Crash in cryptocurrencies
The world is changing at a rapid pace, and its artistic values are changing with it. The first chapter of this story starts in November 2022 when we witnessed a crash in cryptocurrencies on the blockchain. Since then you might have thought that spelled the end for art NFTs (non-fungible tokens), the securitized digital artworks characterized by a digital identity over blockchain (1).
But now a new kind of supporter has arrived which is unexpected to say the least: global museums. The exceptional artwork Human One by Beeple (auctioned for 29 million dollars in November 2021), which is both digital and physical, depicts a cosmonaut walking in an evolving landscape, and was exhibited in April 2022 at the very proper Castello di Rivoli in Turin, before travelling to the prestigious new M+ museum in Hong Kong, where an entire room is dedicated to him until 30 April 2023 (See the report about M+ and Art Basel Hong Kong here and the report about the purchase by Ryan Zurrer here and an interview of Beeple here).
A Beeple sold at HBHK
Furthermore, at Art Basel Hong Kong in March 2023, an installation made up of an assemblage of holographic images in motion along with their digital certificate, by the same Beeple, were apparently sold to the Deji Museum in Nanjing for 9 million dollars. The other star of this field, the Turkish artist based in California, Refik Anadol (born in 1985), who works with giant moving colourful abstractions, the result of compiling data treated by artificial intelligence, is also omnipresent (See here an interview of Refik Anadol).
Until 15 April he is being exhibited at Moma in New York (See here an interview of the Moma curator about Anadol), but his work can also be seen in the new Ambani cultural centre in Mumbai (See here a report about the Ambani Cultural Center) and he has also been displayed at Centre Pompidou Metz and the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, among others.
In the permanent collections of major museums
Lastly, a new phase confirms the importance given to art NFTs through their integration in the permanent collections of the most famous institutions on the planet. This recent recognition legitimizes the ever-anarchic market for art NFTs. On 10 February in Paris, the Centre Pompidou announced it had acquired its first NFTs.
On 24 February, on the other side of the planet, the encyclopaedic Lacma in Los Angeles announced in turn that they had received a donation to the institution by an anonymous collector who goes by the name Cozomo de’ Medici: 22 artworks using digital technology, made between 2017 and 2022 by 13 artists.
The mysterious Cozomo
In an email interview, the mysterious Cozomo agreed to talk to us. Scroll down for his interview. He talks about a new kind of Renaissance, about his selection criteria, but also about the fact that there is no longer the need to come up against the barriers of galleries that filter their clients. Lacma is very cutting-edge in the field since it even has a specific Art + Technology service.
At Centre Pompidou
As for the initiative at the Centre Pompidou, it was followed by an exhibition under the title “NFT: Poetics of the immaterial, from certificate to blockchain”, which is being held across two rooms of the permanent collections until 22 January 2024.
Marcella Lista, curator of new media, explains what guided her choices for the 16 NFTs exhibited. “The NFT fuses together different cultures, like video art did in its time. The collapse of the crypto economy has created a space that is favourable for museums. Our selection criteria take into account the complexity of the work, the invention in aesthetic terms, but also a conceptually creative idea.”
One of the surprises among the artworks exhibited is the presence, like at Lacma, of a CryptoPunk conceived in 2017 and offered to the institution by its authors, Larva Labs (John Watkinson and Matt Hall). These pixelated faces were considered to be the incarnation of speculation in the field. “The collective created 9999 figurines over blockchain, which were originally free. They circulated freely like cryptocurrency avatars. For me, it’s about art, from a sociological standpoint marking the beginning of the phenomenon,” explains Marcella Lista.
A series of nine CryptoPunks was sold on 11 May 2021 for 14.5 million dollars at Christie’s. Larva Labs has since then made other creations, such as their “Autoglyphs”, 512 abstract compositions with variations on combinations of simple computer code symbols, which seem to be in the vein of the Wall Drawings of American minimalist artist Sol LeWitt. One of these is also present in the collections at the Centre Pompidou. At Sotheby’s, an Autoglyph was auctioned for 160,000 dollars in 2021 but the prices are considerably higher on the OpenSea NFT marketplace (3).
These good results shouldn’t make us forget, as Hong Kong specialist Jehan Chu explained in December 2022, that the value of many NFTs has dropped (See here the interview of Jehan Chu).
For gallerist Joe Kennedy, co-founder of Unit London which has developed across the Channel an art NFT offering: “up until 2021 this sector was supported by the nouveau riche of the crypto world, who practically bought JPG without artistic content. The Art Blocks platform (4) has contributed to creating a new, more sophisticated community. The prices can exceed 300,000 dollars for certain in-demand names among the new talents.” Unit has already exhibited different artists who make up part of the collections at the Centre Pompidou and also works with others such as one of the rare French figures in the field, the young William Mapan (born in 1988).
The Parisian is also currently collaborating on a project with Lacma in Los Angeles. This former coder has developed a specific trait: he attempts to create abstract artworks using algorithms that are highly visual, which give the illusion of having been hand-painted. He himself is a fan of traditional painting. “I’d like to break the digital medium so it bends to my will,” explains the young man. Mapan has seen his career take off at phenomenal speed. He sold his first work in 2021 for 10 dollars on blockchain and in 2023 he parted with 400 digital works for 2500 dollars each in less than an hour. At Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, one of his NFTs was auctioned for 48,800 dollars on 1 November 2022.
“I’ve found a way of automating my way of drawing,” concludes the 21st-century artist.
NFT: Poétiques de l’immatériel du certificat à la blockchain. Until 22 January. www.centrepompidou.fr/fr/
Cozomo de’ Medici: I reside on Lake Como with Mrs Medici and 7 hounds
Here is the interview that Cozomo de’ Medici granted me over email. Cozomo de’ Medici burst onto the crypto art scene in 2021, dropping 1550 ETH (then worth $2.63 million) on two CryptoPunk.
What is the Medici Collection?
The Medici Collection reflects my quest to acquire defining works of the digital art renaissance, while also supporting emerging artists across all genres. In the collection, you’ll see seminal works like Right Click Save-As Guy by crypto art pioneer XCOPY… storytelling animations like Life and Death by DeeKay Motion… and AI paintings like ‘complicated’ by Claire Silver. I’ve tried to build a collection that captures the moment we are in, while contextualizing it with important early works that tell the story of how we arrived here. As new artists create work that define what art of today is, I hope to expand the collection to draw a thread between the early days to present day and the many evolutions in between.
What are the criteria for you of a good art NFT in this plethoric new market?
I like to see an artist pushing the limits of the digital canvas… trying something new that pushes the genre forward. A fine example of this is Beeple’s HUMAN ONE, which is a continually evolving work. Another is DeeKay Motion’s (2) ability to tell an animated story that can move someone from anywhere in the world to tears in just 30 seconds.
Could you give us some clues about yourself and your interest in art in general?
I feel the works in a collection together reveal the identity of the collector. In that sense, I’ve left you many more clues that you asked for. Art never “clicked” for me until it went on the blockchain. The transparency that comes with blockchain authenticated art made me comfortable acquiring works I never would have otherwise… And it allowed digital artist to sell works they couldn’t have before. I also found many of the inconveniences that stopped many from collecting physical art were no longer present with digital. No longer do you need space for storage or even an empty wall to hang the art. If you would like to exhibit your collection, you don’t need a physical space. It can all be done online. Perhaps most importantly, we now have a level playing field where you don’t need the right connections with the right gallery or dealer, to access the finest digital works. All of this has fueled my love for art.
What is your involvement in the new technologies like blockchain?
My primary involvement is, of course, acquiring, exhibiting and conserving digital art on-chain. I also invest in start-ups solving blockchain native problems… One such investment is Deca, which allows patrons to easily create a digital gallery for tokenized art. Before Deca, there were few ways for digital art patrons to showcase their acquisitions in a beautiful way others could also enjoy. Companies like Deca also help move forward my mission to put digital art in every home, so I enjoy investing and advising companies at the intersection of art and blockchain technology.
Are you based in California?
While I spend most of my time in the metaverse, I reside on Lake Como with Mrs Medici and 7 hounds.
(1) A few months earlier they were the subject of a market in overdrive, culminating in the sale of a large-format digital artwork conceived by the American artist Beeple (born in 1981) for the record price of 69.3 million dollars in March 2021.
(2) Deekaymotion is a South Korean artist. In November 2022 Sotheby’s auctioned one of his animated artworks for 214,200 dollars. https://deekaykwon.com/
(3) OpenSea gives numerous values for digital art. https://opensea.io/fr
(4) Art Blocks is a platform dedicated to generative art (made using algorithms). https://www.artblocks.io/
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