Art and collecting progress along unsuspected paths, and it does so quickly, to the point of breaking records with works that are nothing more than digital files that are impossible to duplicate (1), sold for millionaire values in dollars.
In principle, we clarify that it is digital art; creations that circulate on the Internet, but with special characteristics. And in market terms, the sale implies transferring the property rights of a digital type file -stored on platforms called blockchain (2)-; encrypted codes that are named in their own jargon, "non-fungible token" (NFT for its acronym in English). (3)
Each work of art is stored on a platform or marketplaces with Blockchain technology, inviolable, and together with the artistic creation, intangible, the data of the owner, originally its author, is recorded there. These goods have entered the art market with specialty galleries and auction house sales, such as Christie's, which last March lowered the hammer to a creation by artist Beeple at a whopping $ 69.3 million. The online auction started with a base of $ 100 and after two weeks of bidding, it reached the third mark in the ranking of sales by live artist auctions, second only to Jeff Koons and David Hockney.
The work entitled Everydays: The first 5000 days, a gathering of thousands of images created by Beeple and published -posted- on Instagram every day over the last thirteen years, was the first of these characteristics offered by the firm at its New York headquarters after promoting an important marketing strategy. The result exceeded the highest expectations, although Christie's experts assigned "an important role in the art world" to the so-called crypto art. Mike Winkemann, a graphic designer from Missouri (USA), needed some time to get out of his amazement: he is the author of that work -signed under his pseudonym Beeple-, and he never imagined reaching such a figure. Much more quickly he got rid of the received cryptocurrencies, he exchanged them for dollars.
The market -with art fairs and face-to-face auctions heavily affected by the pandemic- is advancing rapidly in the online universe but this phenomenon of non-fungible tokens or NFT has special characteristics and, beyond all marketing speculation, it announces another way for artistic creation.
Mexico has just brought a first initiative to fruition in Latin America; the Morton auction house sold a work titled Viva, a virtual creation made by local artist Juan Carlos Vall, at an amount far removed from the mark obtained by Beeple. Anyway, it was capitalized as a success by the executives of the Mexican firm and by the artist himself. It is a path that has just begun and we plan to offer more NFTs in the next auctions -it was announced. The operation was carried out with the technological support of a Canadian-Spanish platform called Oaro, which has been working with other blockchain assets for four years. Its CEO, Ariano Hernández, acknowledged that “the countries most interested in NFTs are still the United States, Canada and some Asian countries. But, in Spanish speakers, they have seen growing interest in Spain, Argentina, Colombia and especially Mexico”. (4)
For many analysts, Christie's strategy -of universal projection- was guaranteed success; the market of nerds and speculators of the cryptocurrencies offered the propitious scene to him and they scripted the show. At last the name of the buyer, the Indian millionaire Vignesh Sundaresan, a successful investor in these blockchain technologies, especially in cryptocurrencies, was made public. Sundaresan publicly stated that he did it to "show Indians and people of color that they too can be patron”. The truth is that two months later, the same auction house sold a collection of nine rare CryptoPunks for $ 16.9 million and, predictably, Sotheby's has already launched the sale of crypto art.
Phillips, another major international auction house, fetched $ 4,144,000 for Replicator, an NFT creation signed by Mad Dog Jones, a pseudonym for Michael Dowbak. The work makes a visual reference to a photocopier installed in an office in Los Angeles; originally a cutting-edge technology, today heading towards obsolescence. Dowbak, with his Instagram account, advanced the technology of non-fungible tokens and last November he released a collection of one hundred works that he sold for a dollar. His plan went further ... Those values grew along with the good news generated by this new market and a few months ago he offered seven new and unique works. But with only one way to access them: they had to buy back five of the first ones, which were exchanged for a new one. When Dowbak received the initial five, he destroyed them, creating more scarcity on his stock and driving up auction prices for the remainder. He thus rewarded the first collectors who invested in his project. A true market operator.
Exclusivity, always exclusivity.
NFTs cannot be copied or replicated; its technology guarantees exclusivity and promotes collecting. They can contain works of art, texts, digital games, music ... everything that is digital. Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, sold his first tweet for $ 2.9 million. And even the New York Times did the same with an edited column in his diary. But perhaps the most astonishing is found in Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics, whose humanoid robot Sophia made a self-portrait, a non-fungible token, which sold at auction for $ 689,000. And among the NFT crypto collectibles, the "NBA Top Shots" stickers have registered sales of more than 30 million dollars in one day; fans of the USA basketball league mobilize a market that surprises locals and strangers.
Returning our gaze to art, in this vertigo, there is already a virtual auction platform dedicated only to digital art (www.niftygaeway.com) that promotes having made numerous sales of renowned NFT artists, including the famous Beeple. They self-qualify as the main market for “Nitfies”, non-expendable digital items.
And of course, the galleries also set their sights on this new product, triggered by the most advanced technology, which avoids multiplication. Each token is unique and is associated with a work of art or other collectible, and its owner is also associated with the associated work of art.
Its virtual development expands without limits and museums have even been born, as is the case of the so-called Museum of Crypto Art (https://museumofcryptoart.com/) that from its website invites you to “explore the beautiful and exciting need to create and recreate”, always looking for a diverse audience although with the aim of connecting artists and collectors fostering a global community of cryptographic art.
The adventure of collecting reaches a new “territory”, a virtual space where art seeks to expand borders. Without a doubt, the future is already present, although questions about the refuge of its value pose a threat to the most enthusiastic, who usually act in the space of cryptocurrencies.
And for Argentina, how are we?
An Argentine designer based in Barcelona, Andrés Reisinger, is already part of this universe of crypto art with very good results: a series of ten creations of his authorship reached the maximum price of 450,000 dollars, a value only accessible to very few artists in our environment.
And with good reflexes, MALBA museum gave a course at the beginning of this month: “What is Crypto Art? Introduction to art in the era of its tokenization”. The art historian Juan Cruz Andrada was responsible for this action.
To include a look from inside our geography, we consulted the recently appointed vice president of arteBA, the collector Eduardo Mallea, a lawyer, very committed to contemporary art.
HILARIO: Meanwhile, how do local collectors of contemporary art act? Have you already experimented with crypto art? Do you have it in your field of interest?
EDUARDO MALLEA: I understand that it is still something incipient, that it has aroused the interest of the local environment, both artists, collectors and institutions. Although I was inquiring about a work by El Pelele, with whom we were exchanging opinions and comments about this new experience, I have not yet acquired crypto art. Pelele's work, "Magic Pass", is offered on the Foundation platform. It is an edition of 1, with a reserve price of 0.50 ETH (Ethereum cryptocurrency) (about $ 1,026.30). Once the offer is made for that reserve price, a 24-hour auction period for this work begins.
And do the galleries already offer NFT proposals?
EM: Not yet, or at least not that I'm aware of. From a technical point of view, an NFT -non-fungible token- is a unit of data in a digital ledger in which each NFT represents a single item. NFTs implement blockchain technology to register ownership of an object and validate its authenticity. In other words, they function as a title deed and a certification of authenticity with respect to a work. I still see it in the experimental field. Buying with cryptocurrencies is something that is talked about the most. The topic is the volatility of the cryptocurrency, something that does not happen with the US dollar. The Argentine peso is also used in the purchase of works of art, in works of greater accessibility to the public. I understand that perhaps for these last works, what is related to the NFT and the cryptocurrency is something more complex to implement.
Are there Argentine artists residing here who are already working with these electronic resources?
EM: I can mention El Pelele. On the Foundation platform there are other local artists, such as Sofja, Astrosuka (who was born in Russia, but has lived in Argentina for several years) and Gabriel Rud.
And is arteBA, with its new leadership and new horizons, planning a space for crypto art?
EM: It is already something that we are analyzing at ArteBA. A few weeks ago we organized an internal talk for the members of the Foundation's board of directors, where we talked about creative, market and legal aspects of NFTs and crypto art. We are about to organize a second talk and our idea is to provide a conversation to the public within the framework of the actions that ArteBA carries out to promote local art.
1. Not duplicatable, unless the artist makes it expressly, and is an intrinsic part of the work.
2. Blockchain: technology designed to manage a shared and online data record, characterized by being verified, secure and immovable. This technology is associated with cryptocurrency transactions.
3. Token: for the specialist William Mougayar -author of the book The business blockchain-, a token is "a unit of value that an organization creates to govern its business model and give more power to its users to interact with its products..." And a good is "non-fungible" when it is not consumed in its use.
4. Camila Osorio: Sold for 90,000 pesos… Mexico. Published in El País digital. 25.6.2021.