NFTs rock the art world: what’s the next step?

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Mike Winkelmann, the artist known as Beeple, embraces the idea that Christie’s sale of his digital artwork Daily: the first 5,000 days for $ 69.35 million last March was a turning point in the history of art.

The extraordinary sum paid for a digital art collage assembled from 5,000 individual works created every day for 13 and a half years, then minted as a unique token stored on the blockchain, a digital ledger to record transactions, has stunned the world of conventional art and set off a rush to find the next great Beeple.

The frenzy may have subsided, but Winkelmann thinks “100%” that Everyday “Will be considered as a piece of art history” and “as the beginning of digital art considered as real art”.

This change can occur because Everyday was created as a non-fungible token. NFTs are unique digital works encrypted with an artist’s signature that prove authenticity and ownership. Proving ownership of art that previously seemed ephemeral could transform the landscape for artists working in digital and media arts, film, and motion graphics.

“It’s revolutionary for me as an artist,” says Ash Thorp, an influential artist who works in multiple mediums including digital, motion graphics and visual effects. “Rather than working for Apple, Warner Brothers, or DreamWorks as a weapon for hire, I can actually work for myself. Then I can do the art I want to do.

Thorp sold Degradation, a preview in animated images of his next project, titled Obvious mirror, as the first NFT in a sale held last spring at Christie’s, for $ 68,750 to Jehan Chu, founder of Kenetic Capital, a Hong Kong-based crypto investment firm. Obvious mirror is a “piece of poem,” published in a 14-piece series, that is “my take on humanity reaching singularity and where we potentially go,” Thorp says.

For Refik Anadol, media artist and visiting researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, who works with artificial intelligence and data to create what he calls paintings of data – beautiful, textured, swirls of color. and moving images – NFTs are “naturally perfect.” Anadol’s works, displayed on stand-alone computer screens, have been purchased for collections and public art in studios and galleries since at minus 2012 and have been exhibited around the world.

Still, NFTs offer “something so fresh,” Anadol says. For an artist who works with data, pixels and artificial intelligence, NFT technology was “conceptually connected in my mind – it was a perfect click”.

Anadol sold Mechanical hallucinations: Renaissance / Sculpture, his first series of NFT, for $ 30,000 last November. “It was sold in a second, it was amazing! ” he says. Last May, Anadol collected 1.5 million for its streak Mechanical hallucinations: Martian landscapes, a set of 11 NFTs sold on the NFT Nifty Gateway platform, according to ArtTactic, the London-based art analysis firm.

Winkelmann, Thorp and Anadol, and other artists who have been largely unknown to the fine art world, but who have deep followers and are often integral to the corporate graphic design world, represent a new framework. disruptive “foreign artists” as usual, says Chu, also a longtime art advisor and collector. “Here you have people who kicked in the door and said, ‘great, well, that’s art too. “”

“Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” by the artist known as Beeple, sold for $ 69.35 million at a Christie’s sale in March, sparking a frenzy for NFT art.

Courtesy of Christie’s Images LTD. 2021

WILL TRADITIONAL FINE ARTS COLLECTORS BE APPRECIATED?

NFTs have arguably been around since 2014, when Kevin McCoy and Anil Dash created a fluorescent-colored pulsating octagonal image called Quantum on blockchain with a timestamp of “05-03-2014 09:27:34”, according to Sotheby’s, which sold the work in June. Technology has loved beyond art to include unique games, music, iconic sports moments, and tweets (Jack Dorsey’s first tweet, “I just set up my twttr”, sold out for $ 2.9 million in NFT in March).

But not everyone in the art world agrees that technology will elevate digital artists to fine art.

“Art gives you utility, and NFTs have lacked the utility provided to the client – aesthetic value, fun, status,” says Evan Beard, National Director of Art Services at Bank of America Private Bank. “It’s very difficult when you have a piece of digital code to get that utility you’re used to, that adrenaline rush. ”

Another reason to value art is scarcity, says Beard. But “there are thousands of NFT artists creating all kinds of things, and there is almost no aesthetic standard.” According to him, auction houses are stepping in to play the role of curator and send signals of value, but no one really knows what the value is. There will be artists who will influence the next generation – and those artists will be “canonized” – says Beard. But, he adds, “We believe that 99.9% of NFTs minted right now will go to zero. Few will have a sustainable aftermarket.

Other players in the traditional art world believe that DTV has a future and are closely following market acceptance.

September 2021 Penta cover featuring “MY DAWG” by George Clinton.

George Clinton artwork

Joe Charalambous, President of TPC Art Finance, a specialist art lender to mid-market collectors, has received several questions from clients trying to understand this new industry. Charalambous expects those who buy works by contemporary artists such as KAWS or Banksy to buy NFTs. But, he notes, “we still see hesitation on the part of current collectors.”

LiveArt, a peer-to-peer online marketplace for art launched earlier this year, also offers primary market NFTs, but with a focus on traditional artists and collectors.

“Quite simply, we go where the talent is and the majority of the talent is in the traditional space,” says Boris Pevzner, CEO of LiveArt.

Sotheby’s ‘Natively Digital’ online auction in June, which included McCoy’s Quantum and 27 other NFTs, was organized to represent a wide range of art-based NFTs and to frame the industry’s top artist market for auction house collectors. The sale mainly attracted new bidders and buyers to Sotheby’s by drawing on a community rich in cryptocurrency and comfortable with owning symbolized digital art.

Yet 30% of the buyers of the sale of $ 17.1 million sold at 100% were known clients, explains Michael Bouhanna, the Sotheby’s specialist who organized the sale. “They are very intrigued by this new technology and really want to start collecting. ”

‘A MARKER IN THE SAND’

The title of the June Sotheby’s auction was the $ 11.8 million sale of CryptoPunk # 7523 to Israeli billionaire Shalom Meckenzie, the largest shareholder in fantasy sports betting company DraftKings.

Nicknamed “Covid Alien” for his blue skin and medical mask, and sold by a game developer and NFT advocate called Sillytuna, the punk is one of 10,000 pixelated characters randomly generated by an algorithm created by the developers of software John Watkinson and Matt Hall, founders of Larva Labs.

September 2021 Penta cover with “Global Currency” by Tom Friedman.

Work by Tom Friedman

Originally distributed for free (less small transaction fees), punks are legendary among NFTs and among their owners, members of a small community who use pixelated images as avatars. Punks trade on NFT platforms for thousands if not millions of dollars. Nine punks owned by Watkinson and Hall collectively sold for nearly $ 17 million at Christie’s in May.

Sillytuna sold the alien, then turned around and bought Quantum for $ 1.5 million – to “put a marker in the sand for DFTs,” he says.

“We need Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and myself, to educate another audience on what these things are,” Sillytuna said. Of course, there is an “element of craziness”, but “there is also a sustainable market here”.

BUT IS IT ART?

The question of whether a number of emerging art forms are “art” has been asked throughout art history. Think video art, graffiti, photography.

“I tend to say [NFTs are] the urinal of our time ”, says Georg Bak, curator and collector based in Zurich, referring to the work of Marcel Duchamp Fountain, 1917, a porcelain urinal that the French artist declared as art, which, among other things, inaugurated conceptual art.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the nonprofit Serpentine Galleries in London, refers to the work of Nam June Paik, the late Korean-American artist who is considered a founder of video art and is known to have said: “Technology has become the new membrane of the body. of existence.

Obrist sees NFTs as a hybrid between the physical and the digital, pointing out that Anadol’s art is often displayed through computer hardware. “The screen or the computer is part of the job,” he says.

HAVE IT IN BOTH WAYS

The fusion of physical and digital is already important in the world of NFT. RTFKT is a “born on the metaverse” company in January 2020 that makes sneakers from CryptoPunk art and other digital games and artifacts. Even punk creator Larva Labs made physical prints of 24 CryptoPunks, signed by Watkinson, in 2018 to accompany an NFT exhibit hosted by Bak in Zurich that year. Sotheby’s sold five of these prints, along with the digital tokens, last July.

Winkelmann has been selling physical displays that display his digital work alongside NFTs since his second sale in December 2020. In July, he was working in a corner of a warehouse stacked with hundreds of boxes filled with physical LED displays from his “spring” /summer”. 2021 “, launched in May.

The collection reached $ 14 million in a weekend, with 350 coins sold for just one dollar through raffles and other games as part of a Sillytuna-like effort to raise awareness of NFTs. On the pages of his collections website, Winkelmann has a tagline that reads: “Don’t stop until I’m in MOMA … then don’t stop until I’m kicked out of MOMA, lol ”.

He laughs loudly when it is read back to him and points out that he always tries to get things done with his art, which embraces topical political and societal themes, from former President Trump to the belly of tech, and can sometimes be quite dark. .

“It was just kind of a joke,” he says of the Museum of Modern Art’s slogan. “Just wanting to get things done, which for me is the point of art.”

This article appeared in the September 2021 issue of Penta magazine


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