The early emergence and success of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) happened outside of the traditional art markets; a brand new ecosystem of marketplaces and curators emerged, entirely detached from the art market we know.
Though CryptoPunks and Cryptokitties were largely gibberish to the art world back in 2017, they certainly aren’t now.
NFT sales numbers started rising, amounting to millions of US dollars, and the traditional art world wanted in on this brand new lucrative world.
In 2021, things began really shaking up. Art world giants started announcing their ambitious leaps.
Auction houses – the masters of rights transfer and sales agreements – quickly learned how to operate the NFT market.
According to the Art Basel and UBS Art Market Report 2022, Sotheby’s and Christie’s sold US$230 million in NFTs in 2021.
Digital artist Beeple (Mike Winkelmann) sold Everydays: The First 5000 Days for US$69.3 million via Christie's.
Sotheby’s sold the world’s first NFT, Kevin McCoy’s Quantum, for US$1.4 million and works by Pak at US$17 million. It also joined the Decentraland metaverse with a 3D twin replica of its New Bond Street Galleries.
Galleries, however, have had less success navigating NFTs. The transition into web3 requires resources, marketplace partnerships and a deep understanding of blockchain sales. It also requires some amount of interest from the dealers.
According to the Art Basel/UBS report, 46% of the art galleries surveyed reported that they had no interest in selling NFTs in the future for reasons that remain unknown.
Some ambitious IRL (in real life) galleries adjusted their programming accordingly and looked to forge partnerships with marketplace platforms to make the transition. Pace Gallery took NFTs rather seriously, launching their own platform, “Pace Verso”, partnering with Art Blocks, and appointing a global director of online sales for the first time.
Continue reading to discover the three galleries that have been playing up the traditional art market to stand at the forefront of NFTs.
If there were any artist we could have always envisioned exploring the potential of NFTs, it would very likely be Urs Fischer.
In July 2021, the Swiss artist released “CHAOS”, a collection of 501 original NFTs that include two objects converging that had been 3D-scanned, via Pace Gallery.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the artist was so committed to working with NFTs that he somewhat compromised his longtime relationship with his dealer, Gagosian, to do so.
Urs Fischer, [Still] CHAOS #24 Analysand. © Urs Fischer, courtesy of the artist and Pace Gallery
The first one was auctioned on the curated auction app Fair Warning and the remainder on MakersPlace. The gallery had announced that a percentage of the proceeds of “CHAOS” would be staked on Ethereum 2.0 “to support the sustainable future of NFTs”.
Pace Gallery is one of the leading art galleries in the world with its physical locations in New York, East Hampton, Palm Beach, Seoul, Palo Alto, Hong Kong, and London, representing the likes of blue-chip artists like David Hockney and Sam Gilliam.
The gallery claimed that Fischer’s drops mark the first time a major gallery entered the world of crypto art and that they pride themselves on being at the forefront of innovation.
They had also announced that they’d accept Ethereum for both traditional and digital works.
The gallery began to expand the team to face the challenge. In April 2021, they announced that they were appointing a global director of online sales for the first time, with Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle taking on the role.
Their custom-built “hub for Web3 activity”, Pace Verso, remains active year-round with programming that has so far included the likes of A.A. Murakami, John Gerrard and Zhang Huan.
They also recently announced a collaboration with the generative art platform Art Blocks.
Fischer isn’t the only blue chip “traditional” artist they helped propel towards the complex world of NFTS.
After departing from Gagosian and David Zwirner Gallery, Jeff Koons signed with Pace for exclusive worldwide representation. He quickly jumped on an NFT project with his new NFT-forward gallery who baptised the megastar artist’s foray into the metaverse.
A 12-inch stainless steel, transparent colored, Moon Phase (Leonardo da Vinci) within its case rendering. Left is a rendering of the prototype cube containing 125 miniature reflective Moons with their colored surfaces and each with its unique Moon phase shadow. Right is a photographic cube representing the Moon Phases. Behind Moon Phase (Leonardo da Vinci) is a rendering showing a portion of the 125 Moon Phases from both Earth and space viewpoints. ©Jeff Koons.
With the ambitious “Moon Phases” project in collaboration with NFMoon and 4Space, physical sculptures were placed in an art cube to make it to the moon's surface with corresponding NFTs on sale.
In March 2021, news that the celebrated Berlin gallery Konig was going to set up a show in Decentraland made headlines – it was the first commercial gallery to do so. The real-world version of the gallery, a former church, was reimagined and rendered 3D by the artist Manuel Rossner.
Curated by Anika Meier and gallery founder Johann Konig, “THE ARTIST IS ONLINE” featured seventy works by fifty artists, including Banz & Bowinkel, Maja Djordjevic, and Zach Lieberman.
They hosted an auction on the web3 marketplace OpenSea in tandem with the show in Decentraland.
With this move, Konig Galerie indicated that they were pretty ready to explore the potential of blockchain and reflected a change in the traditional gallery model.
“Konig Galerie took this unusual sales approach in response to an art world confronted with changes due to the proliferation of NFTs,” read the statement on its blog.
“In doing so, Johann [Konig] hopes to adapt to a new environment and the habits of NFT collectors, who cultivate transparency with regard to ownership and prices.”
But the jump into Decentraland isn’t the only web3-focused move they’ve made. Artists like Jose Davila and Jeppe Hein have increasingly been dropping NFTs through the gallery.
Alicja Kwade - Selbstportrait (10361 x 25p), 2020, NFT_Photo Roman Maerz (4), Courtesy of the artist & KÖNIG GALERIE
The Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade minted a work for Konig Galerie, marking her debut NFT collection; Selbstportrait features 25 pages and 11,696 letters of her own DNA data totalling 292,400 letters.
A total of 10,361 NFT versions were made available for sale, each featuring the letters randomised to create a unique copy for the buyer.
A Manhattan landmark since 1984, Postmasters announced the closure of their physical location in Tribeca due to a pandemic-related rent settlement. But it wasn’t the end of the gallery’s activities.
“Postmasters 5.0 will be nomadic,” the gallerists wrote in a warm announcement letter.
The gallery chose to establish its own custom-built, rights-enabled, in-house NFT platform PostmastersBC via the Monegraph platform and continue to be active representing artists in their digital sales.
The newfound focus made sense; they had already been experimenting with NFTs, like with their solo show of Olive Allen’s NFT works, “Welcome to the Metaverse.”
Also, Postmasters was one of the earliest to introduce digital art into its programming, most notably in their 1996 show “Can You Digit?”.
Postmasters have been continuously dropping exciting NFTS by the likes of Jose Carlos Casado, FakeShamus and Eddo Stern.
If New York can’t handle Postmasters, the metaverse certainly can.
Cover Credit: A Paper Creative
Writer | Bana Bissat
Bana Bissat is a Milan-based writer who reports on sound art for Sound of Life. She has written for Flash Art, Lampoon, and Cultured. @banabissat