The variety of successful sales and the introduction of new NFT auction platforms by the major auction houses raised the interest of traditional art players including museums and galleries. Several museums already embraced immersive technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality, making them more receptive to promote digital art and virtual experiences. While there is still uncertainty with NFT, museums have various approaches to engage their existing members and attract a new public.
Similar to traditional exhibitions, museums are approaching the display of NFT art pieces with the intent on telling a story and driving an impact on audiences. They are keeping an authentic curatorial approach for the NFT in line with their values. Some museums started to seek digital works for their permanent collections in order to curate and preserve the recent history of NFT. For instance, the ICA Miami acquired the digital artwork CryptoPunk 5293, a portrait from a series of pixelated characters. It was a gift from one of their trustee, making them the first major museum to collect an NFT. Early this month, the Castello di Rivoli received its first NFT, a digital work (also available as an oil painting) titled FTX Board Meeting, Day #5676 11.13.2022 created and donated by Beeple. The gift follows the museum’s exhibition of Beeple’s Human One in April 2022, a phygital work sold at Christie’s in 2021.
Selling for NFT
Other museums opted for selling physical artworks from their permanent collection in order to fund NFT purchases. Last year, the MoMA took the decision to auction off at least $70 million worth of art masterpieces from the William S. Paley collection. In October 2022, the museum has collaborated with Sotheby’s to offer numerous artworks at auction, some of which were sold for a total of $84 million – including important paintings of Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon. With this sale, the MoMA has planned hosting a series of virtual exhibitions and conversations with digital artists, and possibly purchasing its first NFT art pieces.
In contrast, various museums decided to convert existing physical artworks from their collections into NFT art pieces in order to fund their cultural projects. In June 2022, the MFA Boston minted a NFT collection of Impressionist pastels to help raise funds for a paintings’ conservation project. They worked with LaCollection, a company specializing in the creation of digital versions of physical artworks. A year before, the same company had worked with the British Museum to mint a series of NFT unique and rare editions of the great Japanese artist Hokusai well-known prints including The Great Wave. In the same way, the Vienna’s Belvedere Museum collaborated with artèQ, an NFT investment company, to release 10,000 NFT pieces made by splitting a digital print of Gustav Klimt’s painting The Kiss. The NFT items that cost $2,000 each are released to fund the preservation and presentation of the museum’s assets.
Opening NFT-only spaces
Instead of relying on traditional museums, new art spaces dedicated only to NFT are slowly popping up. Last year, the NFT Factory opened its doors in Paris with a public exhibition of NFT artworks created by its founding members. The physical space also host discovery workshops, an educational and training center, and an investor club. Early last year, the Seattle NFT Museum was launched with the goal of promoting digital art and increase public knowledge on NFT. Inside the museum divided into three exhibition halls, the artworks are displayed on mounted high-resolution screens alongside text description of the works or the blockchain technology.
Educating on NFT
Several museums have decided to insert more NFT topics into their program with specific seminars and open discussions to help educate audiences on this new art form. They are hosting thematic exchanges ranging from intellectual debate to educational lectures related to NFT. In November 2021, the Pérez Art Museum Miami hosted a panel discussion on the place of NFT on digital art and how it will continue to change the art world. Few months before, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art launched a series of conversations on the meaning of NFT to museums, their impact on curatorial practice, and their potential risks. In March 2022, the Tampa Museum of Art put the focus on NFT legal issues in their Lawyers for the Arts program. They explored the origin of claims on NFT’s appropriation and their relationship with copyright violation, publicity rights, and unfair competition.