Now that’s changing. In the last decade, art started to enter the ethers with the rise of NFTs—digital artworks that are bought and sold by blockchain. Architecture was soon to follow with ground breaking in the metaverse, a new sandbox for designers to play, build, and sell in. So when Boulder artist Jamie Kripke thought to create a virtual gallery for his artwork, there was a precedent. Nonetheless, for an assignment that might be handed to a UX designer or web developer, Kripke chose to go old school. He commissioned award-winning Aspen and Boulder firm Studio B Architects to do what they’re expert at in the built environment: design space. But this time, without any of its constraints.
Kripke is a photographer and printmaker. His work responds to the natural environment, especially alpine vistas that he photographs while on skis. He’s made NFTs in the past, but most of his work manifests on paper, a blend of straight photography layered with color fields and geometric patterns that are applied digitally or by hand with a printmaking process called monoprinting. His series The Divide, an ongoing project he started in 2019 that currently comprises 23 pieces, serves as an apex for his ideas about how art can aid us in making sense of our surroundings and selves.
In the series, Kripke uses a physical place, the Continental Divide, as a central metaphor for the numerous social and political poles on which we meet and either stand together or disperse divided. Whether your work has to do with social and geographic intersections or not, when you’re an artist, you typically want to share it. Without a traditional gallery to show The Divide in, Kripke decided to build his own. (“If you want it, make it,” is a theme for Kripke; in 2021, he launched his company OneClock, a bedside clock born out of a modicum of frustration and a whole lot of curiosity.)
“I’m not currently represented by a gallery, so I thought it would be fun to create one,” he says of the proposition he made to Studio B, whose architectural foundations until now have been laid soundly on Earth. “I’ve always loved their ultra-clean modernism,” Kripke says, “and appreciate the idea of taking simplicity to an extreme—how simplicity is actually very complicated. I figured that collaborating on a design project like this could teach me a few things, and take me somewhere interesting.”
Designing architectures for art is something Studio B has been interested in for some time, so they took Kripke’s ask seriously and enthusiastically. Influenced by contemporary art and artists—like abstract painter Robert Kelly who was a foundational inspiration for their Vista Drive Pavilion—Studio B residences are often described as works of art themselves. “Jamie’s invitation gave us the chance to push what’s real,” Studio B principal Mike Piché says. He and designer Drew Hubbard worked closely on the gallery. “The idea was to create an online space that could represent the scale of the work and provide a unique atmosphere for it,” says Piché. “The work has its own identity, so we thought about how we could translate the themes present in the artwork into a body of architecture.”
The result is a place far, far away from the white cube. Click into the gallery and you’re transported to the site of the series’ namesake, a rocky terrain along the Continental Divide where a monolithic glass corridor greets you. “We took a very linear approach to bisecting the mountaintop,” says Piché, with Hubbard adding that they put their poetic license to use and added an ocean at the edge, “to create a layer in the imagination by doing something you can only do in the world of the metaverse.”
Tricks of the imagination are otherwise used sparingly. As you travel through the gallery, you see Kripke’s pieces mounted on the gallery’s reflective glass walls, creating a dynamic rhythm with the real—or in this case, rendered—range beyond. The weather changes, the sun rises and sets. Steel beams fastened with visible bolts frame the experience. “There are suggestions of structure to show that this architecture could hold up if it were built in the real world,” explains Hubbard of the gallery, which just won a MAD Award from Interior Design Magazine. “We purposefully designed it this way, making a realistic rather than anti-gravity environment. It was important to us that we have these details that speak back to the work, which itself is grounded in a real place.”
What the metaverse’s placelessness affords the work is an experience that is simultaneously rare and broadly accessible—two things that don’t often come together in art and architecture. To spend time in a space of such specificity usually requires travel or the good fortune of living in a place where art and culture are commonplace and easily accessed. Viewers from anywhere on the globe can visit The Divide, spend as much time as they want with the work, and even purchase prints. While you don’t get the in-person element of tactility, the senses are satisfied in new ways that make you reconsider the boundaries of where art belongs and for whom.
“I think that where and how art is shown will always change how it’s perceived,” says Kripke. “I think about this a lot when I’m in a gallery—especially in New York, at places like David Zwirner or Gagosian. Would these works have the same power if they were removed from the exclusive, immaculate, perfectly-lit white walls and reinstalled in the dingy hallway of a local grade school? Can we see past the setting, and into the work for its true meaning?”
It’s a worthwhile wondering. But you’re not likely to find the answer in a gallery as singular as The Divide, where art and environment are so spectacularly intertwined. Experience it yourself at jamiekripke.com/on-view/galleries.