CryptoPunks – they are the classics from the NFT boom that have been hypnotizing the art community since March: 10,000 cartoon heads, algorithmically generated in June 2017 with 24 x 24 pixels each. Because ArtReview magazine puts the formula “ERC-721” at the top of its list of “Art Power 100”, the standard for the non-fungible token (NFT) proposed by developers of the Ethereum network in 2018, it is worth taking a look back.
The two Canadian software developers Matt Hall and John Watkinson of the New York studio Larva Labs developed CryptoPunks as images for collectors: female and male cartoon characters with point accessories, eccentric hairstyles, ear rings, colorful glasses and caps. On the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain, they identified each image with a number and a brief description and logged the respective transactions.
The ownership of the image has been acquired
As a digital register kept decentrally on different computers, blockchain or data block technology can certify each image as an NFT, as a kind of non-replaceable token and thus unique. Whoever buys cryptographically encrypted art does not buy the image itself, but the ownership of the image, which makes them unique to the owner and the work. A so-called smart contract makes it possible to track who has programmed, bought, traded or resold a token.
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Transparency is a key feature of NFT blockchain technology, its revolutionary element is NFT, the digital certificate of authenticity, which generally allows each thing to be defined or identified as unique. In this context, artists can create their works digitally, present them and market them independently of gallery owners. Most importantly, NFTs are great for all kinds of valuables, whether it’s digital, media-based or physical art, real estate ownership, jewelry or other luxuries, stylish clothing for characters in online games, or the first tweet sent . by Twitter creator Jack Dorsey on January 21 sold on the Cent platform for $ 2.9 million in March this year.
The auction houses came in late, but not too late
While it was originally specialized online trading platforms like Nifty Gateway, SuperRare, Decentraland or OpenSea that NFTs and cryptocurrencies were traded on, prices exploded as Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips entered the crypto arts market with multiple platforms as partners in March. Late, but not too late, they discovered his potential.
Above all, tech entrepreneurs, blockchain and crypto investors were attracted as buyers. They did not need to be asked: The record $ 69 million that Christie’s achieved on March 11 for a collage by American artist Beeple was paid by Singapore-based programmer and founder of the NFT investment fund Metapurse, Vignesh Sundaresan. After launching the art scene’s viral NFT overhaul, it all happened in quick succession: Only on May 11 did nine crypto punks from Larva Labs, estimated at $ 7-9 million, come to Christie’s for $ 16.9 million.
The first NFT was a fluorescent vibrating octagon
Even more phenomenal was the $ 11.7 million that masked “alien” crypto-punk number 7523, picked up at Sotheby’s in June. Its owner, a crypto investor and NFT art collector using the alias Silly Tuna, bought the first of all NFTs, “Quantum”, a fluorescent vibrating octagon designed by digital artist Kevin McCoy in 2014, for $ 11.4 million on same auction.
Younger insider investors from the cryptocurrency, blockchain and NFT markets are now often kicking off the art market. Take, for example, Ryan Zurrer, who bought Beeple’s NFT kinetic video sculpture from Christie’s for $ 29 million in early December. Not only NFT art but also iconic art stories are now appealing to her. For example, 31-year-old Justin Sun, founder of the crypto platform TRON, spent $ 78.4 million on Sotheby’s for Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture “Le Nez” (1947). He wants to buy more key works from the avant-garde, which pleases the auction houses and allows them to accept cryptocurrencies.
The contemporary auction market is changing
A win-win situation? The contemporary auction market is currently changing in terms of price structure and aesthetic trends. At Art Basel Miami Beach, Christie’s together with the OpenSea platform presented an NFT auction, where the work “Forever” by Canadian Michah Dowbak aka Mad Dog Jones was auctioned off. In April, his painting Replicator earned a record $ 4.1 million at Phillips. Forever is intriguing for another reason: Jones often refers to manga. “The flow of storytelling in manga is immersive. He allows the fan community to immerse themselves in the images as if they were in augmented reality spaces, ”says Jacqueline Berndt, curator of the exhibition“ Flow: Narrating in Manga ”at the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, explaining the genre’s popularity.
Not only Japanese comics but also the art market in Asia is becoming more and more influential. The report from the Art Price platform describes the current shift in the art market center from the US (market share 32 percent) to China (40 percent). Notable are the three leading artists in the Asian market: At the top is the Japanese Yoshitomo Nara, followed by the African-American Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Chinese Liu Ye.
References to manga and graffiti elements are obvious
Nara’s references to manga aesthetics are clear, as are graffiti elements in Basquiat’s works. He is also the artist with the second highest turnover ($ 303.5 million) in the entire auction market after Pablo Picasso. In fifth place – it also has implications for the shift in aesthetic trends – follows Warhol and Monet, followed by street artist Banksy with a turnover of $ 123.3 million. Nara is in ninth place with sales of $ 85 million.
The aesthetics of past subcultures – street art and graffiti – as well as manga and cartoons dominate the entire art market including NFTs. The three most popular artists with the best-selling tickets worldwide are Kaws, Takashi Murakami and Banksy. These stylistic-aesthetic preferences can be seen as symptomatic of the idea of disruption, which currently also dominates the art discourse.
Artists from the “black renaissance” are experiencing jumps of millions
At the same time, they are a visual counterpart to the discourses of diversity. For at the top of the younger artists with sometimes too large price jumps at auctions are representatives with African or African-American roots. Works by Ghanaian Amoako Boafo, Nigerian Njideka Akunyili Crosby, British artist Jadé Fadojutimi and African-American Amy Sherald are now exceeding the million mark. Not only artists from the “black renaissance” experience jumps of millions, but also younger artists such as the British painter Flora Yukhnovich, who reinterprets the appeal of the Rococo, or the American Emily Mae Smith, who subversively charges surrealism and symbolism with feminist components.
Epigonal artifacts flood the market
The money from the crypto-financial world is also fueling these hype waves. They inevitably produce a lot of “style” epigonal artifacts, but these can be learned to distinguish.
At the end of this art year, which was filled with whimsical money, one can say: NFT remains and is also developing into a promising segment for the primary market. US gallery giant Pace recently launched its own NFT platform: Pace Verso, because art dealer Marc Glimcher is convinced: “Being part of a community is the new thing, no longer owning art.”
Nagel Draxler plans a “post-avant-garde crypto cabinet”
In Berlin, in January, the Galerie Nagel Draxler will open a “post-avant-garde crypto cabinet” based on NFTs and blockchains announced by Christian Nagel. Berlin gallery owner Johann König is also experimenting with digital marketplaces and the NFT-based sale of shares in blue-chip art. “We are working against the system of inhibitions,” he says.
Even the strictly hierarchical Saudi Arabia wants to escape its “dark age” with the new Diriyah Biennale. Documenta and Manifesta, Berlin and Venice Biennials will also enable a wide range of people to participate in the artists’ visions and missions in the coming year. Disruption is good.