It’s not news that the internet has changed the human experience almost entirely. Today, it is a bottomless pit of information, ideas, and opinions—not to mention, images. Deciding what to engage with is a daily job. Even the places in which we cultivate our own stream of content, like Instagram, are not immune: what was once a careful stream of pictures from selected profiles is now littered with sponsored advertising. For the sake of sanity, we must organize. Therein lies the service of Digital Madrid, a virtual gallery designed by Trinidad-born, New York-based curator Kadeem Fletcher to bring notice to new art and artists worthy of being separated from the clutter. Since its conception in 2014, it has hosted the work of Will Foster, a New York-based photographer from Ohio whose dynamic collection ranges from Travis Scott performance shots to intimate New Orleans stills; Daraun Crawford, a multi-platform graphic designer with a sharp post-modern take on everything from interior design to animated cars; and Delinda Arts, a socially charged concept artist from Atlanta with a refreshingly nostalgic hand, just to name a few.
To learn more about Digital Madrid, I met Fletcher at Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken in Manhattan, on his suggestion. It was a blessed day from the beginning with unusual warmth for early March. I spotted him immediately: a looming figure in a bright yellow jacket that attracted as much attention as his aura. “I can’t believe you’ve never eaten here,” he said eagerly after a brief introduction. “This place is like a right of passage.” Before getting into digital art curation, Fletcher studied mechanical engineering at NYU where his love for organization, fashion, and art display resulted in the creation of the online forum ILS Magazine. As well as running Digital Madrid, Fletcher stays busy working alongside designer Lambo Keem as a social media developer for his menswear line By Lambo, and studying towards a marketing degree at FIT.
When the food came—glistening, golden-brown, crispy chicken wings and Cajun-seasoned fries—the conversation lulled to silence as we paused to admire the perfection before us. Along with the steam, the scent wafted thickly upward, teasing my senses. It took everything not to drool. “Wow, I bet this is how Future feels about cheesecake,” Kadeem said after he took a bite. “Sensational.”
What do you consider your role in the digital art world?
Kadeem Fletcher: I'm definitely not an artist. I think people sometimes try to do more than they can do at times, but that's not me. I'll always stick to what I know, which is curating and innovating. The whole idea of Digital Madrid isn't something I think is completely new. I mean, I drew inspiration from Art Basel. The whole reason it came about was because one year I couldn't go to Art Basel and I started thinking—why am I worried about going somewhere when I can just create an online entity to house us people of the digital era? I wanted to show people I had a vision and that I could bring all these people together to make something happen.
What is Digital Madrid and why is it significant?
My whole passion comes from making a platform for digital artists in an accelerated digital world. So I took that concept to the next level and made this platform that’s unlike anything else, and [artists] create exclusive pieces for it. Behance is kind of a great example of that but Behance is a website; it doesn’t feel like a festivity happening. Digital Madrid is an occasion. People feel honored when they actually get the invitation to be a part of it because it doesn't feel like it's an everyday thing. It's an all-star game for visual artists.
“Digital Madrid is an occasion. It’s an all-star game for visual artists.”—Kadeem Fletcher
What kind of work can people expect to see on Digital Madrid?
When I first started it, truthfully I was experimenting with a lot of stuff. Initially when I released Digital Madrid 1, I had 21 artists on three different days—seven artists a day. Then on the fourth day, I opened it up with everyone and made it completely public. After that I had Digital Madrid 1.5, which was like the D league of the NBA. Because the exposure had gotten so large after the first one, a lot of young people were hitting me up. I felt bad because I didn't want to focus on only big people who were already known but also give a shot to kids who had a passion and fire for all their stuff.
I let my friend John Geiger, Jacob Keller and Alex Veltri host [Digital Madrid 2] virtually, just to give it a different feel. Then there was Digital Madrid 3 which is the one that got the most exposure because Dead Dilly had done this Nike and Adidas sneaker melt and a lot of websites picked it up because it was something they hadn't seen yet. [Digital Madrid 4 has] the most extensive cast so far, and although photography is dominant, the graphic artists still hold their ground.
How does Digital Madrid benefit the artist?
When someone does something for themselves they only benefit from their own following. But on Digital Madrid I have so many artists in there that all bring their own audience and when they start looking at the gallery they realize that even though they visited to support their friends or favorite artist, they leave knowing 15 new artists. They get to feed off of each other and each other's fan base. Another beautiful harmony is that the artists begin to click and become friends and work with each other; in the long run, they help each other in intangible and tangible ways that they won't even know. I'm trying to bring together a community. You know how Apple has created this community within iMessage? If you show up with the green text bubble, I don't want to text you. They literally made a texting community that almost feels exclusive. If you get invited to Digital Madrid, it's something special.
What do you think the internet has done to the practice of art?
There's no longer any boundaries. You can create just about anything from your laptop. Instead of having to physically go somewhere to achieve something, you can open your computer; instead of learning to paint, you can use Photoshop and Lightroom and all this other stuff. It's instantaneous. The minute you put it on the internet is the minute it can go viral. It's given everyone this immense capability to succeed and put themselves out there. It's rushed the process too—if you don't put out an article on Kanye ten minutes after something happened then you're late, it's gone. It's shortened the attention span of people. Damn Daniel was just last week, but nobody is saying it anymore.
[But] people write articles so fast now but they lack substance. That's what happens when you stop focusing on the purpose and start thinking about money. It can turn you into a robot. I personally don't rush because I know that the people who know me will read what I write because they know I provide quality, and the people that don't will catch up eventually. When you rush you get caught up in the crowd with the same people who are just throwing their two cents in a pile hoping to get some money back. Or some retweets. It's impossible to keep up with. People have to understand not to let the internet control you. Live your life, be patient, and believe in your process.
“After Digital Madrid 1.5, Joe Perez from Donda reached out to one of my friends about working together. It provides opportunity.”—Kadeem Fletcher
Do you have plans to ever make Digital Madrid a physical installment?
This summer. July 28, the day before my birthday. I want to give people another aspect of it. I still want to keep it digital since that's the focus but I want to cater to people who appreciate the substance of real art. I've been thinking of looking into painters and sculptures and forms of visual art that you can't make and present online but I'm not sure yet because as I said, I don't want to undermine the digital aspect. I’m also trying to stray away from the hip-hop culture of art just because I've done it so much and it doesn't show progression to keep doing the same things. I don't want to keep giving them ketchup, ketchup, ketchup—the same thing all the time gets boring, I have to switch it up. I might have my friend bring his drone, get a good DJ, make it an entire event.
And finally, what gets you out of bed every morning?
My damn alarm! But nah seriously, for one, my family. Being blessed to be given another day by God. I always tell people like, yeah, I want to be rich and famous but I wouldn't feel accomplished in life if I don't touch lives. I'm glad that [Digital Madrid is] able to inspire people and expose artist and give them shots they didn't have before. After 1.5, Joe Perez from Donda reached out to one of my friends, Travis Brothers, after his Digital Madrid set asking about the possibility of working on something together. And Travis has been working with him. It provides opportunity. That makes it worth it. That helps me wake up.