Crypto Heavyweights Made Appearances at Art Basel, But NFTs Were Scarce as Bitcoin Continues Its Fall

As another crypto winter unfolded just in time for Art Basel, there was plenty of non-fungible gossip (and some sales!) to report from the most important art fair in the world, which opened this week.

In addition to the usual host of art glitz, several big ballers from the NFT and crypto art scenes made appearances at the fair this year. Ryan Zurrer, founder of Dialectic.ch and collector of works by Beeple and Refik Anadol, was spotted walking around the main fair. And Beeple himself could be seen walking around the fair with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, director of the Castello di Rivoli, where his very first sculpture, Human One, is currently showing. Meanwhile, Niclas Castello, the ancestor of the infamous golden cube that became the Castello Coin cryptocurrency, spent an evening huddled at a corner table at Les Trois Rois.

Unlike Art Basel Miami Beach in December, which felt more like an NFT party than a traditional art fair, the Swiss edition was significantly less bullish on NFTs.

This feeling is increasingly widespread in the world. After hitting a high of $69,000 in November 2021, Bitcoin price dropped to $20,080 yesterday, the third day of the fair. Ethereum, the cryptocurrency most associated with NFTs, did not fare much better, falling to $1,030 during Art Basel, a far cry from its previous high of $4,800. The two major cryptocurrencies are down almost 70% since April.

JDespite the boom and bust cycle of the crypto market, it looks like the art market is finally starting to shift towards digital (and “phygital”) art.

At the main fair, Cologne and Berlin-based Nagel Draxler Gallery, which sold the first NFT at Art Basel last year (a work by Olive Allen), toned down its crypto offerings by pairing them with traditional art. The Nagel Draxler booth featured two crypto-related artworks, including three NFTs by Kenny Schachter.

Schachter was spotted in rainbow-colored Adidas sweatpants wandering the fairground wondering aloud what Ethereum’s price crash would mean for the NFTs he had offered. Schachter’s Duchamp wallpaper, which is available as an NFT, probably wasn’t even worth the paper it was printed on anymore. It looked a bit like the German Deutschmark in 1923.

Meanwhile Kevin Abosch, the Irish concept artist and crypto art pioneer, has sold a painting (without NFT) called Crypto is a scam, an acrylic graphite on canvas that fetched €75,000 ($79,000), which went to an anonymous buyer in the crypto space, according to gallery co-founder Saskia Draxler.

Kevin Abosch, Crypto is a scam (2021). Courtesy of Nagel Draxler Gallery.

Draxler added that she feels the fair is becoming more welcoming to collectors of digital art, as well as traditional artwork that references crypto themes. “We’re trying to merge the two worlds,” Draxler said. “Soon everyone will have a portfolio for digital assets, but right now I feel like we’re in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution, and Art Basel is and always will be a boost for many of those changes.”

Jeffrey Deitch, in a huge three-tiered booth, showcased a work by Refik Anadol, the NFT star known for AI-powered data painting and several successful sales at Christie’s recently. It was not an NFT, however, but a AI digital painting of ocean currents, and Deitch only accepted fiat currency.

Upstairs, a single Austin Lee NFT was displayed on a screen alongside a playful resin sculpture. It was priced at €50,000 ($53,000) and remained unsold by the third day of the fair.

Deitch himself was blunt when discussing the impact of NFTs on the art market. “I’m not interested in NFTs, I’m only interested in meaningful art,” he said.

Pace undoubtedly had the biggest knockout in the NFT market during Art Basel, having sold several versions of Jeff Koons Moon phases NFT project, each priced at $2 million and complete with sculptural accompaniment.

Outside the Unlimited section, a flagship stand of the Tezos Foundation featured Herbert W. Franke, the 92-year-old generative art pioneer, whose work has been featured alongside younger artists like Aleksandra Jovanic, Ryan Bell, Eko33 and Sam Tsao. Franke’s work, titled MONDRIAN (1979), was originally developed as a dynamic image and sound program for Texas Instruments.

The work allows the selective construction of individual images using a dynamic sequence in which one can intervene interactively at any time. The program also made it possible, from the end of the 1970s, to design a dynamic image which can constantly change on its own and whose algorithms operate under a random influence. The work presents itself as one of the first forms of natively digital generative art. Although none of the works in the Tezos booth were for sale, it provided a useful showcase to educate visitors about the rich history of new media art.

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Erick Calderon, Squiggles, as part of the Art Blocks 0 collection. Courtesy Gallery Venus Over Manhattan.

Art critic and curator Anika Meier told Artnet News how impressed she was with the presentation of Tezos in Basel. “Herbert W. Franke is a universal genius,” she said. “His pioneering spirit made him one of the first computer artists to be more than six decades ahead of his time.”

Meier also helps the London-based art platform Circa and Tezos are hosting Marina Abramovic’s first NFT, which will be released this summer. (Details on this will be presented on June 18 during an artist talk between Abramovic and Circa artistic director Josef O’Connor at the Tezos booth.)

At the nearby Volta Fair, the Artsted platform presented an NFT bar which featured works by Francesco Vullo, Xiaoling Jin, Domiano Fasso and Maria Giovanna Morelli.

“We decided to build the NFT Bar as a space where people can feel comfortable and just relax and unwind,” said Maryna Rybakova, CEO and Founder of Artsted. She added that the exhibition was not a commercial venture, but rather a place where new collectors could come to learn about NFTs.

“Being part of Generation Z, I am convinced that the future of the world is digital. The next generation of collectors are at the forefront of this new technology,” she said. “Resources are transferred from the ‘old’ market to the ‘new’ market. »

The founders of the NFT Art Day conference in Zurich, Tom Rieder and George Bak, were also seen browsing Art Basel during the first days of the fair. Rieder noted that while the crypto scene in Switzerland is mostly centered in Zug, the ecosystem around NFTs and platforms is starting to grow across Switzerland. Rieder is also co-founder of retail platform elementum.art and told Artnet News that “NFTs are starting to pick up in Basel, although I think New York and Miami are still top of the list when it comes to buying. and sale. digital artifacts.

Bak, who is also hosting a generative NFT sale at Phillips in July, said he’s noticed a move towards “phygitals,” a neologism referring to works that have both an NFT (digital component) and a physical. Sculptures that also include NFTs, for example, are those of Koons Moon landing (2022) and Beeple’s Human One. Bak said that despite the recent move towards phygital works, he decided to purchase a generative art NFT from the doodles series by Erick Calderon, founder of Art Blocks, on the stand of the Venus Over Manhattan gallery exhibited at the Design Miami fair in Basel.

The Venus Over Manhattan stand, which partnered with Infinite Objects for its presentation of Art Blocks doodles, staged a natively digital generative art installation. The booth design included wallpaper taken from Art Block’s source code, as well as 100 small digital screens mounted on four walls. Although the gallery would not provide exact details of the sale, gallery owner Adam Lindemann told Artnet News that they received 20 requests for coins. “Overall it was great, just ask Roger Federer, he loved them!” Lindmann said.

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Austin Lee, Mirror (2022). Courtesy of Jeffrey Deitch.

Joe Saavedra, founder of Infinite Objects, generally agrees, saying he thinks the NFT market is trending toward digital native content that also has a strong presence in the physical space.

“When we partnered with Beeple for their second drop on Nifty Gateway, we were exploring how including a physical twin alongside an NFT sale could help attract new collectors unfamiliar with blockchain,” he said. he declares. He added that while his initial concept was to create a product that “was a vessel for videos”, he was quick to point out that “the things we make are immutable, just like the blockchain itself, this which means we are in the business of creating rarity, provenance and making collectible digital art.

Launched in 2019, Infinite Objects has so far completed hundreds of projects with some of the world’s leading digital artists. Earlier this year, he was responsible for building SuperRare’s pop-up gallery in New York City, and on June 16, he launched an exclusive NFT membership. With Infinite Object’s revenue up 500% in the last year alone, backed by $6 million in seed funding from major players in the NFT space, including the founder of Dapper Labs, Roham Gharegozlou, the sky doesn’t seem to be falling for companies like Infinite Objects.

With pictures of monkeys selling for tens of millions of dollars, Takashi Murakami’s NFT crash, and the recent descent into a crypto winter, what does the future hold for NFTs? And where do they fit in the pantheon of Art Basel? Judging from this year’s show, it looks like digital is catching up with traditional faster than many thought, but we may need some cuts along the way.

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Crypto Heavyweights Made Appearances at Art Basel, But NFTs Were Scarce as Bitcoin Continues Its Fall


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