As a new crypto winter arrived just in time for Art Basel, there was plenty of non-fungible gossip (and some selling!) to report from the world’s preeminent art fair, which opened this week.
Along with the usual crowd of art celebrities, several major players from the crypto and NFT art scenes made appearances at this year’s fair. Ryan Zurrer, founder of Dialectic.ch and a collector of works by Beeple and Refik Anadol, was seen strolling through the main fair. Y Beeple himself could be seen perusing the fair with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, director of the Castello di Rivoli, where his first sculpture is located, human one, is currently on view. Meanwhile, Niclas Castello, progenitor of the infamous gold cube-turned-cryptocurrency Castello Coin, spent a night curled up at a corner table at Les Trois Rois.
Unlike Art Basel Miami Beach in December, which felt more like an NFT party than a traditional art fair, the Swiss edition felt noticeably less upbeat about NFTs.
That sense is becoming more and more widespread throughout the world. After reaching a peak of $69,000 in November 2021, the price of Bitcoin crashed to $20,080 yesterday, the third day of the fair. Ethereum, the cryptocurrency most associated with NFTs, has not fared much better, falling as low as $1,030 during Art Basel, a far cry from its previous high of $4,800. The top two cryptocurrencies are down nearly 70 percent since April.
TDespite the boom-and-bust cycle of the cryptocurrency market, it seems that the art market is finally starting to get closer to digital (and “phygital”) art.
At the main fair, the Cologne and Berlin-based Galerie Nagel Draxler, which sold the first NFT at Art Basel last year (a work by Olive Allen), toned down its cryptocurrency offerings by combining them with traditional art. The Nagel Draxler booth featured two crypto-related artworks, including three NFTs by Kenny Schachter.
Schachter was seen in rainbow-colored Adidas sweatpants wandering the fair and wondering aloud what Ethereum’s price collapse would mean for the NFTs he had on offer. Schachter’s Duchamp wallpaper, which is available as NFT, was now probably not even worth the paper it was printed on. He felt a bit like the German Deutschmark in 1923.
Meanwhile, Kevin Abosch, the Irish conceptual artist and pioneer of crypto art, sold a painting (without NFTs) called crypto is a scam, an acrylic graphite on canvas that sold for €75,000 ($79,000), which went to an anonymous buyer from the crypto space, according to gallery co-founder Saskia Draxler.
Draxler added that he felt the fair was becoming more welcoming to collectors of digital art, as well as traditional artwork that references crypto themes. “We’re trying to merge the two worlds,” Draxler said. “Very soon everyone will have a wallet for digital assets, but right now I feel like we are in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution, and Art Basel is and always will be a pulse for many of these changes.”
Jeffrey Deitch, in a massive three-tier booth, showcased work by Refik Anadol, the NFT star known for AI-powered data painting and several blockbuster sales at Christie’s recently. However, it was not an NFT, but a AI digital painting of ocean currents, and Deitch only accepted fiat currency.
Above, an Austin Lee NFT solo was shown on a display alongside a playful resin sculpture. It was priced at 50,000 euros ($53,000) and did not sell until the third day of the fair.
Deitch himself was terse when it came to the impact of NFTs on the art market. “I’m not interested in NFTs, I’m just interested in meaningful art,” he said.
Without a doubt, Pace had the biggest knockout blow in the NFT market during Art Basel, as he sold multiple versions of Jeff Koons. Moon phases NFT project, each priced at $2 million and comes with a sculptural accompaniment.
Outside the Unlimited section, a spectacular stand next to the Tezos Foundation featured Herbert W. Franke, the 92-year-old pioneer of generative art, whose work was featured alongside younger artists such as Aleksandra Jovanic, Ryan Bell, Eko33, and Sam Tsao. Franke’s work, entitled MONDRIAN (1979), was initially developed as a dynamic image and sound program for Texas Instruments.
The work allows the selective construction of individual images from a dynamic sequence in which you can intervene interactively at any time. The program also made it possible, in the late 1970s, to design a dynamic image that can constantly change on its own, and whose algorithms run under random influence. The work stands as one of the earliest forms of native digital generative art. Although none of the work at the Tezos booth was for sale, it provided a useful showcase to educate visitors about the rich history of new media art.
Art critic and curator Anika Meier told Artnet News how impressed she was with the Tezos presentation in Basel. “Herbert W. Franke is a universal genius,” she said. “His pioneering spirit made him one of the first computer artists to be more than six decades ahead of his time.”
Meier is also helping the London-based art platform. Circa and Tezos host Marina Abramovic’s first NFT, set to premiere this summer. (Details will be presented on June 18 at an artist talk between Abramovic and Circa’s art director, Josef O’Connor, at the Tezos booth.)
At the nearby Volta fair, the Artsted platform presented an NFT bar featuring works by artists such as Francesco Vullo, Xiaoling Jin, Domiano Fasso and Maria Giovanna Morelli.
“We decided to build the NFT bar as a space where people can sit back and just hang out and relax,” said Maryna Rybakova, CEO and founder of Artsted. She added that the exhibit was not a commercial endeavor, but was presented as a place where new collectors could come and learn about NFTs.
“As part of Generation Z, I am convinced that the future of the world is digital. The next generation of collectors is at the forefront of this new technology,” he said. “Resources are being transferred from the ‘old’ market to the ‘new’ market.”
The founders of the NFT Art Day conference in Zurich, Tom Rieder and George Bak, were also seen perusing Art Basel during the opening days of the fair. Rieder noted that while the crypto scene in Switzerland is primarily centered around Zug, the ecosystem around NFTs and platforms is beginning to spread throughout Switzerland. Rieder is also a co-founder of the sales platform elementum.art, telling Artnet News that “NFTs are starting to make headway in Basel, although I think New York and Miami are still at the top of the list when it comes to buying and sell”. digital artifacts.
Bak, who is also hosting a generative NFT sale at Phillips in July, said he’s noticing a move toward “phygitals,” a neologism referring to works that have both an NFT (digital component) and a physical one. The sculptures that also include NFTs, for example, are by Koons. Moon landing (2022) and Beeple’s Human One. Bak said that despite the recent move toward phygital works, he decided to purchase a generative art NFT from the scrawl series by Erick Calderon, founder of Art Blocks, at the Venus Over Manhattan gallery booth on display at the Design Miami fair in Basel.
The Venus Over Manhattan booth, which partnered with Infinite Objects for their Art Blocks presentation scrawl, made a natively digital generative art installation. The booth design included wallpaper taken from the Art Block source code, as well as 100 small digital screens mounted on four walls. Although the gallery was unwilling to provide exact details of the sale, Adam Lindemann, the gallery’s owner, told Artnet News that they have received 20 applications for mints. “Overall it’s been great, just ask Roger Federer, he loved them!” Lindemann said.
Joe Saavedra, founder of Infinite Objects, mostly agreed, saying he believes the NFT market is trending toward digital-native content that also has a strong presence in physical space.
“When we partnered with Beeple on their second Nifty Gateway launch, we were exploring how including a physical twin alongside an NFT sale could help attract new collectors unfamiliar with blockchain,” he said. He added that while his initial concept was to create a product that “was a container for videos,” he was quick to point out that “the objects we make are immutable, just like the blockchain itself, which means we’re in business.” of creating scarcity, provenance, and making digital art collectible.”
Launched in 2019, Infinite Objects has so far done hundreds of projects with some of the world’s top digital artists. Earlier this year, he was responsible for building SuperRare’s pop-up gallery in New York, and on June 16, he launched an exclusive NFT membership. With Infinite Object’s revenue rising 500 percent in the last year alone, backed by $6 million in seed funding from major players in the NFT space, including Dapper Labs founder Roham Gharegozlou, the sky doesn’t seem to be falling. for companies like Infinite Objects.
With ape images selling for tens of millions of dollars, Takashi Murakami’s NFTs collapsing, and the recent descent into a crypto winter, what does the future hold for NFTs? And what is your position in the Art Basel pantheon? Judging from this year’s show, it looks like digital is merging with traditional faster than many thought, but we may need some discounts along the way.