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Contemporary art and NFTs

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

Beeple, Everydays: The First 5000 Days sold at Christies for $69.3 million

In the Netherlands - where I live - we make a distinction between art and the arts. Art means fine art and the terminology of the arts is used for all the artistic disciplines like theatre, dance, literature etc. Such a distinction does not exist in the NFT community, all is considered art and equal. Even the boundaries between amateur and professional evaporate.

In this giant cluster of crypto art you mostly see NFTs that refer to NFTs. That does not bring forth the most original works of art. It’s there, but the majority looks alike. All the big NFT art platforms show a majority of artworks that hold some of the following elements: bright fluorescent colors, logo’s of crypto coins and Shiba Inu/Dodge dogs, depictions of Elon musk, astronauts and variations of successful collectibles such as Crypto Punks, MoonCats and Bored Ape Yacht Club.

Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC)

Individual vs. collective Where art history often is written by a single artist, here it is voiced by the collective. That might explain the many collabs that overflow the blockchain. This difference between the contemporary art world and the NFT space - the individual versus the collective - might be the most revolutionary aspect of NFTs, but I haven’t heard anyone mention it before.

The lack of assessment The majority of crypto art might look the same - and thus is considered superficial by traditional standards - it is part of a strong culture of super cool people nonetheless, that unlike the contemporary art world, isn’t snobby nor judgmental. It also lacks assessment. Everyone seems to be “such a talented artist” which of course isn’t true, because when everyone is great, then no one is. Between the lines I read: “our community is so great, love us!”

The selling game The way NFTs are sold is beyond comparison. You got give aways, special entries, unlockables, drop parties, editions, biddings, auctions and much more, all being shilled on/in the Metaverse, Discord, Clubhouse, Twitter, you name it. It’s like going to a gallery opening, attending a movie premiere, visiting the circus and celebrating your birthday all in one day! With so much movement and partying going on, who cares about originality? Compare that with a gallery opening where you might meet a handful collectors, but mostly your own entourage of friends and family who can’t afford to buy your art, let alone help build your career. In the NFT space everyone can be involved. Rich or poor, men or women, black/white/rainbow, even elderly and kids! Artworks don’t have to be expensive in order to make money. The value of sold or bought artworks can go up by a thousand procent. And even if you missed the boat on a sale, you are still part of the story. That is truly amazing, no wonder the space is growing so fast.

König gallery in Decentraland

Gatekeepers In the contemporary art world every single player wants to climb same the ladder. Who wouldn’t want to work at the MoMa, be represented by Gagosian Gallery or write for New York magazine? But it is very unlikely you will. There are so many gatekeepers involved in the art world: critics, curators, gallerists, artists and collectors. Sooner or later you will find a closed gate. The chances of you succeeding in the NFT space are much more likely. You are welcomed in the community and it will provide you with technical and even financial support (without asking anything in return). You are instantly part of the space if you choose so.

Velvet Buzzsaw, snobby gatekeepers ;)

The contemporary art world couldn’t care less about NFTs if it didn't involve so much money. Also the chance of it becoming historically relevant obliges them to jump on the bandwagon. These gatekeepers will not easily accept crypto art as serious art, but let’s face it, no one is asking them. It is like the crypto artist says: “We already have our party and btw you can come if you want.”

Champions from all kinds of disciplines already got involved with NFTs: auction house Christie’s, fashion icons Dolce & Gabbana, König Gallery, DJ Don Diablo, architect Andrés Reisinger and celebs like Gary V, Paris Hilton and many more. These are well respected people and institutions who make it more appealing to enter the space. Then there is also the technological aspect of NFTs to favor consumerism that can no longer to be ignored.

To stand still is to fall behind The NFT space is a new and extra safe haven for art, not just digital art. Gatekeepers who worked their asses off to get where they are in the contemporary art world will not easily accept a secondary art world that will interfere with theirs. Although it is more likely for it to be the other way around, it will feel like competition to them. Because the NFT space and its culture will add another chapter to (art) history. That’s their game.

Gallery Nagel Draxler teams up with crypto ambassador Kenny Schachter at Art Basel 2021

For them to be so vividly entwined with art history, thinking that they have seen it all/know it all, it must come as a total shocker to be run over by NFTs. But don’t forget that these gatekeepers, whose knowledge of art is superior, are still in control of the physical art worlds infrastructure: museums, universities, art schools, galleries, collections, relations etc. That will not disappear.

How will the art world evolve? I think everyone will find its place: artists, collectors, critics, galleries... The contemporary art world and the NFT space will merge into one. New subcultures will arise with their own set of rules, language, economy, habits and critique, all relying on the same technological developments. There will be a difference in quality, intent and volume for sure. New gatekeepers will emerge as well as new artist champions, but some will fight as heavyweights, others are more suited for the lightweight division. NFTs will become easily accessible. Creativity is going to get a boost and will be adopted by society very soon. You’ll find NFTs in public space, libraries, games, transport, fashion and mobile apps. I am sure this accessibility will teach a lot of people about art, especially those who haven’t had the chance to visit a museum and I am sure the snobbish attitude of the “traditional” art world will tone down a bit.

Overwhelming stuff NFTs are much more than what is described in this article of course. This explosion of new to digest information is overwhelming; there is new terminology, evolving technology, wallets and ledgers, fluctuating crypto currencies etc. The pace in which it grows is insane and for many too much to handle. Of course it is. But if you take your time, it’s doable, otherwise the NFT space wouldn’t be so huge.

What I am most curious about is what good this merge will bring the arts.

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