A cryptic world: Digital works, cryptocurrencies are transforming the landscape of art

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March 28, 2021 5:30 AM

Art has always created new possibilities, making us think beyond our imaginations.

Last year, the banana duct tape artwork, for instance, was a brilliant example of how the meaning and importance of objects change depending on the context—sometimes irreverent, sometimes whimsical.Last year, the banana duct tape artwork, for instance, was a brilliant example of how the meaning and importance of objects change depending on the context—sometimes irreverent, sometimes whimsical.

Technology or aesthetics are not binary opposites. The pencil and the pixel are both valid and valuable instruments to manifest an artistic impulse,” says Mumbai-based artist Jitish Kallat. There is no doubt that the future of art lies in both technology and aesthetics. “Art is always a combination of serious inquiry and play… the studio is at once a laboratory, a silent sanctuary and a funhouse,” adds Kallat.

He is right, as art has always created new possibilities—complex and brilliant—making us think beyond our imagination. Last year, the banana duct tape artwork, for instance, was a brilliant example of how the meaning and importance of objects change depending on the context—sometimes irreverent, sometimes whimsical.

This year, it’s Beeple’s digital art piece Everydays: The First 5000 Days, which has introduced the world to the changing art landscape, where crypto art is a big hit. US-based Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple, created a drawing every single day for the last thirteen-and-a-half years. From starting with a pen and paper to now computer software (such as the program Cinema 4D), the jpeg file collage was offered as a single-lot sale and realised $69.3 million (roughly Rs 503 crore).

Christie’s became the first major auction house to offer a purely digital work with a unique NFT (non-fungible token)—effectively a guarantee of its authenticity—and to accept cryptocurrency (in this case, Ether) in addition to standard forms of payment for the singular lot. “Christie’s had never offered a new media artwork of this scale or importance before,” says Noah Davis, specialist in post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s in New York. “Acquiring Beeple’s work is a unique opportunity to own an entry in the blockchain, itself created by one of the world’s leading digital artists.”

As per reports, Vignesh Sundaresan (a Singapore-based blockchain entrepreneur, coder and angel investor), who identified himself as ‘Metakovan’, is the buyer of Beeple’s art piece.

So if blockchain becomes the future of art, can artists find better ways to sell their work? Aparajita Jain, co-owner and director, Nature Morte, a Delhi-based contemporary art gallery, feels the need to think of new provenance and authentication methods by using better means of technology is important. “We are seeing newer media art coming like blockchain-based art, artificial intelligence-based art, and an influx of both as the future of Indian art,” she says.

Does blockchain technology make art collection easy and unique? NFTs, for one, are cryptographic tokens—unique pieces of information—that are used for ownership records, digital items or domain names. This helps digital artists evaluate and sell their original works, which are bought by collectors with a record of ownership. While an authentic signature can be registered on a blockchain, there are, however, chances that the crypto-art market could be infiltrated by fakes or scammers.

Sotheby’s, too, announced a partnership that will see it hold a sale of NFT-based digital art from an anonymous artist. In an interview with CNBC, Charles Stewart, CEO of Sotheby’s, said his firm has been following the non-fungible token space for some time.

The music world is also hopeful of NFT as a valuable revenue stream. An AFP report states that musicians are minting millions. For collectors, it’s the right to ultimate ownership even if the work can be endlessly copied. For investors, it’s a new commodity to be traded. This month, US rock band Kings of Leon raised more than $2 million by auctioning NFT versions of its new album, as per Rolling Stone magazine. A quarter of the amount went to a solidarity fund for live event workers.

In India, though, there is uncertainty around cryptocurrencies since the government plans to bring in laws to ban digital money and fine people trading in it. A Reuters report says the new Bill proposes to criminalise possession, issuance, mining, trading and transferring crypto-assets, including Bitcoin, Dogecoin and other cryptocurrencies. The move has come after Bitcoin witnessed a surge in prices, as Tesla invested $1.5 billion in it. Instead of a ban, cryptocurrency exchanges suggest the government should put them in the highest tax bracket.

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