NFT art craze hits Miami Art Basel: NPR

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DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

The Broadway play “Art” centered on a painting that was just a blank canvas, I mean totally white, with a few lines painted white. The work sold for a fortune. Bonds between three friends frayed over the issue in the center of the room. Was it art? This week, artists, taste makers and collectors from all over the world mingle in Miami Beach for the exuberant cuisine known as Art Basel Miami. Much of the excitement is centered around NFT art, a type of digital art typically purchased with cryptocurrency. NFT stands for Non-fungible Tokens. Each item for sale is a digital image with a unique digital imprint. And like the painting in the piece “Art”, the NFTs tie the world of art together. Could NFT mean a hot new thing? To help shed light, we turn to Sophie Haigney. She is a journalist who writes about visual arts and technology, and she will help us understand why it is becoming so popular. Hey Sophie. Thanks for joining me.

SOPHIE HAIGNEY: Hi, David. Thank you for inviting me.

FOLKENFLIK: So I would like to start with a very simple question. What is NFT art?

HAIGNEY: So NFTs are essentially single assets that are verified by blockchain. And so, the blockchain functions much like a public ledger, recording transactions and giving buyers proof of authenticity or ownership. Put simply, I like to think of NFTs almost as digital certificates of ownership of a particular thing. Like, a photo, a tweet, an audio file can all be accompanied by this type of ownership certificate. And so you don’t really buy the thing itself. You are buying proof of owning something.

FOLKENFLIK: So remind us of some of the famous works of NFT art and perhaps some of the most infamous. You say that a tweet or a digital representation of a tweet with its underlying authentication certificate is an NFT art. Who are the others?

HAIGNEY: Last March, an artist known as Beeple, real name Mike Winkelmann, sold a digital collage at Christie’s for over $ 69 million.

FOLKENFLIK: Sixty-nine million dollars.

HAIGNEY: Yes. This is the third highest award ever achieved by a living artist at Christie’s. So this is a big problem. And I think that’s when the art world really started to take notice. Also, last March, 621 virtual sneakers. Thus, the sneaker images sold for $ 3 million.

FOLKENFLIK: So all ideas about art are fundamentally subjective. Many people may remember that there was a banana stuck on a wall. It sold for $ 120,000 at Art Basel in 2019. In this case, the artist is known as a prankster. It still went for 120k.

HAIGNEY: Yes.

FOLKENFLIK: And NFTs themselves can sell for huge amounts of cryptocurrency valued at hundreds of thousands of actual dollars. Do people think of it as a store of value which is sort of a vehicle that you park money through and it’s basically an investment that will appreciate over time?

HAIGNEY: I think there are a lot of people who buy NFTs because it’s a speculative investment. And people are excited to spend their cryptocurrency on something and then trade it in for a bunch of more cryptocurrency in a few months. And then I think there’s another group of collectors who are really excited about digital art, and they love the aesthetics. I think there are people in it for different reasons, but there is definitely a huge group of people participating in it because they think these things are going to appreciate.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, what does it mean for NFTs that this non-traditional work of art is brought to more traditional places? I think over a dozen events around Miami will incorporate them in one way or another this week.

HAIGNEY: I think it’s really exciting for digital artists because for a long time it’s really, really hard to monetize digital art. I mean, you can’t really easily sell an image you’ve drawn on your computer. And I was really surprised and interested in the extent to which the institutional art world has totally embraced this. It fascinates me. And it has a lot to do with money. I think Christie’s and Sotheby’s are thrilled to be able to sell works for millions of dollars. But I also think they are – this is the first time that I think a lot of these institutions really take technology-based artwork seriously. And that’s exciting for me. And I think that’s exciting for a lot of artists who have been working in the digital world for a long time.

HAIGNEY: So it’s a little over 90 years ago, isn’t it? – René Magritte, surrealist painter, he paints a pipe. And it’s a very realistic depiction of a pipe. And basically and in letters it says, in French, it’s not a pipe. The painting drives the critics crazy. It drives the audience crazy. But it was getting to this interesting point, I think, it seems decades later about representation, art, and reality. What are some of the interesting concepts that artists have explored in this way to the extent that there are any?

FOLKENFLIK: I think a lot of artists working in the NFT sphere play with the whole concept of representation, of reality. What is real? What is wrong? What does it mean to be authentic? There was a work that I really liked from this artist called Damien Thirst. Many of these artists have pseudonyms on the Internet.

HAIGNEY: Damien Thirst, a play about Damien Hirst. He was trying to sell this NFT. It was just a blue square, and it was a tribute to Eve Klein’s “Blue Monochrome”. And I think part of that was poking fun at the idea that these paintings that we consider original, authentic can now be reproduced in the digital sphere and can be speculatively sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. So I think there are a lot of artists who, like Magritte, voluntarily engage in the form of the NFT and kind of poke fun at the whole speculative bubble and that the claims of those NFTs are genuine and original. works.

FOLKENFLIK: So how interested would the typical art collector who in years gone by for Art Basel be in Miami Beach for Art Basel or what kind of fresh art investor might it attracts instead?

HAIGNEY: I think galleries and auction houses are really excited because they’ve found a whole new class of collectors, maybe someone younger who doesn’t usually buy art and who is really excited about NFTs in particular. And so I think there’s a whole new subset of people going to buy NFTs in Basel or any other art fair. But I’ve also spoken to people at auction houses who say traditional collectors are getting more and more excited about NFT. I was really surprised that the traditional art collector decided to go for NFTs as well.

FOLKENFLIK: So a fad or maybe here to stay?

HAIGNEY: I think the NFTs are here to stay. I think, you know, like Magritte’s painting this-isn’t-a-pipe, I think they make a lot of people really angry. And I think part of that is due to the insane pricing that we are seeing right now. I think people can’t believe someone’s willing to pay $ 69 million for a digital image. But I think that as a form NFTs are here to stay. And I think we’ll continue to see what happens and what artists do with the form.

FOLKENFLIK: Sophie Haigney is a critic and journalist who writes on visual arts and technology. Sophie, thank you very much for being with us today.

HAIGNEY: Thank you.

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