Digital art and NFTs are making inroads at Art Basel, the great contemporary art fair, with art market stars such as the American Jeff Koons launching themselves into this booming segment .
The pace gallery unveiled the first piece of a series of sculptures that the artist known for his balloon dog and his tulips intends to send to the moon with SpaceX, the space exploration company of Elon Musk.
Jeff Koons, one of the most expensive living artists in the world, plans to install 125 miniature versions of these sculptures called Moon Phases with a photograph of their location, sold as an NFT (non-fungible tokenor non-fungible token).
Buyers will also receive a life-size sculpture, set with a gemstone to mark its location on the moon.
“We are also discovering it for the first time”enthused Marc Glimcher, the director of the gallery, presenting this statue in the shape of a moon of 39.4 centimeters, freshly arrived on his stand in Basel.
Pace is one of the few major galleries to have ventured into NFT territory. According to Clare McAndrew, author of an art market report for Art Basel, only 6% of galleries sold NFTs in 2021.
A peak, a fall
Highly speculative, their prices have skyrocketed since the sale last year at Christie’s auction house of an NFT by the American artist Beeple for 69.3 million dollars (66.3 million euros at current rates).
But, since their peak in August 2021, NFTs have plunged. While art-related NFT sales volumes soared to $945 million in August, they fell back to 366 million in January and then to 101 million in May, according to statements by Clare McAndrew.
“A bubble” ?
These ups and downs do not, however, make the boss of the Pace gallery back down, convinced that NFTs are the sign of a nascent market for digital art. He compares their excesses to the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s.
“Of course it was a bubble. But we still have the Internet today”argued Marc Glimcher during an interview with AFP, who sees a “new methodology to distribute digital art”.
40 million spider and augmented reality
For this edition, the organizers of the fair have joined forces with the platform of blockchain (blockchain) Tezos, which features digital works by artists with new versions generated by machine learning in the form of NFTs. The public could come and download one for free on its stand, even if some people were already putting them back on sale, barely leaving the fair.
At his side, the platform ViveArts proposes for its part a dive into digital art using augmented reality glasses, presenting in particular an avatar of the German artist Albert Oehlen in a 3D universe.
In the aisles of the fair, the French gallery Edouard Montassut was selling a digital creation by the Turkish artist Ozgür Kar representing a man surrounded by three skeletons, reminiscent of the bas-reliefs of churches, but on a liquid crystal screen.
“I think NFTs are going to have a place in the market in the future”told AFP Marc Spiegler, the director of Art Basel, even if their prices have “recently collapsed” at a time when artists are experimenting with digital tools.
In the immediate term, the hard works that wealthy collectors can install in their living rooms have returned to big numbers: a spider by the Franco-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois snatched 40 million dollars, a work by conceptual artist Félix Gonzalez-Torres went for 12.5 million, an oil on canvas by German Georg Baselitz sold for 5.5 million.
“The atmosphere – obviously despite the complicated global context with the war in Ukraine and the general situation of the economy – is excellent”welcomed the boss of the fair.
The fair, held from June 16-19, brought together a host of very real works, ranging from a gigantic bronze statue of the British Thomas J. Price to an installation by the Franco-Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping representing a kitchen strewn with huge cockroaches or a series of portraits carved in the wood of the Franco-Cameroonian Barthelemy Toguo.