Art News

Denver Enters the Metaverse With New Gallery of Holograms, NFTs

Enter the metaverse in this new exhibit.
Enter the metaverse in this new exhibit. Courtesy of Verse
The former Victoria's Secret space in Denver Pavilions has been transformed into an art gallery, but you wouldn't know that just by walking in. That's because it's now home to Verse: an augmented reality exhibit of holograms and NFTs that requires hololenses to see the art.

The innovative show, which opens Thursday, April 7, is the brainchild of Ray Kallmeyer, CEO of metaverse/NFT startup Enku, who hopes Verse will allow the curious to step into a whole new world that "ignites your inner child."

Once you put on the hololenses, which are essentially VR goggles, the empty rooms that were once filled with sexed-up mannequins come alive with more than seventy holograms made by more than fifty artists, both local and national. There are jellyfish bouncing in one corner; stars flashing around an embracing couple; and a tree, titled "Avatree," that grows before your eyes. Look at one spot on the ground, and you'll find yourself standing above a cavernous galaxy with a floating asteroid.

"That's Oumuamua," Kallmeyer explains. "It's an asteroid in space that Ivy League scientists are debating over whether it could be an alien."

He wanted to use as many local artists as possible for Verse — there are at least fifteen at the moment — and the first room is home to one of Denver's most famous digital art innovators, Android Jones. Kallmeyer himself created two holograms for the exhibit: a ballerina dancer and a masculine figure that is pounding into the ground. "It's kind of commenting on gender roles in society," he says.

Unlike many psychedelic immersive shows, Verse is designed more as an experience than for Instagram-worthy photoshoots. It also aims to enforce positive, lasting changes, Kallmeyer says. Each room has a different theme, he says, noting that the Solar Punk room "is about building a better future. Every project here has a positive impact: projects that support Ukraine, projects that support women in crypto, projects that support climate change, and projects that support mental-health nonprofits."

All of the works can be purchased. In the case of "Avatree," each sale of that NFT benefits adding trees to reduce the carbon footprint that follows cryptocurrency.

"When you own an 'Avatree,' you pay a monthly subscription that goes directly into pulling carbon out of the atmosphere," Kallmeyer says. "The longer you have the tree, the more it grows, so your direct impact on climate fighting is visualized in this tree." Verse has hired guides to show you how to set up your crypto wallet with Solana (the cryptocurrency used by Verse), and there will also be a gift shop for more physical items to purchase to remember your visit.

"We've had over 500 first-time NFT buyers, too," Kallmeyer notes. And who knows: You may be walking away with your own venture into NFT collection. He says the Android Jones piece just sold for 11 Ethereum (that's more than $35,750), and these pieces are — for the foreseeable future — only facing an upward trend.

The art will rotate at least monthly, and the gallery will also host two events a month. That's why a stage is being crafted in another room. "We'll be having augmented reality fashion shows here," Kallmeyer explains. "That's basically any fashion-defying reality — a dress that appears to be made of fire, gravity-defying makeup. You name it."

The gallery setting "makes it great for the NFT skeptics and NFT curious, because it puts it in a context that's familiar," Kallmeyer adds, noting that there will be physical art in the space as well as performance art that happens both physically in the Verse gallery and in the metaverse seen through the hololenses.

Kallmeyer started Enku after working in the gaming industry for twenty years, after an industry friend asked if he wanted to try out the hololenses. "The first time I tried these on," he recalls, "I wrote my two weeks' notice and started this company." He conceptualized Verse to "bridge the gap" between physical arts and tech.

After debuting in Dubai in 2016, Verse has been in Kallmeyer's homebase of San Francisco for more than a year."We've done pop-ups all over the world," he says. "There's something in the air in Denver. People seem a lot more willing to try new things and much more excited when new things come around.

"The culture and community, the art vibe here is just amazing," he continues. "You'd think San Francisco, with its history, would be very pro art and tech, but it's really either side of the campus. Here it's very positive. There's such a thriving community of artists and creators and a body of consumers — people who like this kind of thing and make it part of their lifestyles. It's very welcoming."

In fact, he now wants to get a place here. "It seems like the city of the future in a lot of ways," he says.

However, it can create a bit of a headache to stay in this metaverse too long, even if the hololenses allow for more depth perception than VR goggles. Raise your hands up to your hololens, and you'll find they're diminishing to fractals. And when you take your lenses off, your brain feels like tangled yarn — not unlike waking up after a night of LSD.

So it's not surprising that the psychedelic mentality is what ties Verse together — both in its art and mission. "We want to empower creators to build the future of the internet," Kallmeyer says, adding that he hopes Verse will "return people to that state of child-like wonder," just like what happened to him when he first tried the hololenses. "I forgot what it's like to imagine," he adds. "When you see something out [in the metaverse], it reconnects you with that attitude of when you were a kid."

But Kallmeyer's company isn't just about fun and games: When he was unable to do events like this during the pandemic, Enku made a transition toward higher education by sharing its software. "There are now surgeons at Cornell using the same software to visualize surgeries, for training and for patients," he says. "So today if you're about to get a surgery, how the doctors navigate the internals of your body is by printing out a 2D picture of your body, but we're not flat. They're now experimenting with using the headsets to visualize a 3D scan so they make less incisions because they're navigating better.

"So there's the fun side, the expanding consciousness side," he says, "and then there's impact in other industries, which is really great."

Verse opens Thursday, April 7 at the Denver Pavilions, 500 16th Street. Tickets are $20; for more information, visit versenftcryptoart.com.
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Emily Ferguson is Westword's Culture Editor, covering Denver's flourishing arts and music scene. Before landing this position, she worked as an editor at local and national political publications and held some odd jobs suited to her odd personality, including selling grilled cheese sandwiches at music festivals and performing with fire. Emily also writes on the arts for the Wall Street Journal and is an oil painter in her free time.
Contact: Emily Ferguson