In the international press on the art scene, there seemed to be only one topic besides the pandemic in recent months, namely NFTs. The abbreviation stands for “Non Fungible Token”, which basically refers to the linking of a file with a certificate on the blockchain. This technology is used to attest the uniqueness of the file or digital artwork. The preferred cryptocurrency is Ethereum and at least since the high-priced resales of CryptoPunks, a 2017 NFT project by Larva Labs, crypto artworks have gained the attention of a broad public. We are pleased that “digital art” quickly became a term in mainstream media as a result of these developments, even if it sometimes gives the impression that digital art is something new. As you know, this is not the case. Digital art has been around since the 1960s. The exploration of different methods of distributing, collecting and archiving digital art has been part of the discourse from the very beginning and has been at the core of the work of DAM and DAM Projects for more than 30 years.
Explore the different modes and evolutions of digital art for yourself on our websites dam.org/museum and damprojects.org.
However, the hype of the last few months had little to do with art, as it was mainly players from the crypto scene who invested large amounts of their cryptocurrencies in the NFT art market. The quality of the artworks seemed to be rather secondary. In many cases, five- to six-figure sums were paid for banalities and effects that good graphic designers could realize in a few minutes. It is also interesting that the “successful” artists were often people who had previously played no role in the established art world. Naturally, it has always been important and interesting to shake up the established art scene and bring new perspectives into play. The hype, however, was not about new artistic positions. In most cases, the digital files on offer merely depicted what experts in the realm of digital art had known and seen for years. Rather, it appeared as if a scene with large sums of crypto-money at its disposal celebrated itself. The motives remain to be seen.
The NFT craze did not stop there. In the next phase, several interesting artists who were already working in proximity to digital art or making use of the various digital tools began to market their own artworks as NFTs. Parts of the art scene benefited from the crypto hype. In a number of cases, the artists themselves sold their NFTs on one of the many emerging platforms and online marketplaces. However, specialized agencies of art consultants also emerged, positioning themselves as experts in a market that appeared to turn over high sums of money quickly. Last but not least, the first galleries tried to establish themselves on the market, often without any knowledge or background in digital art.
One really can’t talk about an artistic revolution, because artistically nothing new happens here.
Another player, namely auction houses which are increasingly active in the primary market, too wanted a piece of the pie. In addition to the first spectacular auctions at the beginning of the year, two recent auctions by Christie’s and Sotheby’s in particular, reflect the current situation: the highest prices in the six-figure range were achieved by otherwise unknown representatives of the crypto scene. Nonetheless, internationally established artists of digital art like Casey Reas, Anna Ridler or Mario Klingemann achieved five-figure results in the very same auction.
In this context, I would like to take a closer look at a work by Casey Reas that was auctioned at Sotheby’s for just under 53,000 US dollars. The NFT contains a two-minute recording of a software work from the Still Life series. After the two minutes, the video repeats. The original software, i.e. the entire program on which the NFT is based, can still be purchased from DAM and is currently priced at 13,500 euros. The purchase of the artwork includes an aluminum box engraved with the data about the work, individual small, signed prints showing different states of the work, the program file and the source code, signed and dated. Now you can decide: Which format would you prefer?
Where are we now: NFTs and the attention the scene has received in mainstream media has increased the public perception of digital art. We are very happy about this development, as both the artists and us benefit from it. NFTs will establish themselves as a distribution channel for digital media and reach a new audience. In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of young collectors interested in the field of digital arts already. Since we have accompanied the development of this particular area of contemporary art since DAM’s founding in the early 2000s and represent artists whose works have been dealing with technology and digital media since 1965, we are the ideal partners for your explorations into the field. Starting in the fall of 2021, we will also offer NFTs of our artists on the DAM Projects website.
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