Fine Art and the NFT: Uncovered Gems or Pure Garbage

Hariology Rubik Cube

NFT based artist @hariology creates a portrait of NFT and self empowerment advocate Gary Vaynerchuk.

The third wave of the internet is upon us.   From a Fine Art standpoint, 2021 has set records in many categories.  The upcoming international fine art fairs, delayed because of Covid, are set to reopen officially at the end of November, with Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Miami leading the charge.

Where will the physical and digital worlds intersect for artists, visual and live performers alike?  And what will define gems vs. dreck?   In short, platforms and art fairs.

Fine Art Fairs:

The usefulness of fine art fairs will continue to be for discovery and for discrete sales by galleries.   Those fine artists on display will have a traditional method available through those willing to curate and promote.   The focus for NFT based fine art is to prove itself in the physical world.   Linking a work because of a blockchain record clearly assists with provenance and ownership.   The live 24/7 record of a price is no different than what consumers encounter in other asset-based markets (Zillow or the NASDAQ come to mind).

Yet the promoters – galleries and fine art fairs- will only be advocates of NFT artists when rents and salaries can be paid.  The process online has been anything but supportive of physical-only galleries.  Google and the search process, intended to enable discovery, was and is designed to be frictionless.   In many cases, the tactics of search engine companies have ranked an artist’s own website first over the required infrastructure that has given the artist their paying collectors at physical locations.

Platforms = Awareness:

2.0 type companies like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook further circumvented the physical needs of artists with their galleries.  Followers vs actual collectors became the pursuit for validity.    The comfort level of consumers, and therefore collectors, with online transactions, became a moot point due to the global lockdown of 2020.   Auctions and galleries accelerated their shift to online technologies, despite their past online presence for years.

Social media fans, who simply like and comment, encourage individual artists with momentum to further create.   The doodles of Gary Vaynerchuk exemplify how art, deemed good or bad, is used to expand the consumable nature of Non Fungible Tokens.  Like lawyers, doctors, and realtors, artists are numerous and everywhere.  Vaynerchuk’s own admission that many NFTs will be worthless further emphasizes why a peer-to-peer platform vs a curated platform will determine a fine artwork’s ultimate value.

When Beeple along with Christie’s sold “5000 Everyday’s” as an NFT, the transaction furthered the role of a  “custodial” vs. non-custodial process for the fine art world.   The process of accepting payment in a digital format, specifically with Etherium, was promoted by Christie’s as a major accomplishment.  The transaction required vetting prior to the auction and was not the expected peer-to-peer purist digital transaction.

Yet, Christie’s as with many platforms, large and small, local to global, has always accepted payment in currencies.  Accepting crypto for an NFT sale is similar to the recent conclusion of the Macklowe collection sale in United States Dollars.   In this case, Sotheby’s physical auction sale transacted $676 million (USD$) of meaningful and documented fine art.  The objects transferred in each have significant cultural importance.   And for that, each milestone has a defined meaning directly impacting art values today.


Artists along with major tech companies have been focused on direct-to-consumer transactions.  In Web 3.0, the artist can seamlessly reach a buyer without a gallery or fine art fair.  This also means a digital work only needs an internet connection and can skip physical delivery.    Without a central location to discover, judge, and then acquire, the artist and collector have little reason to transact beyond speculation or passion.   Value judgments are in the eye of the beholder.   As a major proponent of the NFT space, Gary Vaynerchuk has led the charge that the rise and likely fall of most Art based NFTs have a place in our new collecting world.   How the NFT space holds as a store of value will ultimately be due to uncovered gems or worthless examples of common art projects.   As Gary’s Twitter handle said: “Wow” for a brilliant artist’s use of Rubik Cubes.

Author: Michele A

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