Art Basel: digital art and NFTs settle comfortably at the major contemporary art fair

At Art Basel, the Pace gallery has just unveiled the first piece of a series of sculptures that the artist known for his balloon dog and tulips plans to send to the moon with SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space exploration company. .

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 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”enthuses Marc Glimcher, the gallery’s director, presenting this 39.4 cm moon-shaped statue, 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. Highly speculative, their prices have soared since last year’s sale at the house Christie’s auction 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.

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 likens 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 it as a “new methodology to distribute digital art“.

For this edition, the organizers of the fair have teamed up with the blockchain platform Tezos, which presents digital works by artists, new versions of which are generated by machine learning in the form of NFTs. Visitors can come and download one for free from its stand, even if some were already putting them back on sale as soon as they left the fair.

At its side, the ViveArts platform offers 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 put on sale a digital creation by the Turkish artist Özgür 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 future, the hard works that wealthy collectors can install in their living rooms have returned to the big numbers: a spider by the Franco-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois snatched up 40 million dollars, a work by the 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, which takes place from June 16 to 19, brings together a host of very real works, ranging from a gigantic bronze statue by British Thomas J. Price to an installation by Franco-Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping representing a kitchen dotted with huge cockroaches or a series of portraits carved in wood by Franco-Cameroonian Barthélémy Toguo.

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Art Basel: digital art and NFTs settle comfortably at the major contemporary art fair

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