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Of the Moment: NFTs

NFTs are revolutionizing the art scene, blending tech and technique.

By now, you may have heart about NFTS, or non-fungible tokens, which are disrupting the arts and culture space (even sports trading cards) as a digital medium. NFTs are “one-of-a-kind” digital assets that can be bought and sold, but which have no tangible form of their own. The technology is stored on the blockchain, similar to cryptocurrency.

Specifically, as it relates to art, NFTs are creating ripple effects by selling for unprecedented amounts. The musician Grimes, for example, has sold her digital art for $6 million. Generating the most headlines is a recent sale by the artist Beeple, whose NFT fetched $69 million at a Christie’s auction in March 2021. Called Everydays: The First 5000 Days, it was the first ever purely digital work of art offered by a major auction house

Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, is a graphic designer based in Charleston, South Carolina. For nearly 14 years, he’s been creating 3D graphics, short films, VJ loops, and Virtual Reality pieces for brands like Louis Vuitton, Apple, Samsung, and Nike. Prior to breaking records for his NFTs, Beeple worked on concert visuals for musicians like Justin Bieber, One Direction, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj. In fact, Everydays reflects his evolution as an artist, a digital collage showcasing his artwork over the past 13 years, from crude sketches to complex 3D pieces, which he posted online daily.

Art advisor Spring McManus, who started her career at Christie’s, is not entirely surprised by Beeple’s record breaking sale, considering he’s been an innovator in the field with a big social media footprint. “What Beeple created was totally new and exciting,” McManus notes. “But more and more artists in the traditional art world are getting enticed by the medium. Artists like Urs Fischer and Daniel Arsham have created super interesting NFTs. Musicians are also getting involved, and I am currently working with Grammy Award-winning funk music legend George Clinton to produce a series of NFTs based on his paintings and performances.”

The first one, MY DAWG, began as a painting spanning acrylics, markers, and spray paint, and was inspired by Clinton’s 1982 solo album, Computer Games. The work was then digitized and animated by DiGGital doGG, rapper Snoop Dogg’s digital media and content production company. More NFTs are coming, which will be displayed at the Spillman Blackwell gallery in New Orleans. It’s part of Clinton’s first solo exhibition, coinciding with his 80th birthday.

With big art fairs promising in-person attendance this year—including Art Basel Miami Beach in December— patrons should expect to see more NFTs on display, especially as the technology progresses. According to McManus, one of the challenges has been a solution for display, storage, and security. “An innovative platform called Blackdove is providing all of this, and I believe will become the go-to platform for display and storage of NFTs and syncing NFTs and digital collections so that they are secure yet accessible to their owners wherever they would like to display.”

The bigger question is whether NFTs have longevity, or are just another tech bubble about to burst. As we see other industries embrace NFTs, such as gaming and sports, it’s a good sign the medium is becoming popular and, therefore, here to stay. Fashion designers are making NFTs stylish, too. Gucci created an NFT for its Fall 2021 collection and Dolce & Gabbana sold their entire NFT-based collection for $5.65 million in September. “It’s a very fast developing technology that is changing rapidly,” notes McManus. “Keeping up with the trends is key.”