Hurtwood
 

The Future of NFTs in the Art World

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are collectable digital assets that are registered on Blockchain and used as a value-holder for digital art investments. Last March, NFTs entered the mainstream art world with a landmark sale at Christie’s. The NFT, by digital artist Mike Winkelmann (known as Beeple), sold for a record breaking 69 million dollars. We speak to Francesca Andrews, Head of Digital at contemporary gallery Unit London to find out more. Unit London is a relative newcomer to the Mayfair private gallery scene. In contrast with some of its more traditional neighbours, the gallery embodies an unconventional spirit, born from a desire to disassociate fine art from elitism.

With a digital focus on NFTs and a commitment to championing the careers of young cutting-edge artists, Unit London presents a bold vision of an inclusive contemporary art world. They aim to appeal to digital savvy millennials as well as more traditional collectors.

Finger pointing at tablet screen with Beeple pattern 'EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS'. Collage art signed with NFT token. Image: mundissima / Alamy stock Photo

Do you think NFTs will change the fine art and private gallery world?

Yes, though it will take time. NFTs currently still need the support of physical displays or counterparts. NFT artists and collectors value the expertise and curatorial knowledge of traditional, art world experts.

Eventually I think we’ll settle on a hybrid world between the physical and digital, where artists and galleries will create, display and sell works that exist in both the physical and digital worlds, as well as those that simply exist in one or the other.

Installation shot of 'Sommergäste: Collective' 2021, a unique digital work with changing images and accompanying NFT. Image: Imageplotter / Alamy Stock Photo

Do you think NFTs will democratise art?

Not necessarily, NFTs can be just as expensive if not more expensive than physical works. But I do think that they’re not going anywhere and that, similar to physical art, different levels in terms of their collector value will be established. I see a future where we all have online real-estate to decorate, and people will being to collect NFTs for their own space in the metaverse (the metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection, in sci-fi it is often described as a hypothetical universal virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual and augmented reality headsets). Unit London recently experimented exhibiting NFTs in the metaverse as part of NFTism: No Fear in Trying in their Covent Garden space, where the NFTs were displayed on screens in the exhibition but also virtually in the ‘Arium’ metaverse.

We are hearing about how NFTs are being used for contemporary art and in the creation of digital artworks, although how is it being used in the context of classical art?

At Unit we’re currently collaborating with leading Italian museums on a project that digitises Italian masterpieces, allowing their digital counterparts to travel and be seen outside of Italy for the first time. What we have learned in the past two years is that public access to museums is not a given. NFTs allow museums to expand their reach, without compromising the experience of the original. The upcoming show is a selling one, in which 50% of the proceeds will go back to the museums to be put into the restoration and conservation of the original works. It’s a really interesting, future-proof model.

 

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the impact of NFTs on the environment. What are your thoughts on this?

Yes – it’s true that there’s a negative environmental impact which has caused quite a stir in the space (and outside of it). That said, people move very quickly in the crypto industry. There’s a lot of competition in the space in general – but especially in searching for more efficient technology either in tools that handle more aspects outside of the blockchain, or leaving Ethereum for other blockchains that don’t use mining. Ethereum’s developers have also planned a shift to a less carbon-intensive form of security, called proof-of-stake, but this is still an ongoing project. It’s very early days for NFTs and if you think about how slow environmental issues have been dealt with in the traditional art industry so far, it becomes a bit easier to put this into perspective.

Unit London is a longstanding friend of Hurtwood’s and last year we were delighted to work on ‘This is The Picture: Joshua Hagler’ pictured above.