show would make the biggest galleries jealous, and the prices as well. The profile of the exhibitors was also important - we saw exhibitions proposed not only by digital art galleries, but also by NFT marketplaces, design studios, a collector and his foundation, and an artist agent.

The web3 art world proved that it was time to bring digital art back into the aisles of Art Basel.”

Will the Digital Art Mile be a sign of things to come, and strengthen year on year? Will it eventually be unnecessary in the face of increased visibility of the genre in the mainstream art world? Will we finally move away from the crypto-bro associations of the darkest days of NFT fever? Time will tell, but a more impactful statement of intent than the Digital Art Mile at Art Basel 2024 we find it hard to imagine. This is undoubtedly a strong start, but perhaps, as Leander Herzog suggested, some patience may be needed.