In 2021, the art world has changed. And this happened not at all because of the pandemic, but thanks to the NFT technology. The introduction of blockchain and cryptocurrencies into the seemingly conservative art sphere gave a powerful impetus to digital creativity, provided an impressive expansion of the circle of collectors at the expense of technologists who had never participated in auctions before, and gave an unprecedented flow of money into the industry. At the end of the year, the volume of the NFT market is estimated at $ 22 billion against $ 100 million in 2020 . Izvestia appreciated the current picture.
Millions for numbers
NFT (non-fungible token, that is, non-fungible token) is a digital certificate based on the blockchain and guarantees the uniqueness of the object to which it is tied. The object can be both physical and virtual. If before it was almost impossible to prove your ownership of a picture or video that is freely available on the Internet (because, for example, most of the works of video art are carefully protected from getting into the Internet), now an understandable and reliable mechanism has appeared for this, which functions according to the same principle as cryptocurrencies.
Actually, NFTs are sold for cryptocurrency – most often Ethereum , since the certificate is based precisely on the “ether” blockchain. But if a year ago such deals were still something niche, narrow-profile, and the largest auction houses, artists and museums simply ignored the emerging trend, then in 2021, the fashion for NFT swept over everything.
The most important event was the sale in March of the NFT-work of the artist Beeple EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS for $ 69.3 million. This deal set several records at once: the most expensive NFT in the world, the most expensive work of art sold online, the most expensive work of digital art. .. Even the number of people following live trading was unprecedented.
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“In the last two or three minutes, the total number of people who followed the auction either on the Christie’s website or using other platforms was 22 million,” Derk Ball, President of Christie’s in the EMERI region.
Six months later, Beeple returned with a new work Human One, combining a high-tech installation and an NFT video series. It was sold for $ 29 million: even cheaper than EVERYDAYS, but still fabulously expensive for an author whose works are not represented in any great museum.
Cryptopunks and bored apes
If record sales of digital art, especially through the famous auction house, can still be understood from the point of view of the traditional logic of collectors, the phenomenon of so-called collectibles, that is, digital artifacts of a non-artistic nature, is more difficult to explain. Funny, but primitive NFT-pictures, produced in large thematic series and sold both individually and in sets – “punks”, can now compete in price with masterpieces of painting.
The first half of the year was marked by crypto-banks: tiny pixel images of people with different hairstyles and accessories. Actually, NFT-mania began with them – they were released back in 2017 and were initially distributed free of charge, but since NFT does not imply the possibility of duplicating an object, crypto-banks turned out to be a finite resource.
And a whole pyramid of speculation has grown on them. To date, the record is held by CryptoPunk 7523 (an alien in a medical mask) – an unknown investor bought it at Sotheby’s for $ 11.754 million. At the site of the developer of crypto banks – Larva Labs – top sales took place in March: images # 3100 and # 7804 went for Ξ4200 each, which at that time was equivalent to $ 7.58 million, but today such a number of “ethers “can be exchanged for $ 15.86 million.
In the second half of 2021, bored monkeys were in the spotlight. Unlike the old-fashioned punks, a series of 10,000 images of charismatic primates was released as recently as April 30 this year, and sold out in a day – at the equivalent of $ 200 on air. But already in September, an unknown person paid $ 24.4 million for a set of 101 monkeys , and a month later Ape # 8817 went to the new owner for $ 3.4 million.
What can you do with such pictures? For example, put yourself on the dial of “smart” watches and flaunt them at thematic parties: fellow crypto investors will be impressed . Although hardly anyone will buy such avatars with an eye to long-term storage. We believe that the owner will happily get rid of the illusory asset as soon as he receives a lucrative offer. Consequently, today it is an instrument of speculation in the first place and of demonstration of its status – in the second place.
But it is possible that NFT pictures are becoming a new currency , something like gold, that is, a resource whose value is that its quantity is limited, and counterfeiting is impossible. And here the presence of a blockchain certificate is decisive.
Tweets, codes, art projects
Another thing is digital artifacts related to the history of technology development. Here, the target is not for speculators and booters, but for geeks and IT fans. In March, Jack Dorsey’s first tweet was sold for $ 2.9 million, at the end of June, the source code that formed the basis of the Web (WWW) went for $ 5.4 million, and the first revision of Wikipedia brought Jimmy Wells $ 750 thousand. The list goes on.
True, Russian companies and developers have not yet entered the race to sell collectibles – at least if we bear in mind the large players. Probably, we just have to see at the auction the lines of Yandex code, the first variants of the VK design and some sets of NFT avatars with Masyanya. But so far, among domestic figures, artists are primarily active in this area. Among them are both masters, such as AES + F, and young, although already well-known street artists Pokras Lampas and Misha Most.
We will create special media altarpieces, the demonstration of which will be synchronized with the lunar calendar, that is, within 28 days the overall picture will be filled with fragments, and only once a month it will be possible to see the whole image. It is also assumed that it will be tied to different places in the world. A person who watches an installation, say, somewhere in Australia, will see something different from the viewer in Russia. All these algorithms will be incorporated into the NFT, – the artist emphasized in an interview with Izvestia.
Major Western artists also got involved in producing NFT projects. For example , Damien Hirst created 10,000 physical drawings (Currency series) and offered collectors a choice: buy the original or get a digital copy from NFT. In the first case, the token will be deactivated, in the second, the paper original will be destroyed. First suggests thinking about what is more expensive in the modern world – a physical or virtual object, and making a difficult decision. In this case, technology has become not just a commercial tool, but the basis of the concept of a large-scale art action.
Well, the main museum sensation of the year was the release by the Hermitage of its own NFT collection – it included digital copies of great masterpieces ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Wassily Kandinsky. To avoid possible legal claims from the state, the Hermitage conducted the transaction through Western intermediaries – a large crypto exchange. The total income of the museum was, according to director Mikhail Piotrovsky, 24 million rubles, of which 5 million went to the treasury of St. Petersburg as taxes.
Of course, this whole special operation is not so much about art as about money. Strictly speaking, NFT reproductions in this case turn out to be something like souvenir objects. But the very fact that a great classical museum, not experiencing a shortage of funding, took such a step means that NFT is no longer a marginal phenomenon, but a global trend.
However, there is still no consensus among museums regarding NFT. For example, Marina Loshak , director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, said that Pushkinsky was not going to acquire NFT art yet.