Non-fungible tokens, short for NFTs, are launching the art industry into new spheres. Not only collectors but also artists are among the ones making a profit from the ever-growing popularity of the young digital currency. A journey through the current crypto art scene.
For 25,000 crowns, Gustav Klimt sold his painting “Liebespaar “(German for Lovers pair) in 1908, which later became an icon of Jugendstil-painting. Back then, one could buy a pair of shoes in Vienna for 13 crowns, a man’s suit for 45. Gustav Klimt would have therefore been able to commission the mending of 1923 pairs of shoes or the tailoring of 555 suits.
We turn forward the wheel of time an additional 144 years and land in the year 2022. It is valentine’s day, February 14. Klimt’s work is still exhibited in the gallery of Schloss Belvedere, where Gustav’s former buyer Marchet, back in his days, minister of culture under Emperor Franz Joseph, first displayed it. Over the last decades, the 1.80 x 1.80 meter tall painting in oil, silver, and leave gold on canvas has been photographed countless times, reproductions have been sold all over the world as posters, put up over couches or on toilet doors in student housing as well as bourgeois living rooms.
Conclusion: The painting of the couple wrapped in golden garments has become a symbol of infatuation and intimacy. Pure emotions, combined with worldwide recognition, charged with the flair of an idealized epoche, garnished by lasting value precious metals – shortly said, the ideal ingredients for the potion of 21st-century alchemists. Those curtly added a pinch of digitalization as well as the aroma of probable betterment/increase in value and put it on the market on the magical date, which we know as Valentine’s day – bingo.
The reproduction, broken down into 10,00 pieces, of Klimt’s “The Kiss “instantly brought in 3.2 million euros for the Belvedere and the executing agency artèQ – the equivalent to more or less 55 kilograms of 24k gold. The best thing about it: for this transformation, the alchemists didn’t even need lead; instead of a magic wand, they simply used a digital camera.
Artistry and profit
NFT, FOMO, FUD, GAS, DROP, HODL, – those and many more abbreviations, unknown and vacuous to the non-inaugurated, are used by the digital alchemists to name their potion’s recipes and ingredients. The magical mixtures tickle potential buyers’ art sense and reinforce their desire for participation, ownership, and prestige. The objects of their desire are artworks uploaded to a blockchain by the artists themselves or by those recycling like galleries and museums (minting). There they are stored as unequivocally identifiable data sets (NFT = non-fungible tokens) and can be listed for sale on an online marketplace (dropped).
Both uploading and buying and reselling incur fees (GAS), which the blockchain operators collect. The fees depend on the computational effort involved in MINTING and transactions. Due to the high power consumption involved in these processes, GAS can become a cost trap and even exceed the market value of some NFTs. Another cost trap for those interested in NFTs lurks in the haphazard rush to buy for fear of missing out on a possible hype (FOMO = fear of missing out).
Against the fear of a sudden price crash (FUD = fear, uncertainty, doubt), experienced cryptocurrency specialists recommend the principle HODL, which arose from a typo of the word HOLD. Accordingly, short-term price fluctuations should not be taken too seriously. NFTs should instead be viewed and held as long-term investments. But where can the most interesting works of art be found that can both satisfy an art connoisseur’s passion for collecting and have the potential to increase in value?
Invitation to the Metaverse
Upper Austria’s capital Linz is not only home to steelmakers but also to the art alchemist of the hour. Alfred Weidinger is head of the upper Austrian state museum and the Francisco Carolinum, housing foto and multi-media art. Back in April 2021, the passionate patron of digital art had already bought a property in the virtual parallel world “Cryptoyoxels “and then went on to there open the first NFT exhibition in the Metaverse on the globe.
“Ever since, we have been hosting up to three exhibitions per month here, mainly presenting art with a solid Austrian connection”, says Weidinger. The address: 17 Clarion Alley on San Francisco Island. Access to the Metaverse, which is based on the Ethereum blockchain, is possible via any current browser at www.cryptovoxels.com/parcels/4650.
For a visit, a computer with strong procession power is recommended since the artificial world is built of mostly spectacular graphical elements, and one can explore it three-dimensionally.
Admission to the Digital Francisco Carolinum is free. Visitors can stroll through the halls from image to image using an avatar. Digital graphics, for example, ones by Viennese artist Bernhard Nestler, who goes by the artist name “Nissla,” appear on the wall.
He is a member of the artist collective “CryptoWiener”. He is considered a pioneer of both the domestic and international NFT scene. CryptoWiener’s next exhibition, entitled “Pixels,” is currently being prepared and will open on June 8, 2022.
Also thrilling: the current exhibition TeleNFT simultaneously presents artworks for the first time both in Metaverse and the Sat 1 Teletext.
“Here, two technologies 40 years apart meet on the timeline,” Weidinger enthuses. The 15 works on display are fully immortalized on the blockchain and will be transferred to the collection of the Upper Austrian Landes-Kultur GmbH as a donation by the initiators following the exhibition.
“TeleNFT questions technological progress in the context of economic and environmental crises,” explain exhibition curators Max Haarich and Gleb Divov. The internationally renowned digital artists Bloom Jr, U. Dresemann aka Buzzlightning, Protostyle/Christoph Faulhaber, Claudie Linke, Gleb Divov, Jarkko Räsänen, Juha van Ingen, Mamadou Sow, Max Haarich, Nissla, NUMO, Mario Klingemann aka Quasimondo, Sp4ce, tius and Michael Jathe aka kleinTonno each show motifs, only 78×69 pixels in size, of hand-drawn animals or computer-generated patterns Alfred Weidinger: “The works document the zeitgeist, sometimes ironically resigned, sometimes uninhibitedly euphoric, but united in one thing – now it is up to us.”
Art and crime
Although possible to be viewed, the artworks on display at Linz’s Metaverse Gallery can not be purchased. “We want to create a small but distinguished collection of digital artworks, not set up a store,” explains museum director Weidinger. The pixel art pieces are given to the Francisco Carolinum primarily for free – the creators benefit from at least an increase in reputation, which in turn raises the market value of their other oeuvre. “The set of TeleNFTs was originally worth around 1,000 euros – several weeks later, we could have resold it for ten times that amount,” says Weidinger.
The studied art historian has been observing the NFT market since its beginnings and concludes, “Numerous money launderers, market manipulators, and crypto thieves are cavorting around here. As long as there are no clear rules that make abuse impossible, we won’t play along.” After all, he said, proof of legitimacy is now mandatory for online sales worth more than €15,000 – the corresponding KYC (Know Your Customer) regulation was adopted as part of an EU anti-money laundering directive. However, crypto crooks are by no means deterred by such hurdles. They set traps for gullible NFT collectors by cleverly exploiting the technical and organizational vulnerabilities of the digital marketplace.
The German Federal Association of Publicly Appointed and Sworn and Qualified Experts, or BVS, has taken a close look at NFT trading and identified three main risks for buyers:
- Inadequate authentication of the NFT issuer.
- Wash Trading
- Quantum computing
According to the study, the issuer of an NFT on a blockchain initially has only a technical identifier. Whether the real artist lies behind this must be checked outside the blockchain or confirmed by the artist him/herself or else verified by the trading platform. “On the blockchain, everyone is just a number for now,” explains Oliver Stiemerling, an IT expert from the BVS Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology. So when buying an NFT, one should check whether the publisher on the blockchain is, in fact, the owner of the corresponding rights since a digital work of art can very easily be copied and offered as a supposed original on an NFT marketplace.
Another risk for a NFT buyer is so-called wash trading. It involves an investor buying and selling an NFT simultaneously. Doing so is particularly easy since the blockchain is digital and quasi-anonymous. “If the price of an artwork is artificially pushed up in this manner by the seller using two different technical identifiers, it appears to be in demand and valuable,” Stiemerling says. Conclusion: For the buyer, it may mean a total loss if he acquires an NFT that has been doctored in such a way and later finds that he cannot find a new buyer for it.
According to the IT expert, the potential for future abuse also lies in the further development of quantum computers: “If there is a functioning quantum computer before blockchains get upgraded, it could shake up the security of NFT transactions,” according to Stiemerling. This is due to the fact that a quantum computer could ‘crack’ the known digital identifiers, so third parties would be able to execute transactions in someone else’s name or even duplicate their NFTs.
Experimentation and hype around NFTs
In his exclusively black and white studio over the rooftops of the Viennese city center, concept artist Guido Kucsko exhibits, among other things, picture series, exploring the boundaries between everyday life and art and the legal subtleties of NFT trading. Kucsko is also a partner at Viennese law firm Schönherr Rechtsanwälte GmbH and an honorary professor specializing in intellectual property.
As part of a self-experiment, he assembled seven individual images into a short film in GIF format under the name “Conceptual Artist pulling an Idea out of his Head.” Later, he installed the software Wallet https://metamask.io as a Chrome browser extension, generated a token, and uploaded said token to the Ethereum Blockchain. To keep the transaction costs, which increase rapidly by the number of kilobytes, as low as possible, he, with the support of his tech-savvy co-workers Tullia Veronesi and Thomas Kulnigg, generated a hash value of only 256 bits from the original 900 kb GIF file.
Kucsko stored this link, which clearly points to his artwork and metadata in the peer-to-peer network IPFS (Interplanetary File System). The following step was the creation of a smart contract, which carries out via the online service www.rarible.com. It allows easy “mining” of new tokens using an online form and conveniently links to the IPFS database.
The experienced lawyer wrote a license text into the metadata that grants the NFT buyer the right also to exhibit and print his artwork purchased as an NFT.
When Kucsko’s NFT was finally listed for sale on Rarible’s own NFT exchange and simultaneously on the world’s largest NFT exchange https://opensea.io, three bids trickled in after a few days. One of them came from Alfred Weidinger’s Francisco Carolinum, eventually winning the bid. “Anyone who buys an NFT should definitely take a close look at the metadata recorded in the smart contract because that is where you will find the usage rights that determine value,” Kucsko recommends. After all, one wants to be able to share the NFT with friends, exhibit it in galleries or even use it as a background image on a personal website.
Using the NFT snippet of Klimt’s “The Kiss” as an example, a look at the Terms of Service shows that the buyer receives an exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, and non-transferable license to use the acquired The Kiss NFT. Bottom line: he may make it available in his wallet, display it in metaverse galleries, download and print it. For conceptual artist Guido Kucsko, Klimt NFTs belong to the category of “short-lived hypes” that are fueled by elaborate social media activities. He finds the challenge of presenting concept art in the Metaverse much more thrilling.
His most recent experiment: he had a statement engraved in gold letters on a 64-kilogram granite stone, which he then sold to the Francisco Carolinum as an NFT. He wrote the ownership statement in the metadata that states the museum as the owner. Kucsko’s conclusion: “The inscription tells of the alchemical process of transforming an idea into art, turning sod art into a digital record that is then linked to an NFT and it becoming a unique, monetary, tradable intangible object.”
Gen Z – the future
23-year-old Charlotte was born in Germany, grew up in Zimbabwe, and has been a student at Modul University Vienna for two years, majoring in International Management. The cosmopolitan belongs to Generation Z, practically born with a smartphone in hand. Two months ago, she acquired her first NFT, a picture of a rabbit in uniform – number 91 of the Royal Rabbits Club, a collection of tokens limited to 777 pieces.
“Back then, the NFT cost 0.2 ETH, around $530 “, she says, adding that that’s quite a hefty sum for a student. ”Those who do not dare can not win”, I told myself and took the risk of a total loss.” In the weeks that followed, the token’s price went on a rollercoaster ride. “If I sold the NFT today, I would have won a total of 8 euros after all,” Charlotte laughs. She is looking at the whole thing as a digital adventure, albeit one with exciting future prospects.
“Art has interested me all my life – not so much the classic works exhibited in museums, but rather the paintings and creations by artists that you can find on Instagram, among other places “, says Charlotte. During her intensive involvement with NFTs, she learned a lot about the young, lively scene and technical background of the innovative market. So much, in fact, that she has already dropped her first NFT on https://cnft.io.
Charlotte’s confidence as an artist is built on the, by any means, positive feedback, which she has primarily received for her analog paintings – pointillistic scenes executed by black fine liner on coloured silk paper. “NFTs are the future, I sense it, and I want to play a part in it”, Charlotte admits and is thereby in accord with concept artist Guido Kucsko, who believes: “NFTs are no longer leaving; they have come to stay. “
Source main image: Mininyx Doodle / Shutterstock and Dave Z / Shutterstock