The collision of NFTs and art is not, strictly speaking, new. One of the first people to inscribe art on the blockchain was Kevin McCoy, a digital artist who started playing around with the idea in 2013. “Coming from a digital art background, you saw these issues around markets, around ownership, around provenance — all the ways in which the digital way that you and your friends are working didn’t have a place inside the traditional art world,” McCoy recalls. “We raised some money — never enough — and built a set of tools that are similar to what’s happening now. We could get some traction on the artists’ side, but there was no market. People did not understand it.”
Most people still do not really understand it, but with the influx of cryptocapital into the NFT art market, all eyes are now glued to the possibilities of NFT art. “This whole mainstream sweep happened sooner than we anticipated,” says Jonathan Perkins, the co-founder of SuperRare, which launched in 2018. In its first year, it averaged about $8,000 a month in sales. By the second year, $100,000 a month. Last month — around the time it announced a series-A investment from the likes of Samsung, Ashton Kutcher, Mark Cuban, and Marc Benioff — $30 million a month.
These are not numbers that the traditional art market cares to ignore. Among critics, noses may wrinkle, but dealers, galleries, and artists are racing to find their way in. Christie’s became the first traditional player to have a blockbuster when Everydays: The First 5000 Days, a digital piece by the artist Beeple, climbed to a final hammer price north of $69 million. Sotheby’s found its own star in Pak, an anonymous digital artist, who created a set of NFT “cubes” that, over the course of three days, brought in more than $14 million. One of his works, Pixel — a single gray pixel — sparked a bidding war that lasted more than an hour.
All of this has set the stage for an us-versus-them battle: the traditionalists versus the digital upstarts; the art-historical canon versus an emerging digital aesthetics of 3-D renderings, game-worlds, memes, and LOLs; the ivory tower versus the cryptopopulists. But proponents of the world say the future is already here. Here, six of them, from top sellers to shadowy collectors, weigh in on the current boom.
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