NFT marketing booming worldwide

Mihai-Alexandru Cristea 29/03/2022 | 13:54

What do Elon Musk, Kings of Leon, Lil Baby, Aphex Twin, MF Doom, Gucci, Delia or Stefan Popa Popa’s have in common? When art and digital meet technology and blockchain we get NFTs (non-fungible tokens), the latest buzz in the artistic world. Most NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain. Any piece of digital content can be minted into an NFT, from songs, photographs, and works of digital art to tweets, memes, published articles, and podcasts. 

By Romanita Oprea

 

When someone “mints” an NFT, they create a file that lives on the blockchain, which means it cannot be copy and pasted, edited, deleted or otherwise manipulated. Each NFT can be bought and sold, just like physical assets, but the blockchain allows for the ownership and validity of each asset to be tracked. It has also led to an additional source of income for many creators.

Interest in NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, surged this year, reaching USD 2.5 billion in sales by July 2021, compared to “just” USD 13.7 million in the first half of 2020.

According to Mark Stenberg of AdWeek, February has been explosive for NFTs. In the span of two days, online personality Logan Paul made more than USD 5 million selling NFTs, according to online video blog TubeFilter, and rapper Post Malone also hopped on the NFT bandwagon, adding a signature twist to the trend by offering fans who make a purchase the opportunity to play beer pong against him. In the music world more broadly, musicians have sold more than USD 4 million in NFTs, according to industry analyst Cherie Hu. And even Christie’s became the first major auction house to offer fully digital work.

More than 509,000 NFT artworks were sold in March 2021 alone, totalling more than USD 85 million in sales. It’s kind of a big deal.

Mike Winkelmann, who goes by artist name Beeple, tops the best-selling NFT artist list after a historic auction with Christie’s auction house. Selling for USD 69,346,250.00, the piece titled “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days,” was largely responsible for the mainstream media’s coverage of NFT sales. This also marked the first time an established auction house sold crypto art and accepted cryptocurrency as payment.

With 1,346 pieces sold, Beeple’s pieces average USD 108,003.66 each. He also posts daily digital creations on his Instagram, where his “Everydays” series continues. His pieces are highly realistic yet absurd, depicting everything from digital shapes and scenery to grotesque political illustrations.

And, in late October, the artist was showcasing his first piece of physical artwork — a blockchain-driven video sculpture accompanied by its own NFT. Titled HUMAN ONE, the piece is a sculpture more than 7 feet high comprised of four connected video screens that form what Christie’s says resembles “a magician’s transparent cell.” Computers built into its base power the sculpture and display images of an astronaut-like being — Human One — walking endlessly around the screens as the dystopian landscape changes around the figure, depending on whether it is day or night for the viewer.

The images, according to Christie’s, are randomly pulled from a collection of Beeple’s art stored on the Ethereum blockchain. His intention is to keep seamlessly adding new imagery — inspired by current events — to this collection, resulting in a video NFT sculpture that will be contemporary no matter the time.

In a statement for NFT Now, Beeple explained the evolving nature of his latest piece. “The design of HUMAN ONE allows the video in both the physical object and its NFT to be remotely and seamlessly modified from the blockchain — enabling the message and meaning of this piece to continue to evolve over the course of my life,” he shared. “While a traditional work of art is more akin to a finite statement, frozen in time at the moment it was completed, this artwork’s unique ability to be updated makes it more akin to an ongoing conversation.”

Meanwhile, in Romania

Locally, plastic artist Felix Aftene started a project entitled “Mustata lui Dali si alte culori” (Dali’s mustache and other colours), which combined painting and literature, two years ago, in his Iasi workshop. Last year, together with writer Lucian Dan Teodorovici, he also launched the art novel with the same name. Now, his art has reached the NFT digital world, as works are being sold on the OpenSea blockchain platform.

In March, the first new media art gallery in Romania, One Night Gallery, launched its first unique works of art on blockchain, created in virtual reality by artists Raluca Bararu and Victor Fota. The works were auctioned on the withfoundation and OpenSea platforms and could be bought with the Ethereum cryptocurrency. The two collaborative projects were 360° immersive scenes, mulled fully in VR over 10 sessions each, then post-processed and animated by Mihai Cojocaru from One Night Gallery.

In June, WWF’s innovation division WWF Panda Labs and Carbonbase launched a pilot project that combined digital art and blockchain technology in order to provide direct financing to nature preservation projects in Romania. The NFTs can be bought on the Project Ark platform. The first piece in the collection was created by Topher Sipes and Allauras and titled “Woolly Ridges.” It uses topological data from the Carpathians in order to 3D sculpt the bust of a wisent. The embedded satellite images have the role of highlighting the relationship between wildlife, ecosystems, and geography. The NFT is available for 68 buyers, exactly the number of the free wisents in Magura Zimbrilor.

But the most anticipated were the limited edition “NFT eggs” which are available in four options: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Half of the sales went to projects by WWF Panda Labs Romania, and the rest went to the artists and Carbonbase. As the funds are spent, NFT users will receive reports about the land conservation project’s evolution and results. What’s more, in the case of the digital eggs, once the goal is reached, the egg hatches and makes chicken, so that the person who bought it may receive another surprise NFT, through Chainlink. The pilot project aims to be a first step towards forming a direct connection between preservation teams in the field and financers and artists worldwide, through different digital and play elements. In the meantime, the goal is to create dynamic NFTs whose value will grow or drop depending on the success of the preservation project.

Furthermore, WWF Panda Labs and Carbonbase want to set higher sustainability standards throughout the entire digital art market that uses the blockchain system. All the NFTs in the project are released through the Polygon network, a Proof-of-Stake-type blockchain which is able to eliminate 99.8 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with NFTs.

In July, A10 by Artmark hosted the first auction to include digital art created by Romanian contemporary artists in the NFT format, also accepting cryptocurrency payments. The moment marked a historic first, and not just for Romania, as A10 by Artmark became the first Eastern European Auction House to include a section dedicated to NFT digital art. The auction also presented the first NFT-based church art works, created by painter Daniel Codrescu, the National Cathedral’s iconographer.

Leilei Gallery presented a multi-layered exhibition in July and August, split into 4 chapters where time, as a force that enhances and weakens, is the arch concept that interrogates the artworks’ materiality and digitalization. “This will age really well!” set out to explore the different performative becomings of materials and embodied practices by mirroring them in the digital ecosystem, where their ethereal bodies remain fixed while they go through other sorts of convergences. This dualist approach between an ever-degrading materiality and an immutable digital counterpart was examined through physical works in the exhibition space and NFT works. The latter were both offered as giveaways on-site (limited pieces) and made available for purchase (through various e-wallet solutions).

Leilei Gallery’s full team involved in NFT excape

Leilei Gallery’s mission is to support young contemporary artists during the pandemic period, which has obviously impacted the art market significantly and has severely limited artists’ ability to make a living through their work.

“We looked at the NFT framework as a positive, alternative way for artists to boost their incomes. So, the “This aged really well!” exhibition worked as a starter, a booster if you like, for artists to look into this trend and learn how they can use it for their benefit, in an ethical manner. Moreover, it served as a flagship project targeting the general public, sparking local conversations around NFTs and the associated opportunities (such as collecting these virtual assets to potentially sell them in the future) and threats (their ecological footprint),” said Raluca Turcanasu, communicator & member of the curatorial team.

Raluca Turcanasu at LeiLei Gallery

For her part, Ioana Marsic, the executive director of Leilei Gallery, noted that it wasn’t an easy project to work on and it did feel quite intimidating in the beginning. But, even though it was difficult at the outset, it brought many pleasant surprises and a lot of satisfaction. “It was fascinating to watch it grow chapter by chapter and I am super pleased to see its visual outcome, which I couldn’t imagine in the very beginning. I am thrilled to have collaborated with each and every artist, they all had amazing ideas, which were different but somehow unitary within the curatorial concept. I am grateful to have been part of it!” she added.

Best features

What are the main characteristics of NTFs? According to Raluca Turcanasu, they work as double-edged swords, in the sense that certain features may be advantageous for a certain group, but not so much for another. She would say they are quite democratic, as anyone could virtually jump on the NFT wagon, but looking at it more closely, one understands that this “anyone” in fact translates to “anyone within our expanded bubble:” people who own smartphones, people who are digitally savvy enough to install a crypto wallet and mint or buy NFTs, and people with enough disposable income to afford investing.

“I think their main quality is the fact that they offer novel financial possibilities for young artists, who can thus elude the art collectors & institutional buyers format and still earn from their work. Their non-fungibility, namely the fact that they cannot be split into smaller units, translates into only one owner per artwork, which I reckon is also a positive aspect, avoiding potential complications. Their most important advantage is probably the fact that they help monetise digital assets that have an inherent high social value (in the digital realm) but could not have been assigned a financial value prior to the development of NFTs. I am of course talking about famous memes, such as Bad Luck Brian or Nyan cat, which have been traded at ridiculous amounts,” Leilei Gallery’s communicator remarked.

In her turn, Anca Poterasu, the owner of the gallery with the same name, said that traditionally, ownership of an artwork has been linked to its medium. You own the painting, you own the artwork. In digital art, it is hard to overcome the need to physically “own” the piece. “NFTs are a big step forward in solving this problem, as it unequivocally decouples ownership from medium, and I hope this will pave the way to an exciting new wave of digital artists. I also believe that the smart contract feature of NFTs is especially advantageous for artists who can receive a traceable share of every transaction carried out with their work, so there are many aspects feeding back into the practice of a global, decentralised art market,” she stated.

In Poterasu’s opinion, just as the internet came close to being taken over by dotcom neoliberalism, and just as social media underwent its Social Dilemma, the crypto-related danger for art is being limited to recirculating influencer brands, to the mere regurgitation of name value-spreading, while making art is forgotten. Outlining an aesthetic depends on how artists respond to relaunching a Tactical Media manifest, occupying the medium with their own messages. And who is more suited for the blockchain occupy movement than street-artists, who are themselves shaped by the guerrilla-fight against the normalisation the public space? It is within this context that Anca Poterasu Gallery launched a unique NFT collection gathering the most important Romanian graffiti artists and muralists: ACVM/Tudor Chiliman, Ada Musat, Aeul, Alex Baciu, ATOMA, ERPS, HOMEBOY LDJ, Irlo, Kero Zen, Lucian Sandu Milea, Obie Platon, Ortaku, Pisica Patrata, Pandele, robert OBERT, SeReBe.

The purpose of the collection was to infuse NFT platforms with a critical discourse regarding various technological, political or biological control strategies. To this end, they were debating how technology impacts various degrees of individual freedom, which is already conditioned by a mediatic society that facilitates the dissolution of the self and authenticity. The NFT collection was launched on Blockchain.art (BCA). Designed by art world professionals for art world professionals, BCA is a database+marketplace for digital art forms that applies a dedicated blockchain infrastructure to the art market. BCA has launched a beta version of the application built in the Polkadot Network ecosystem. In particular, the BCA closed beta is built on RMRK.app, which is an NFT platform on the Kusama Network. The Polkadot and Kusama Networks use a proof-of-stake protocol, which minimises energy consumption. For that reason, it is more sustainable and scalable than other blockchains. The street-artists’ special guest was the kinema ikon group, the initiators of digital media art in Romania, with an installation that recontextualised the NFT collection. “Occupy the blockchain” featured a special live sound performance by dyslex, invited through the AFCN project eART35.

“It was an amazing opportunity to work with the best Romanian street-artists in dialogue with kinema ikon – the internationally-acclaimed experimental multimedia group. Their work speaks volumes on the rapid changes and the need to have a more decentralised view on the art system. I am hopeful that we’ll see fewer boundaries and a welcome destabilisation of the status-quo, and I am happy to be part of the change.

Digital art is a radical form of democracy, as it knows no borders or class hierarchies. The NFT is based on an amazing technology, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digitalization. End-consumers are now ready to own digital properties in virtual worlds, leading the real and the ineffable to overlap,” said Anca Poterasu.

“We see an exquisite value in the time capsule moments the artist captured through his fine art. The NFT validates the uniqueness of the moment. We feel privileged to work with Popa’s and digitalize his most valuable collections, starting with Leaders Of The World – a collection of 100 world leaders the artist has met in different historical circumstances, whom he painted in his unique style, and to whom he eventually offered their own portraits back as gifts. We are helping others NFTise their products or services as well. It’s the natural evolution of this sector, going along with the trend. If you are thinking two or three steps ahead, there is always an indefinite time that you need to wait for things to develop and deploy. For example, we had been waiting for the NFT hype and mainstream adoption since 2017-2018,” said Lucian Stefan Rosu, the representative of Ptarth Timisoara.

The PTARTH Network focuses on digitalization and blockchain transformation. Its goals are to offer quality and expertise as B2B services to other companies or startups that are looking to integrate blockchain technology into their operations or services. Between October 15th and November 10th they hosted an exhibition of the “Leaders of the world seen by POPA’S” collection at the Banat National Museum in Timisoara. The project aims to be a time capsule that marks historic moments, as well as to create a direct connection between the world leaders and the art collectors who buy the NFTs. Through PTARTH, Stefan Popa POPA’S also created a 3D gallery of the world’s biggest visual art event – the 2021 International Salon of Press Cartoons and Satirical Visual Arts.

“NFTs can help you raise interest in your brand and product, encourage interaction, and even increase your conversion rate and profit. Think of it this way: anyone can have a copy of a painting, but only one person can have the original. For the first time in the history of the internet (the last 30 years), any artist, brand, company or individual can upload any pack of data on the internet and make sure it’s validated as being their own, and that it cannot be edited nor deleted. It’s a ‘notary’ digital contract whose unique ID is written into the blockchain,” added Lucian Stefan Rosu.

Perfect for any category

The versatility of NFTs is also evident in the music industry. For example, Delia released an NFT song titled “Racheta” which was auctioned on the OpenSea platform, in two versions: a limited edition of 100 units and a single Ultra Luxury version. Moreover, her offer also included physical objects: crayon drawings by Delia, an audio cassette and a Walkman, photographs, and other collectibles for her fans.

So, can NFTs can be used in any creative process or for any given category? According to Raluca Turcanasu, the answer is yes, as they are digital collectibles and we have already seen some brand projects in this direction. “I would say any lovebrand with a strong digital strategy could find creative ways to integrate NFT releases in their strategy. But NFTs are just a medium, an execution; they shouldn’t be regarded as strategic (I hope the ‘make it viral’ line from briefs won’t mutate into ‘make it into an NFT series’), except maybe for a few categories. I think they can be really well exploited in the entertainment industry: from musical artists to (e-)sports – namely in categories in which the target loves collecting and supporting the work of their favourite musician or team. In times when events are partially restricted or totally moved online, NFTs could help support artists and I think the public would be open to that,” Turcanasu noted.

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Mihai-Alexandru Cristea | 02/08/2022 | 10:15

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