More open to change
The public health crisis has made people more open to change and has led to a growing awareness of the importance of physical experiences (meeting friends, listening to live music) together with an invasion of the virtual sphere in the world of work.
The NFT phenomenon
In the art market, the great upheaval since March 2021 has been the emerging power of a phenomenon that many people weren’t even previously aware of: the NFT (non-fungible token). On 11 March 2021 Christie’s sold a work for 69.3 million dollars in the form of an NFT comprising a series of 5000 digital images made by Beeple, aka Mike Winkelmann (born in 1981), a figure who was unknown to the art establishment (See the report about that here). These images were made between 1 May 2007 and 7 January 2021 and have been grouped under the title “Everydays: the First 5000 Days”.
Unique and secure inscription
NFTs, which stands for “non-fungible token”, are a new form of blockchain writing that allows for a unique and secure inscription which can communicate permanent and inviolable information. What’s interesting about it is the fact that it is linked to the file type (jpeg, for example) of the work. It is accompanied by key information about the owner, author, and other technical and financial details… recording the traceability of the piece in question.
Physical and digital: phygital
In November 2021 this same Beeple sold another work, also under the hammer at Christie’s, which is simultaneously physical and digital and evolving, giving rise to other artworks, for 28.9 million dollars (see the interview here with the buyer of the piece, Ryan Zurrer).
Beeple is fast
Beeple moves very fast. He has invented a new art form. Originally from Wisconsin, this digital artist who has no knowledge of art history sat down for an interview with us from the terrace of his South Carolina home in Charleston.
Art for the future
He is a highly articulate and coherent speaker whose financial success doesn’t seem to have gone to his head, but he does seem particularly determined to invent the art of the future by making use of the financial means he has been given.
Surrounded with a group of people
To do this he has surrounded himself with a group of people who know about “traditional art”, whose names he does not reveal. However he does mention a talk with the famous New York modern art dealer Bill Acquavella. He is also close to the crypto-investor and former private dealer from Hong Kong, Jehan Chu (see the interview with Jehan Chu on the importance of Beeple).
Studio of a dozen people
Today he runs a studio of a dozen people to create his new projects and has even hired his brother, an engineer who used to work for Boeing, to oversee the technical conception of his artworks.
He converted the money
Winkelmann admits that he immediately converted the 69.3 million dollars in bitcoin into traditional currency after the historic auction sale in March 2021. He also points out that he only started taking an interest in the NFT phenomenon a little over a year ago.
Here is an edited version of the long video interview with him.
What changes were brought about by the record price from last March?
Ever since the NFT phenomenon exploded a little over a year ago, I knew I wanted to make pieces that were both digital and physical. We expanded the teams so that we could create things that were impossible to do alone. As the world is becoming more digital my work is becoming more “physical” (ed. in the real sense). But I already had millions of followers before the record price at Christie’s. The phenomenon had been growing for around ten years. I simply wasn’t being followed by the traditional art world. Because now we should be experiencing digital art in a more interesting way than simply on your phone or computer screen with images that get interrupted because you’ve just got an email… We can do better than that.
What do you think of the market for NFT art?
It’s still very early days. But in the future NFTs will be used for many things other than art. It will be a commonly used technology, like email is today for example. Whether you believe in it or not won’t change anything… In the art market, for NFTs just like for everything else, you need people to realize that certain pieces won’t keep their value. People are paying large sums of money and there will be many who lose out. They don’t ask themselves whether this is an artist who will matter in 20 years’ time. If this isn’t the case then they will be worthless and that will be that. Perhaps there will be a general collapse but I’m more inclined to believe that these people simply won’t be able to find buyers for these works any more.
How does one recognize that an NFT is a work of art?
Every person can have their own definition of art. My piece “Everydays” for example is so dense in terms of information that no one has looked at all the images. It’s a good representation of the influence of the media over the way we live. When you step back from the piece it looks like noise. The images aren’t perceptible individually.
How did negotiations go with Christie’s for the two sales?
Honestly it’s great. Christie’s understood the potential of a new relationship between collectors and artists. Christie’s work like a museum. They write a text about the work. They’re displaying it in the best way possible but also getting publicity. There is no intermediary between them and me. It is, I think, the good way to display a new piece. The other option would be a gallery but they take 50% of the price of the sale. The amount is confidential but I have to say that Christie’s take far less than 50%, barely a fraction of this percentage. I’m sure Sotheby’s and Phillips will also position themselves as a place to sell works submitted directly by artists.
What do you think of classical art?
I’ve just bought a book on the collections at the Louvre. I’m absolutely fascinated by these works without having the slightest idea of how they depict light, for example, in such a realistic way. I find classical painting more interesting than modern painting. There was a colossal effort to create these works. There can be no question of that. I have no formal training in art.
What do you think of the amounts your works have sold for?
It’s a lot of money but it’s outside of my control. The only thing I can do is carry on focusing on my work.
Do you have any competitors in the creation of artworks that are both physical and digital?
I’d like to have more competitors but that will come. For now they are either in the digital space or in the “physical” world. In 100 years we will see in people’s homes a very digital, very living art, very crazy. That’s my aim today: to make a form of art that isn’t from 2021 but rather from the next century. I don’t know how. But that’s what I’m trying to imagine. I’m working on lots of new projects at once.
Is the money you obtained at auction being used for new experiments?
Exactly. Buying a car or a crazy house doesn’t interest me. Because anyone with money can do that. What I’m trying to do no one has ever done before. It’s more exciting.
Do you have ambitions for your creations to make even more money?
My aim isn’t to make more money but rather to make a kind of art that changes the course of art history. And if you do that, your works will no doubt sell for a lot of money. That’s it.
Do you have advisors to guide you in the field of “physical” art?
I’m not sure they’d like me to quote them but there are three or four people who advise me. I need them because I’m speaking to museums, collectors, galleries.
Are you expecting the future to be dystopian?
I’m expecting a lot of weird things to happen. Lots of technologies are converging today in a direction that we couldn’t anticipate. The NFT is one of them and I didn’t see it coming. Donald Trump becoming president of the United States is another one of these symptoms.
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