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Curating an NFT Archive - A Chat with JPG Protocol Founders

Wishing to learn more about the JPG Protocol platform for NFT curation, Ana Bambić Kostov spoke with two founders María Paula Fernandez and Trent Elmore about their ideas leading to JPG, the future of curating and creating value that outlasts the hype cycle.

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Helena Sarin - Art AI Brut, a Cryptych

Helena Sarin, Art AI Brut, a Cryptych, 2020, AI-generated work. From Deep Time, the first exhibition curated on

In the deluge of attempts at establishing NFTs as the new standard in artistic practices, there are few organisations that stand out. One exception is JPG Protocol , an open gallery ecosystem designed to bring together curators, collectors and creators through a protocol focused on NFT curation.

Designed as a public platform where everyone can create NFT exhibitions, JPG puts an emphasis on curation. Anyone can test their curatorial talent, including collectors and artists themselves. A curator does not need to own the NFT to exhibit it: access is public and permissionless. This means that any NFT on the chain is accessible and available to be curated.

Such exceptionally egalitarian principle allows for the creation of different narratives related to different NFT groups, adjusting what a curatorial practice would be in an offline world. We know that blockchain technology permanently stores metadata of a single artwork, creating a comprehensive record of the piece. It records the information about its creator, current and previous owner(s) and all related transactions and rights. JPG, however, introduces a completely new variable to the field — contextualisation. By offering a platform to curate NFTs, JPG has created the possibility to view these artworks within a specific cultural, political, stylistic or any other framework. We are for the first time enabled to explore the mutual relations between NFTs and also to review them in relation to the world on and off-chain. JPG’s founders argue it’s rather an archive than a museum. A permanent, ever-growing index of NFT-related data serving as (almost?) endless source of cultural information and a space where new paradigms for art are created.

In my desire to learn more about JPG Protocol, I met up with María Paula Fernandez and Trent Elmore, this time without Sam Spike, the third founder of the protocol. We spoke about their ideas leading to JPG, the future of curating and creating value that outlasts the hype cycle.

Anne Spalter - So Far Away from home

Anne Spalter, So Far Away From Home, 2021. From Deep Time, the first exhibition curated on

Ana Bambić Kostov: How did you come up with the idea to start an open gallery ecosystem?

María Paula Fernandez: : I’ve been working and researching around the intersection of blockchain and art, especially blockchain as an artistic medium and NFTs, since 2018. Most of my pre-JPG work in the aforementioned fields was done via a non-profit I founded called Department of Decentralization . Through this organisation, I spent the three years writing and organising cultural festivals within our own hackathons, ETHBerlin and ETHBerlinZwei . When the pandemic hit, the organisation shifted its focus to purely art and NFTs, and continued to give online lectures and write our second research paper.

During the writing of this paper, I was having a hard time making the research “timeless” and I saw myself repeatedly updating the NFT sections. That’s how I noticed something was brewing: the NFT “hype” was upon us. Immediately after publishing, I began brainstorming around ideas to contribute to the NFT industry by building infrastructure, with the conviction that NFTs were here to stay. Thinking of long-term thinking strategies and business ideas for the NFT space brought Trent, Sam[1] and myself together, and we started brainstorming around creating a decentralised gallery, and from there, our thinking evolved to what JPG is today.

With JPG, we are trying to build an open gallery ecosystem because we believe that the Web3 space should not try to repeat the art world models, but adapt to them and try to keep the values that brought us together intact in the new cultural infrastructure: everyone and anyone should be able to curate and build galleries, in a permissionless manner, and without barriers of entry.

Trent Elmore: : In early 2021, we saw a number of elements of the NFT marketplace that didn’t coincide with how we believed social and cultural objects should be treated or with how we believed a decentralised cultural ecosystem should operate. The experience around NFTs was often so financialised, with interfaces more reminiscent of eBay than a museum. And often those marketplaces were driven primarily by very few actors, the major minting platforms and big collectors. The initial idea for JPG came out of a desire to elevate the experience of interacting with NFTs and to allow more individuals to participate in that tastemaking process.

Curation is, among other things, second-order creation, and we’re building the tools and infrastructure to make this creation accessible to all.

ABK: What do you hope to achieve with the community-generated registry of NFTs in the long run? How do you see it evolving?

TE: I think there are two major obstacles to a more sustainable, long-term value structure in the NFT space. The first is our reliance on deeply ephemeral and siloed information platforms, namely Twitter and Discord. The nature of these platforms encourages hype cycles in which one week people see a collection everywhere, they buy it, the next week it disappears from the timeline, and they sell it. These things then rarely get surfaced again in a sustainable way, and the social graph of the community of holders is never surfaced, as people can’t keep up with dozens of Discord servers at a time.

The second issue is the lack of a more contextual data layer. While the blockchain records metadata to a specific work, there is little to no infrastructure that situates that piece or collection in a broader context. There is no repository for information relating to whether a collection is CC0-licensed, fully on-chain, stored on Arweave [2] vs. IPFS [3] vs. a company server, or if it has some sort of utility, etc.

These are related issues that JPG seeks to address through a network of curators who will mostly have far different aims than exhibiting the flavour of the week, and by creating community-generated registries that can form a more contextual data layer.

ABK: Will you eventually audit JPG, or would that be an obstacle for the permissionless curating practice?

MP: The permissionless curating practice is not an obstacle for keeping users safe at all. As with most platforms, you can keep barriers of entry low while making sure your infrastructure and code are safe to use, through audits and best security practices. When and if we decide to go more “on-chain”, meaning, we’ll be building a blockchain infrastructure and using smart contracts we build ourselves, audits will be in place. I am in favour of experimentation, but I understand it is sometimes risky, and smart contract and other code audits are essential.

ABK: Can you tell me more about the global registry? It reminded me of a museum of sorts…

MP: While I have the highest esteem for museums, the registries that could be built through user contributions on JPG should be open access and permissionless. People would be able to add any NFT to the registries, regardless of their backgrounds or whether they own them or not. The community as a whole, not committees or single curators, will be building this great archive.

TE: I like the term archive, though there’s not anything particularly museum-like about how we’re going about it. Rather than a centralised institution maintaining the information, JPG hopes to develop into a system in which the community is the maintainer.

Micah Johnson on the Async Art platform - sä-v(ə-)rən-tē

Micah Johnson, ˈsä-v(ə-)rən-tē, 2021. From Deep Time, the first exhibition curated on

ABK: What impact do you think JPG can have on the art world outside of blockchain? Is there interest in the curatorial community?

MP: We have been working with galleries and independent curators, plus constantly asking art professionals for feedback since the beginning. As a matter of fact, right now, two galleries in Berlin are using JPG to curate a group show , whose aim is to bridge net art and NFTs.

Since our co-founder Sam has a very strong art background, we also rely on his feedback through the building process.

So far, the response from people working in digital curation, art institutions and even art critics has been quite positive. We hope we are able to give them more tools to help them navigate the NFT world, and improve the overall discovery of cultural objects within the space, which is something both the traditional art world and the NFT space really need.

TE: It’s also important to note here that we really allow for the curation of any type of NFT, not just what one would consider to fall under “fine art”. Part of that process is starting to do more work in defining different verticals within NFTs and allowing those with experience and expertise in a certain field to opt into those specific verticals.

Web3/NFTs are not only a new way to monetise digital content, but a new paradigm with a different set of social norms and values.

Sara Ludy - Untitled 7 NFT

Sara Ludy, Untitled 7, 2020. From Deep Time, the first exhibition curated on

ABK: Would you say it will transform the art world?

MP: would rather say that we’re making contributions towards making Web3 culture and NFTs more accessible for the art world. And helping anyone and everyone leverage NFTs and join the conversation without relying on ownership of assets (aka bragging rights). For us, it’s important to give everyone the opportunity to contribute to the NFT industry and start a dialogue by creating galleries and showing their creativity through them.

Curation is, among other things, second-order creation, and we’re building the tools and infrastructure to make this creation accessible to all.

ABK: Could you explain the ethics behind the permissionless use of NFTs?

MP: think this is up to each user. We’re building a neutral, Web3-native infrastructure. If a curator thinks it's best practice to ask for permission and dialogue with the creators, that’s totally acceptable and we really encourage it.

At the same time, Web3 is permissionless, and while there are valid arguments around IP and display rights, we believe that images and information should travel free and be enjoyed by everyone — since we don’t and will never paywall our website and its exhibitions, there’s no need to delve on ethics from traditional creative industries.

Creators need to be fully informed and aware of what it means to work within Web3, which has great benefits but maybe some caveats with regards to their personal opinions and values. Web3/NFTs are not only a new way to monetise digital content but a new paradigm with a different set of social norms and values.

TE: As I’ve said before if you don’t want your work to be publicly viewed and used, don’t put it on a public immutable ledger. In some ways, it’s not so different from what we see on Instagram all the time, through re-purposing or curating content created by others.

The big difference, however, is that when curating an NFT, you are always including all of the relevant attribution embedded in the token. This is actually a pretty significant improvement to, for instance, a Twitter thread showing the images of your favourite NFTs. Because as much as people like to critique NFTs for being merely “a receipt” in some cases, that receipt includes important information and context.

ABK: How will you ensure that the quality of the content and curation doesn’t dwindle as the volume of work on JPG grows?

TE: When you build a platform that allows users to generate content, there’s going to be good and bad creators — in our case curators, that’s just a fact. In the same way that Web 2.0 platforms use versions of reputation, social signalling and engagement to help surface and filter content, JPG will as well. In contrast to those platforms, however, the key metric is not simply how much in-the-moment attention can be wrung out of the viewer because that’s not what drives the Web3 economy. Instead, we’ll be aiming to incentivise a long-term view and contribution to a more archival discourse.

  • 1.

    Sam Spike is a co-founder of JPG Protocol and the creative director of Fingerprints DAO.

  • 2.

    Arweave is a decentralised online storage protocol which backs data with sustainable and perpetual endowments, allowing users and developers to host data permanently.

  • 3.

    The InterPlanetary File System or IPFS is a protocol and peer-to-peer network for storing and sharing data in a distributed file system.

Artists and Contributors

Ana Bambic Kostov portrait picture

Ana Bambic Kostov

Ana Bambić Kostov is an art writer, editor, and content manager serving as the Senior Editor at SO-FAR. She has a keen interest in contemporary art and new practices involving digital media. As an art historian, she wrote articles and catalogs and helped numerous artists and organizations curate their website content. Working as Chief Editor of Widewalls magazine until 2017, she immersed herself in the international contemporary and urban art scene. Since, she worked with several international galleries, Discovery Art Fair, International Summer Academy in Salzburg, Homo Faber Guide, and assisted in different art projects internationally.