Kate Vass on Rethinking Art Collecting

Kate Vass, founder of Kate Vass Galerie in Zürich, visits with thefunnyguys in an effort to uncover her motivations and vision for this space.
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Manolo Gamboa Naon, Inside, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and owned by Le Random
Manolo Gamboa Naon, Inside, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and owned by Le Random

Kate Vass on Rethinking Art Collecting

Kate Vass, founder of Kate Vass Galerie in Zürich, visits with thefunnyguys in an effort to uncover her motivations and vision for this space.

thefunnyguys: How did you become interested in the intersection of art and technology?

Kate Vass: The relationship between art and technology has always intrigued me. Technology has expanded the boundaries of what is possible in art for centuries. Advancements in digital tools and software have enabled artists to create complex and intricate works that would have been impossible to produce with traditional techniques. In 2017, I established the Kate Vass Galerie in Zurich, focusing on presenting a generative art program. The following year, the gallery intensified its emphasis on emerging new media.

thefunnyguys: What mission did you have in mind when starting your gallery in 2017?

Kate Vass: It began with an impromptu decision. I’d initially intended to collaborate with a partner with expertise in photography. Our divergent outlooks prevented that from happening, so I moved ahead independently. In due course, I happened upon a rather unconventional location in Zurich for a gallery. It resonated with my vision for a gallery that eschewed the traditional "white cube" aesthetic. So I decided to take the risk and open a gallery independently with the mission to disrupt the conventional way of showcasing art and to place the artist on top. Before opening the gallery, I had collected art for many years. I got to know the system from the inside-out and I was not happy with how galleries treated artists and collectors, particularly the art market's opacity and unfair valuations of work. Talking to several artists, I learned that many were underpaid. By opening Kate Vass Galerie, I wanted to prove that galleries could treat artists fairly with transparency.

thefunnyguys: Why does art and, more specifically, generative art matter? Why dedicate your life to these subjects?

Kate Vass: Contemporary art is a conduit through which the multifaceted complexities of our present-day existence are captured and expressed. These complexities encompass our social dynamics, economic tribulations and political situations as well. As such, art functions as a mirror to gaze into or even a crystal ball that occasionally affords us glimpses into our collective future. Generative art is not a recent phenomenon; in fact, it has a rich history spanning over seven decades. With advancements in technology and innovation, however, generative art’s accessibility, visibility and affordability have experienced an upswing. This has been aided by the ubiquitous integration of technology in our daily lives. 

Against this backdrop of digitization, what artistic tools exist to portray the realities of our time? The answer lies in art made by or with the help of computers and artificial intelligence.

thefunnyguys: Who was the first artist you started working with and how did this happen?

Kate Vass: Based on my collecting experience and photography expertise, the first few shows were mainly focused on photographers from the 1960's who had never exhibited in Switzerland.

thefunnyguys: What are you looking for in an artist? How do you decide you want to work with them?

Kate Vass: I read and study new things daily. The best knowledge comes from history and books. Only if you know what has been created before can you evaluate what you are looking at. That is also how you determine whether a work is worthy or is just a copy-paste of someone else. I am always interested in new approaches, concepts and art forms. Those things are rarer nowadays, as the internet can kill any creativity. I always advise artists not to look around too much, as it’s known to erase original ideas by simply being influenced by things you look at or see elsewhere. To answer your question, in any artist I want to see a fresh concept or at least an innovative approach, reflecting on social problems or new technology.

Kjetil Golid, EXPANSE - Graffiti, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and K011. Owned by Le Random
Kjetil Golid, EXPANSE - Graffiti, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and K011. Owned by Le Random

thefunnyguys: When you started your gallery, NFTs had not yet significantly impacted the art world. Did their introduction change the gallerist’s role?

Kate Vass: I recall arguing in 2017 that the digital file was the core component to collect in contemporary digital photography. I tried to convince both artists and collectors to sell digital files instead of prints but it was rather difficult back then. After 2017, with the introduction of blockchains enabling provable digital scarcity, my belief about collecting digital versions of natively digital art only strengthened. I constantly reflected on my preferences and experiences as a collector. I discovered I was bored with art fairs and the repetitive shows around me. I wanted to see and exhibit something fresh, cutting-edge and revolutionary. No one needed another traditional photography art gallery and I personally lost any interest carrying on collecting what was shown around me. I was fully captivated by science and innovation. So when the opportunity came,

I took a chance on showing something very different, as I wanted to prove to collectors and artists that blockchains would revolutionize the way we think about and collect art. 

In 2018, I was approached by a local curator to host another photography show. I said, “No one needs another photography show. If you can help deliver a curated program around blockchain art, I would gladly collaborate with you.” Later that year, in November, I hosted the first blockchain exhibition: Perfect & Priceless, featuring protagonists of this movement, including Kevin Abosch & Ai Weiwei, Harm van den Dorpel, Sarah Friend and John Watkinson. In 2019, I hosted Alternatives with Espen Kluge, which, although I don't want to sound proud, was the first in the world to introduce, showcase and provide education around NFTs in a physical space. I believe that these shows played an important role in educating collectors about new ways of collecting digital art, bringing worldwide exposure to generative artists of the past and present.

Rhea Myers artworks at Perfect & Priceless (Kate Vass Galerie, Zurich in 2018)
Rhea Myers artworks at Perfect & Priceless (Kate Vass Galerie, Zurich in 2018)

thefunnyguys: Recently, you released a new venture, K011. What motivated you to take this step?

Kate Vass: As a gallerist working with tech-savvy artists and collectors, you must adapt the same philosophy to ensure that your service brings additional value to both. I was always looking for outside-the-box solutions that enabled collectors and artists to experience cutting-edge fine art in Web3. K011 is a specialized art and tech studio, unifying curated art and the power of Web3. Our name represents this unity, as ‘K’ stands for kuration in German and ‘011’ is binary for 3. We spotlight a dynamic mixture of emerging and established artists, exploring the fascinating fusion of art and tech. Our mission centers around developing unique technologies that become an integral part of the artistic process, allowing creatives to fully immerse themselves in digital art's innovative potential with a variety of bespoke minting techniques.

Iskra Velitchkova and Marcelo Soria-Rodriguez, PAL #5 (still), 2023. Courtesy of the Artist and K011. Owned by Le Random
Iskra Velitchkova and Marcelo Soria-Rodriguez, PAL #5 (still), 2023. Courtesy of the Artist and K011. Owned by Le Random

thefunnyguys: You have an impressive roster of historically significant generative artists such as Vera Molnár, Charles Csuri and Herbert W. Franke. Why is it important to represent this group of artists in particular?

Kate Vass: History is crucial to understanding the present. Without the background story, it's hard to imagine how digital art is a logical continuation of twentieth-century art movements. It's worth knowing the chronology of these movements as well as the political situation or technological inventions of the time. These elements have historically driven artists to create with new tools. Kate Vass Galerie shows the predecessors of generative art to supply that context.

thefunnyguys: A perfect example of this context is Automat und Mensch. You curated the show with Georg Bak and Jason Bailey in 2019. What are your reflections on this exhibition four years later?

Kate Vass: Automat und Mensch was a show that covered seventy years of history. It was a first of its kind. The purpose was to show pioneers and contemporary artists in the same room. We had Herbert W. Franke, who was still alive at the age of 92, and Robbie Barrat, who was 19. Four years since, I still have not seen any shows of its caliber in other galleries. Probably at this point, it’s no longer necessary. The success of art exhibitions is due to the right timing. Timing is the most crucial in any sector.

thefunnyguys: If you could choose one generative artist to work with who is not alive today, who would it be and why?

Kate Vass: I admire the majority of the pioneers of generative art for their courage, unique perspectives and passion for creating art. One of the artists I feel close to is Georg Nees. He studied mathematics and physics and is considered a father of generative computer graphics. He was interested in the relationship between order and disorder in picture composition, along with a few other practitioners working then, but Nees is particularly special to me. His practice was highly influenced by a German philosopher and writer of that time, Max Bense, whose theories inspired Nees. In one of his works, Schotter (1968-1970) in the collection of V&A Museum, Nees introduced random variables into the computer program, causing the orderly squares to descend into chaos. It was fascinating, considering the early stage of the computer as a device and the program as a tool to create art.

Georg Nees, Schotter, 1968-1970 (made). Courtesy of the artist. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Georg Nees, Schotter, 1968-1970 (made). Courtesy of the artist. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

thefunnyguys: Where do you see generative art going in the next few years?

Kate Vass: Many programmers and developers have joined the art market in the last few years to utilize their skills to create and sell their art. With the further development of AI, more tools continue to be introduced to the public. In 2023 with ChatGPT, it's relatively easy to copy-paste and create sophisticated works if you know how to code. At the same time, the current bear market left no choice but for many to leave the space and go back to their standard routine. The true artists who were creating art using technology as a tool for decades, however, have been empowered with even more tools. I see plenty of opportunities for them to create great art. We will see the strongest and the most advanced artists stay in this space and they will continue to fascinate us with their new projects.

thefunnyguys: Do you see any parallels between the invention of photography and the emergence of AI art?

Kate Vass: There are several parallels. Photography disrupted traditional artistic practices by capturing and reproducing images with unprecedented accuracy. AI art similarly challenges what constitutes art and who can create it. Both technologies have opened up new possibilities for artists, allowing them to create in previously impossible ways and introducing new modes of representation. Picasso, Richter, Hockney and Degas have demonstrated how photography can be a valuable tool and a wellspring of inspiration for traditional art. Just as photography democratized creativity by allowing anyone to capture the world around them, AI art empowers individuals to create art. This has pushed AI art into the mainstream despite initial skepticism and criticism.

Photography and AI art are recognized as legitimate art forms, exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide. The convergence of human creativity and technological innovation continues to fuel artistic expression and shape the future of art. My recent series of articles about the history of AI includes a dedicated chapter on the history of photography, highlighting its significant impact on the artistic landscape.

thefunnyguys: You said that art reflects society, so how do you see the current socio-political situation influencing art?

Kate Vass: There has been a rise in politically charged art to inspire change and challenge the status quo. Many artists are using their work to comment on social and political issues like racism, police brutality, climate change and immigration. The ongoing push for diversity and representation is also reflected in art. More underrepresented artists are getting recognition and opportunities to showcase their work with a growing interest in art representing diverse perspectives and experiences. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards digital art and online exhibitions with social media platforms becoming crucial for artists to showcase their work and engage wider audiences. Governments and art institutions have responded to the pandemic's impact on the art industry by providing increased funding and support for artists, including grants, exhibitions and other opportunities. Finally, the pandemic's significant impact on mental health and well-being is reflected in the art world. Many artists use their work to express their struggles and create a space for others to share their experiences and find solace.


Kate Vass is the founder of Kate Vass Galerie in Zurich, Switzerland. Opening in 2017, the gallery curated the first blockchain art exhibition in 2018. In 2021, Vass was recognized in the ‘Art & Tech 40 under 40’ list and Artnet’s "NFT 30 Report." Vass is committed to innovation and bolstering artists’ prominence in the digital realm.

thefunnyguys is the co-founder and CEO of Le Random where he is in charge of the overall vision and spearheads its acquisitions.

Special thanks to Peter Bauman (Monk Antony).