Ben of GM World on the art of connecting as a curator



Ben aka _DeFi_ is the collector turned curator behind GM World, a global gallery and growth accelerator for up-and-coming artists. We spoke with Ben about becoming a curator, finding artists, and creating value for creators and collectors.

Could you tell us about your journey to where you are now?

Looking back, it makes a lot of sense, but I could not have foreseen ending up here. I collected my first CryptoKitty NFT back in 2017. And then I mostly forgot about NFTs for the next few years and got involved in DeFi and building in that space instead. NFTs didn't really click for me until the end of 2020 when I had an artist friend who I wanted to onboard into web3 so I started poking around to see if I could onboard them.

I'd always enjoyed collecting things. But I never viewed collecting art as something that was accessible until I discovered NFTs. That's when I realized that tokenization creates some very powerful benefits for art, and developed a conviction that this space is going to grow massively. 

How did you get into curation?

I was collecting NFTs for a while when I realized I was essentially treating my collection like a gallery. I think a gallery has two fundamental roles, to serve artists and to serve collectors, and that there's a lot of different forms that can take. I think the core of it is helping artists sell their work and get their work into the hands of great collectors, and helping collectors discover work they love and build great collections. I realized that I was starting to do that with the artists that I had collected – really trying to connect them with great collectors.

Over time, more collectors would come to me asking for my input on various artists, or looking at what I was collecting and taking inspiration from that. So then I thought, okay, maybe I can actually scale this out and turn this into a business. I view having a gallery as basically a natural extension of being a collector, in the sense that this is basically just enabling me to invest in artists at a broader scale than I could with my personal capital as a collector. 

What do you enjoy about working with artists?

What was always most interesting and rewarding for me was trying to catch artists early on in their journey, trying to invest in emerging artists, not just in terms of the potential market upside of it, but also it's just very exciting and rewarding to basically help an artist realize their vision and realize their potential, whether that means investing capital, or time, or energy, or sharing market guidance, or helping them connect with collectors. It's a very rewarding, meaningful process. 

Coffee and Donut by @socmplxd
Coffee and Donut by @socmplxd

What is your guiding North Star when it comes to curation and collection?

GM World is the gallery that I wish had existed when I first started collecting. The focus at this point is 100% on emerging up-and-coming artists, catching them early on in their journey. Art is obviously important, but the most important part in my mind is the artist. All of the GM World artists are incredible, with vision and style. Every artist in GM World is doing something singular. You look at their art, right away, you know it's their work. The types of artists that are going to be here long-term and really create value, not just for their personal collectors, but for this space more generally, that's really important to me. Artists that are supporting other artists tend to do better in this space. They're paying it forward to other artists and that is healthy for the space at large. 

It's curated on the basis of the artist first, finding the artist that I just have the highest degree of conviction in, where I will stand up on a table and vouch for every one of them.

What is important to you as a curator?

As a curator, you need to have conviction and integrity. I really feel like every one of these artists is somebody that I would personally collect, and many of them I have. I'm excited for other collectors to discover them. I feel like I'm serving collectors as well when I introduce them to these artists.

Curating the artists is one thing, and then there's the element of curating the collectors. Where basically, you’re finding the collectors that are most aligned for a given artist. You’re curating collectors that can bring value, whether it's in the form of their reputation, their time, their energy, sharing their knowledge, whatever form that may take. 

Where I Can't Be Found by @EricPause
Where I Can't Be Found by @EricPause

What was your process for bringing together the World contributors?

In terms of the coordination, I'd say that part was pretty straightforward just because I'm really active on Twitter, and that's where everybody hangs out in this space. The hard part, for me at least, was narrowing it down. Narrowing it down to 20 artists was brutal because there're so many artists that are incredible and that I have a lot of conviction in. But once I narrowed down the list, I think every artist I reached out to was down to join GM World.

A number of them I'd collected from in the past, and then some of them were new artists that I had connected with recently. And with artists that I collected before, it's like we already have a relationship, it was more straightforward. With the new artists, it's like they're taking more of a leap of faith on this. So that maybe took some more time. And then in terms of the actual setting up the world, that part was extremely straightforward at a technical level. But yeah, the process of actually creating the World on Foundation was super straightforward and easy. So, credit to you guys for creating a very simple, easy to use product.

What makes a good world? 

It depends on what the World creator is trying to accomplish. I’m trying to create more of a sustainable gallery that can grow over time. And it comes down to a few things. It starts with conviction in the artists, and then having some credibility (like a track record of identifying promising artists early on).

As far as just the relationship aspect of it, what I'm learning is that relationships are more important than reach in this business. Having 10 collectors who really love your work is more valuable than a hundred or a thousand people who like it.

Scientia Potentia Est by @EvaEller
Scientia Potentia Est by @EvaEller

Anything you learned about Curation from this experience?

So there's the initial curation process, and then there's just the ongoing day in day out work of speaking on behalf of these artists, putting them forward in their best light, telling their story, finding collectors who really appreciate them. I'm still figuring out the best way to approach that. I'm really happy with how GM World is going so far. I think we have about a little over 86 ETH of sales at this point. Several artists have hit all time high sales. I think it's a beautiful thing that's happening on Foundation, because some of these artists have minted primarily or even exclusively on SuperRare in the past. And one thing I really like about Worlds is that it completely separates out listing from minting. They're independent processes you can mint directly on Foundation, or you can mint on Rarible.  

You built a Twitter account just specifically for this, right?

Yes - it makes it easy for collectors to follow what we're doing in one place, and we often will retweet the artists, we'll share updates on new pieces that are listed. Everybody in this space is on Twitter. So it's a no-brainer.

What's next with GM World?

The way that I'm looking at it is that we build out GM World under one brand, and over time, we want a great diversity of different styles, and different mediums, different geographies, and so forth, but all under the brand of GM World. I'd like the curation process to become more decentralized over time and I like the idea of having one go-to destination that we're building around rather than creating new Worlds.I’d really love for GMW to be a launchpad for artists to really advance their career and help realize their potential in this space however we can, and ultimately, to be a bridge for artists. to enable them Ito, eventually become completely independent, where they're not necessarily relying on any marketplace or any gallery.

When silence visits by @Nuel_Arts
When silence visits by @Nuel_Arts

Any final words of advice to those that want to put something like GM World together?

The first question I would ask yourself as a curator is, “How can you serve artists and how can you serve collectors? How can you bring value to artists and collectors?” I feel like that's the fundamental role of a gallery. Some people who are doing Worlds might just want to do a short-term exhibition, and that's great too. But if you're trying to build out a long-term gallery, really put some thought into how you see your World creating value for artists and collectors. 

Ask yourself — what's the vision? What's the theme of your gallery? Really try to develop your conviction in the artists that you're working with. Building relationships with collectors is equally important as building relationships with the artists.

I think that curation is sharing your voice. You can start doing that by just tweeting your thoughts and tweeting art that you really appreciate  — sharing artists that you have conviction in, and if you can, building out your personal collection. It gives you the experience of what it's like to be a collector and in that process you'll build relationships and you'll develop your own style and conviction. One beautiful thing about this space is that it blurs the lines between artist, collector, and curator. You can be all three of those things, and many people are.

Coming at it from the angle of primarily being a collector, I love to see more artists curating. I know Rich Caldwell, who's part of GM World, also has his own World now featuring some amazing aerial photographers. So! Go check out GM World, we have some incredible art on display right now, but we have more that are going to be listed quite soon.

Train Drops by @cafromthesky
Train Drops by @cafromthesky

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