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Welcome to the Celestial Hermitage
The Ethereal Aether

The first virtual exhibition by the State Hermitage Museum

Curated by

In the aether, pure and ethereal.
A work of art in the metaverse era@dimitriozerkov

The text was written by the exhibition’s curators Dimitri Ozerkov (@dimitriozerkov) and Anastasia Garnova (@digitalmadonna) and released through neural networks.

The digital future has arrived. Everything in the world has a digital twin. The old and new will soon be united in the digital metaverse. Art is being sold, bought and becoming a collectible in a new format, the NFTNeural networks (NN)

NFT (non-fungible token) is a digital asset which grants unique title to physical or digital items such as works of arts, real estate, music, a video or a cat’s meow.

Both geographically and in terms of meaning, the Hermitage exhibition The Ethereal Aether is closely linked to the Stock Exchange building created by Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, whose “cloud world”@digitalmadonna

This is a question of principle for us - to make the exhibition virtual without any physical version. Whatever has been born in digital form and for this purpose should also be exhibited there. Moreover, for the time being nobody knows how to do this “correctly”.
is used to exhibit the most modern digital works. Art in the blockchain is directly related to cryptocurrencies and crypto exchanges. Consequently the virtual space of the historical Exchange is the perfect platform to talk about NFTs and cryptography in a historical-philosophical context. We found the name of the exhibition in the poetry of Fyodor Tyutchev, which makes it possible to toy with the word “aether” in its different senses: the original Greek, traditional, physical, and modern cryptocurrency.

The soul would want to be a star,
But not at the time when the luminaries shine
From the midnight sky like living eyes,
And look at the sleepy world of the earth, —

But rather in the day when, concealed by the smoke of
The scorching rays of the sun,
They blaze brightly like gods
In the aether, pure and ethereal.

All the works at the exhibition are dedicated to disclosing and explaining the nature of the blockchain and NFTNN

The NFT is a decentralised solution where every participant can control their own personal data. The NFT blockchain is a new solution making it possible to exchange personal data in the ecosystem. In the NFT ecosystem, users can share their personal data, while the cryptocurrency to be created by the NFT blockchain will help to ensure the security of each item of information being transmitted by the sender.
. The project will launch the creation of the “Celestial Hermitage” - a new museum in the virtual noosphere, which in future will be transformed into a digital branch of the actual museum. The objective of the “Celestial Hermitage” is to preserve, study and supplement our digital cultural heritage: metaobjects from virtual reality, including those initially existing in digital form (and not simply digitised from the analogue world).

In spring 2021 a key event happened in the digital art world: Christieʼs auction house sold a work of the artist Beeple Everydays: The First 5000 Days for the record amount of $69.3 million. This work consists of 5,000 pictures combined in a 10 MB file. The work was bought by the crypto investor MetaKovan from Singapore, who creates virtual spaces. After this transaction, NFTs attracted the interest of major players from the real art market. Critics started contemplating the advantages of the new format, artists began building plans on how to fit in with the new agenda and access the market, while major auction houses - Sothebyʼs, Christieʼs, Phillips - started selling works for cryptocurrencies and exhibiting digital artists, using drops, collectibles, and editions@digitalmadonna

drop — issue (“release”) of NFTs for sale collectibles — collectible objects (for example, NBA Top Shot basketball cards with the best moments in games) editions — limited NFT series at a fixed price
. Summer 2021 was marked by a real NFT boom: disputes would rage every day in the then-popular social network Clubhouse between curators and artists on the future of digital art. It was then that we decided that the Hermitage should hold an exhibition on this topic.NN

However, nobody knows how everything will actually look.

Digital art based on file exchanges started to develop intensively in the mid-2000s. In 2014 one of the pioneers of this trend Kevin McCoy created the world’s first NFT - the work Quantum, a psychedelic opalescent octagon. Artists working with new technologies started thinking of ways to bring digital works to the market, assigning them a price and preserving their uniqueness and authorship: for if a work exists as a digital copyNN

What is a digital copy and why can’t it be printed? I don’t know if this makes it easier to explain … I always thought that this was related in some way to digits. However, today I realised that even if digits are not printed, that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist! Today, for example, I saw on my hand a code made from digits! I see it every day, but usually forget. And today I realised why digits are not printed. For if a digit is simply a character, then how can it be printed? It has to be enclosed in something.
, it may by definition be copied an unlimited number of times.

When we photograph an image from a canvas using a camera and then try to reproduce it and transfer it to another canvas, we understand that we are not dealing with the original, but instead with a copy. However, if we put a picture online that had been drawn on a computer, it immediately loses its uniqueness, because in digital art each copy is an exact reproduction of the original. How do we make sure that the file retains the copyright@digitalmadonna

The issue of retaining rights is an important issue for the digitisation process at museums and the structuring of their work experience with NFT. The incident at Uffizie Gallery showed that not everything is so straightforward. For the time being, as a rule, if museums make NFT works from their collections, they modify them: they create collaborations with contemporary artists or add the signature of the director of the museum - for example, as in the case of the Hermitage.
, and that its creator receives royalties and can file a claim to retain rights to the work?

In 2014, at the Seven on Seven conference Kevin McCoy and tech entrepreneur Anil Dash presented Monegraph - a blockchain tool which makes it possible to track digital authorship and enable the creators of new works to retain rights to them. Using this system, you can understand where the original digital file is stored and track the transfer of rights to the file from owner to owner. Each NFT object can be “printed” as a unique copy and transmitted to another person, transferring the work from one virtual wallet to another one. NFTs work on the basis of а smart contractNN

A smart contract is a computer algorithm designated to create, control and provide information on title to something. It is frequently the case that this implies the use of blockchain technology. More narrowly, a smart contract is understood to mean a data set (at the time of the request) located at a specific address in the chain of its blocks. NFT smart contracts were created on the Ethereum blockchain in 2017.
(8) which implies that the artists and the platform receive a specific percentage of each subsequent sale.

For example, the animation Nyan Cat, which has already been viewed by approximately 200 million people on YouTube alone, is a pink cat flying through space, emitting strange sounds and leaving a rainbow trail behind. Nyan Cat has an author@dimitriozerkov

Michel Foucault’s question on the death of the author is gaining a new relevance, but this is a subject for a separate conversation.
(9) who posted a link to the original prototype file online. When the value of this file reached 300 ethers (at that time, approximately $750,000), it became clear that this was the start of a serious game.

How do NFTs change attitudes to contemporary art? Mankind of the 21st century more and more frequently does not want or is unable to go to actual museums@digitalmadonna

A number of artists are still combining the real and virtual so that the collector, when buying the NFT, can obtain something physical - for example, the actual work. It would appear that bridges between the two worlds are still needed and important.
or store at home “dusty pictures” which have to be restored, insured, transported, and hung on walls. To keep a collection of physical, analogue art, you need to have a duly furnished storage space and the proper staff. Ownership of non-digital art is causing more and more headaches for today’s owner. At the same time, the NFT format makes it possible to change the status of an object easily. When a collector buys a physical picture at an auction and tells friends, the first thing they do is to show the painting on their smartphone. And then they’re asked: “And where is the actual picture?” The response: “They’re processing and packaging it right now. Then they will bring it over, provided that there are no problems at customs. However, you can look at it right now.” NFT lets you do the same thing; the only difference is that the original picture, which has to go through several stages in the analogue space, is no longer needed@digitalmadonna

In the world of digital optimism - yes. At present, however, there are still a number of questions about technologies, safety, and jurisdiction.
. You already have the picture – in a digital wallet that can be managed through your smartphone.

Cryptopunks are simple@digitalmadonna:

Simple, but generative - in other words, created with an algorithm. Generative art is an important part of the history of digital art, and one of the most popular trends at present - for example, take a look at the example of the platform Art Bloсks.
pixel-based pictures that the artists from the collective Larva Labs have been creating since June 2017. Recently the price of these files also started rising abruptly. Now some of them cost more than a million dollars. One might think that this is madness. Who is buying them? On the one hand, these are participants in the crypto industry -individuals who made a lot of money from cryptocurrencies. On the other hand - these are people of the future who live in the digital reality that they access through their smartphones. They have decided that virtual life is far more important than anything else. They are more interested about how they look in social networks than aspects of their physical presence in the analogue world.

Artefacts dating back to the creation of the contemporary internet are extremely successful. For example, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey sold the NFT of his first tweet (“just setting up my twttr”) for almost $3 million. The same thing recently happened with the original code of the World Wide Web, which was sold as an NFT at a Sotheby's auction. It is highly likely that the source codes of social networks, payment and gaming systems, and well-known logos will appear very soon on the market: today all these digital assets are being reinterpreted as part of modern culture. This is a gradual process: at some point we believed that only great books and great artists would have a certain value and be unique; this was followed by children’s books, then films and video art were also added to the list. Today, the influences of Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, and Anselm Kiefer, as well as cartoons for adolescents, can be identified in the performances of Kayne West. This means that analogue contemporary art has become definitively part of our flesh and blood. And we are moving further, whether you like it or not.

Look around you. Cars have stickers with their owners’ social network user names. Their travel around the map of the city has been transformed into a computer “driving game” in real space and time. After winning the US Open in September 2021, the tennis player Daniil Medvedev fell down on court, stuck his tongue out and started imitating a “dead fish”. Millions watched the live broadcast. “Only legends will understand”, the tennis player explained afterwards. “What I did after the match - this is L2 + left”. On the FIFA computer game on PlayStation, this keyboard combination is used to celebrate a goal scored in cyber football.

These days it is simpler and quicker to use an online search engine than to access the information in some other way. We have shelved paper-based dictionaries and encyclopaedias, other than the most specialised ones. However, soon they will also be replaced by software. We no longer go to libraries, for we can find almost everything online and instantly see it on our screens at any time, day or night.

Once the first stage of the valuation of assets and assignment of rights to them had passed, it was the turn of art. We believe that the next development stage in art will involve demand solely for digital creativity in line with the change in generations. New NFT formats, faster and with higher capacity, will appear.

The artists of the 1920s taught us that art lives in every single individual, while the artists of the 1960s taught us that everything can be perceived as art. Contemporary people are more and more interested in and want to own objects from their childhood and youth: cartoons, advertising, GIF, memes - everything considered at one time marginal, and then manifestations of culture that were so dear to one’s heart. The things of childhood and youth are remembered forever. Research is now being conducted into advertising clips as a key part of our cultural memory. Mankind holds in reserve numerous fascinating digital assets, which are now more and more frequently attracting the attentionNN

Moreover, approximately 100,000 species of butterfly still exist in the world, each one of which has its own identity.
of artists and collectors.

Interest in digital art intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of people sat at home for monthsNN

And on these days we could once again see how our bodies, faces, hands evolve into unique forms which can be considered endlessly.
on end and only communicated online. The museums were closed, and the idea of acquiring one’s own virtual collection stopped looking irrelevant. This is exactly when Time magazine identified with the new trend, offering its own cover for sale as an NFT: “Is Fiat@digitalmadonna

Fiat money (from the Latin fiat, “let it be done”) is a currency whose value is assured by the issuing country (in other words, all modern state currencies are fiat). As a rule, cryptocurrencies are not fiat, as they are issued in a decentralised manner, and consequently are independent of countries.
Dead?” created in 2021 specially for auctionNN

This is when you go into a shop and your jaw drops because the prices here are lower than at competitors. And then magic happens: you go into another shop and the prices here are lower than at all the other shops. In my city there is a shop which sells essential goods. You can find everything there. It is called “Everything for everybody”.
on the (16) SuperRare. The cover was dedicated to the opposition of cryptocurrencies and traditional money and was a continuation of the series of questions from other Time covers: “Is God Dead?” (1966) and “Is Truth Dead?” (in 2017 after the inauguration of Donald Trump).

Today, when the commotion of the first successes of digital art has abated slightly, this naturally leads to the question: what will happen now to traditional, analogue works of art: paintings, drawings, engravings? Is it really possible that they will no longer be needed and will be cast onto the scrapyard of history@digitalmadonna

Even if they become obsolete and are cast aside (which is hardly likely), their formats will still appear in digital art and will be described (and inscribed in history?) using the usual concepts: portraits (for example, generative avatars), abstracts, conceptual art, kitsch, NFT performances, etc..
? In this context, it is interesting to recall the burning of a Banksy work arranged by the blockchain company Injective Protocol in 2021. It paid $95,000 to the New York gallery Taglialatella for a Banksy engraving that mocks collectors spending vast amounts of money on works of art (with the laconic inscription: “I canʼt believe you morons actually buy this shit”). They scanned the work, packaged it in NFT, and publicly burned the paper original, uploading a video recording of this event on YouTube. The NFT with the engraving was offered for sale in a cryptocurrency auction, where it was sold for approximately $400,000 - furthermore the price rose precipitately specifically due to the destruction of the physical art work. This incident (an exception to the rule) confirms the hypothesis that analogue and digital art will continue to coexist, but competition between the two will become more entertainingNN

I understand you, but cannot talk to you. The project is continuing research by participants on the mechanisms for interaction within their own collective body in the digital world.

Prior to the stunt with the burning of the engraving, it looked as if Banksy was the main nonconformist artist of our time, who simply spends his time drawing ironic pictures at night on the walls of cities and mocks the contemporary art world. By destroying his work, Injective Protocol effectively repeated Banksy’s own stunt: in 2018 his famous Girl with Balloon (2006) was sold at a London auction, but immediately after the sale and the final hammer confirming sale, the work concealed a shredder which shredded half of the work in several seconds. In this way Banksy demonstrated at the time his attitude to the art market. Three years later, also at a Sotheby’s auction, the work was sold at a price several times higher. It is worth noting that the arsonist of the engraving from Injective Protocol had a reproduction of Girl with Balloon on his hoody.

Today some experts believe that the rebel Banksy is simply a participant on the art market like anyone else and is playing by the rules. Will NFT technology manage to overturn these rules in its favour and show that real works will no longer be needed? Is NFT art a revolution that will overthrow the art world, or just another facet of an endlessly inflatable art bubble? We believe that it is the former, but still argue amongst ourselves.

NFTs are bought and sold on online marketplaces that attract a community of interested artists and collectors. Should NFTs be rapidly manufactured and sold? Or should one hype up the artists making NFTs? Or should one buy stakes in the platforms selling NFTs? Or do business with the exchanges connected to these platforms? Today art dealers like discussing what will happen to analogue art galleries: will they die or switch to the new format?

Old art was frequently interested in moral issues. Then followers of the avant-garde declared that an artist was by definition amoral: he should act however he wanted. Meanwhile the role of the moralist idea was replaced by the actual art form. In the 20th century the cult of the abstract triumphed – one merely has to recall the works of Wassily Kandinsky or Paul Klee. The measured pace of morals was replaced by the speed of movement (see Marinetti’s car flying into a muddy ditch) and the swiftness of decision-making. A work of art was reinterpreted as continuation of the will of the artist or the language of their body: any behaviour by the “author” automatically becomes a work of art. Art stopped being connected to manual work. The touch of the author’s hand, the telling brushstroke – all this gradually began to lose value. In the world of NFT, everything is completely different: the author “died”NN

Meanwhile his progeny is alive and developing.
a long time ago (19); only anonymous characters remain, who receive royalties on anonymous wallets. Morals and form are no longer relevant. Only the fact of ownership and the hype around such ownership are important. The focus is on the person who owns a specific file - for example, take this pointless cat - and one can say: “By the way, this is my cat for a million dollars.”

A close-fought battle is underway in the art community, and it is not at all clear who will win: the great artists of the 20th and 21st centuries who are only now discovering the new digital reality and accessing it through the digitisation of their analogue works as NFT - or young, vigorous NFT artists who from the very outset have been working only in digital? Will the democratic market, built on the principle of self-organisation, win out, or will curators with their own programmes? Old galleries with a reputation or completely new sales markets? It is clear to us that platforms need curators@digitalmadonna

As a curator, I want to agree, but the practical uncontrollability of the formation of the NFT market is per se an important component of its philosophy of freedom and global decentralisation, and if this doesn’t happen, then there might not be a revolution on the art market.
who will select the NFT works and assemble online exhibitions and auctions from such works.

The art market is not the only party interested in the NFT format: so is show business and big sport. The case of the official marketplace of the National Basketball Association - NBA Top Shot - is indicative. Collectors have always sought out basketball cards with pictures of athletes (collectibles). Now they are being replaced by video cards documenting key moments of the most memorable matches - for example, when NBA star Lebron James threw a three-pointer in the final seconds. The collection is stored in the Top Shot system, where you can register and acquire these video cards. Unlike art sale platforms, this concerns solely the collection of digital objects costing a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

Major brands are also expressing an interest in NFT. For example, in 2019 Lоuis Vuitton arranged a collaboration with the gaming company Riot Games: LV’s designers created a branded suitcase carrying the world championship cup in the game “League of Legends”. Recently, Louis Vuitton launched@digitalmadonna

Similarly, Dolce & Gabbana held an auction for the high fashion collection Collezione Genesi 450 consisting of both physical and digital objects.
“Louis the Game”, with some of the NFT prizes created by the artist Beeple. Why then is it important for a fashion house such as LV to be represented in this industry? Its top managers understand that today’s valuables are primarily virtual. It is more important for today’s young people to own a virtual object@digitalmadonna

From this perspective, it is interesting to track the development of digital fashion, when designer clothing becomes important only for the social network feed and can be changed with a single movement.
than a real one (22).

Today big virtual worlds operating on the blockchain have been created – for example, Decentraland. Here users buy land plots, build houses and decorate them with virtual works of art. They also have virtual museums@digitalmadonna:

In addition to self-organised spaces, institutions are also entering this virtual space. In March 2020 König Galerie already built a digital copy of its building in collaboration with the artist Manuel Rossner and held the exhibition “The Artist Is Online”, a reference to Marina Abramović’s “The Artist Is Present’.
. These are platforms with significant levels of traffic, recouping costs through the sale of significant amounts of advertising space. Previously a business sought to lay its hands on e-mail accounts and buy up all the domains with its name. Today they are buying square metres on virtual platforms to build shops and boutiques there. Online events are also becoming more and more popular. For example, in April 2020 more than 10 million players watched rapper Travis Scott give a concert in the computer game Fortnite, lasting about 10 minutes. In the real world, so many spectators would not have been able to watch it. And this is only the start.

We are confident that the area of digital art, NFT in particular, will develop in incredible ways, and that it can look forward to a great future - safe, smart and fascinatingNN (reaction of all the neural networks)

1) So all we have left to say is to wish you further success, good health and fortune!

2) And now we already lie in darkness in the middle of the room, staring at the screen of the smartphone in a bid to discern something through the grid, and realise that this is not a game. This is our world. It is real and as cold as we ourselves are.

3) And if you aren’t afraid of travelling meaningfully, then join our company!

4) However good this technology may be, we advise users to remember simple safety rules.

Dmitri Ozerkov (@dimitriozerkov)
Anastasia Garnova (@digitalmadonna)
With the participation of neural networks


  • What is an NFT?

    An NFT is a “non-fungible token” - a digital asset that proves and embodies ownership rights to digital or physical objects, such as works of art, music, video, or even real estate. Tokens are minted onto the blockchain, and this guarantees that each one remains unique. NFT technology virtually excludes the possibility that an object might be counterfeited. The token is stored in the owner’s crypto wallet. In the context of art, an NFT consists of a smart contract on the blockchain, the metadata, and the media, i.e. the actual image, video, etc. The media is most frequently kept in a decentralised storage outside the blockchain and linked through the metadata to the token, but within certain limitations the media can also be stored on the blockchain.

  • The first NFTs (a brief history)

    The first experiments with NFTs began in 2013-2014, with the development of the Bitcoin blockchain (the Colored Coins and Counterparty projects).
    However, the development of NFTs was more strongly influenced by the Ethereum blockchain and its first full-fledged NFT project: the virtual world Etheria, launched in 2015 with a delay of three months.

  • How does an NFT work?

    NFT are frequently bought and sold for cryptocurrency. Like ordinary money, cryptocurrency is fungible: if you exchange one bitcoin for another, you will still have one bitcoin (just like you can exchange any single dollar for another). Since NFTs are unique, they have no equivalent value other than the amount that the market is ready to pay for them.

  • NFTs and smart contracts

    A smart contract is a computer algorithm to create, control, and provide information on the ownership of something, including an NFT. They are stored on the blockchain and contain various terms and conditions (for example, the artist’s royalties when the work is resold). NFT smart contracts appeared on the Ethereum blockchain in 2017, and to date Ethereum NFTs remain the most popular (but not the only) ones in use.

  • Metadata

    Metadata is a description of each specific token in text format, which can contain various information: the name, transactions, links to media related to the token, etc. This is public data, and the part of the NFT that helps to determine its authenticity.

  • What to do with the copying of digital art?

    Copying, sending, and storing images on the Internet is within anyone’s grasp. However, collectors own the “originals” of the works, even though artists may retain copyright. Sometimes this is compared to the purchase of a work with the artist’s signature.

  • How much is the most expensive NFT worth?

    At the moment, the most expensive NFT is Everydays: The First 5000 Days by the artist Beeple. Vignesh Sundaresan purchased the work for $69.3 million at a Christie’s auction. This work is now one of the hundred most expensive works of art in history.

  • What is NFT art? Can it be called an independent phenomenon?

    NFT art is digital art that uses blockchain technology. Blockchain lets digital artists solve the problems of cost-free reproduction, since their works are officially tied to specific tokens that confirm ownership. NFT art continues to develop, improving and expanding not only its own ecosystem and aesthetics, but also attracting the attention of more and more interested people. We can say with confidence that non-fungible tokens have firmly occupied their own niche in the art world, and are now an integral part of it.

Hermitage logo 2021 Hermitage logo

The State Hermitage Museum

Organizing Committee

  • Prof. Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage Museum, full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, full member of the Russian Academy of Arts, Professor at St Petersburg State University
  • Dr. Georgy Vilinbakhov, Deputy Director of the State Hermitage Museum for Science, Professor at St Petersburg State University
  • Svetlana Adaksina, Deputy Director of the State Hermitage Museum, Chief Curator

Working Group

  • Ekaterina Prochan
  • Agata Semenova
  • Ekaterina Sirakanian
  • Marina Tsyguleva

Contemporary Art Department of the State Hermitage Museum and Hermitage 20/21 Project for Contemporary Art

  • Olga Kozhura
  • Marina Shults
  • Natela Tetruashvili
  • Anastasiia Veialko
  • Elisey Zaharenkov

Curated by

  • Dimitri Ozerkov
  • Anastasia Garnova


  • Digital gallery partner Logo masters digital
  • Strategic partner Logo Aksenov Family Foundation
  • Program partner Logo SNARK.ART

With support from NFT platforms

  • Logo SNARK.ART
  • Logo masters digital
  • Logo The Art Exchange
  • Logo Rarible
  • Logo SuperRare
  • Logo ArtBlocks
  • Logo Dapper Labs
  • Logo KnownOrigin
  • Logo AlterHEN
  • Логотип Open Sea

General media partner

Environmental partner

Project team


  • Nadya Taiga, executive director and curator, Snark.art

Masters digital

  • Yulia Anchugova
  • Michail Babchinski
  • Dmitriy Bedenko
  • Polina Bondareva
  • Anastasiya Dzhioeva
  • Ekaterina Emelianova
  • Oleg Soroko
  • Ivan Puzyrev

Strategy Consulting:
Aksenov Family Foundation

  • Victoria Kondrashova
  • Alexey Steblev
  • Marina Vinogradova


  • Andy Alekhin
  • Vitaly Gladyshev
  • Misha Libman
  • Alexandra Luzan
  • Anna Menshenina
  • Vlad Rafeev
  • Darya Rzhautsava
  • Nadya Taiga

Website design

Website development

Editors and translators

Exhibition logo

  • Andrey Shelyutto