On a quiet Monday evening in May, Larry Gagosian went along to Christie’s New York sales room and successfully bid $195 million for one of Andy Warhol’s Marilyns. It’s instantly recognizable. Shot Sage Blue Marilyn has been copied millions of times. Would anybody know if it was a real Warhol Marilyn on the wall of Gagosian’s Manhattan mansion or a $500 repro? Probably not.
That Marilyn is the old-skool equivalent of a “non-fungible token”, or NFT. It can be copied an infinite number of times but there’s only one provable original. An NFT achieves the same end by putting a unique uncopiable signature on a piece of computer code. It could be an artwork, a piece of music, an item of clothing for an online avatar, even a tweet. Anything. If it’s digital it can be an NFT. That opens up a world of possibilities and, maybe, a can of worms.
First on the scene when the technology became available five years ago were, arguably, CryptoPunks, 10,000 unique digitally generated images inspired by Daft Punk and the London punk scene. The art moved distinctly upmarket when graphic artist Mike Winkelman, under his online handle “Beeple”, sold one work for $69 million. It probably won’t surprise you to know it was bought by a crypto investor, Vignesh Sundaresan, better known as “MetaKovan”.
Now NFTs are beginning to invade the real world. The global collective Party Degenerates has teamed up with Ushuaïa and Hï Ibiza to create NFTs that will grant unlimited access to the clubs throughout the summer. Representations of their digital art will be splashed across the island’s streets and clubs. The aim of the project is to show that NFTs aren’t something that only make sense within a digital universe, but can create a community that connects in real life.
Meanwhile, Ibiza’s Amnesia is taking its cue from the traditional art world, where owners display their paintings not in their homes, but in public galleries. Amnesia’s star NFT, a pyramid by artist Hipworth – also known for his eye-popping portrait of Carl Cox – will exist online and as a giant mural inside the club. Attached to the NFT comes a lifetime VIP table for the owner and three guests.
A limited edition of 100 NFTs of the Amnesia pyramid will exist both as a virtual 3D animated psychedelic fractal and a physical pendant designed by Australia’s Heart of Bone. This will contain a chip granting two people nightly free VIP access with two drinks each. Another 50 NFTs will feature a video portrait of Ricardo Villalobos created by Sixe Paredes with a selection of VIP add-ons.And it’s not just clubs. DJ Steve Aoki last year released a series of hybrid anime and music NFTs with artist Maciej Kuciara.
Musicians are seeing minting NFTs as an easy way of releasing work without giving half their royalties to agents, lawyers and distributors. Kings of Leon were the first major band to put out an album as an NFT.
NFTs are in their early days but offer infinite possibilities. Most examples will crash and burn. Others will fly high then disappear. But eventually they’ll be so ubiquitous we won’t talk about them any more. And still no one will know what NFT stands for!