New for 2021: NFTs – Expensive bet on a digital utopia

The artistic year 2021 has seen a small revolution. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) were purchased for sometimes large sums. NFT means in German: non-replaceable, digitally protected object. This refers to property rights that are stored in so-called blockchains. Something similar is already known from cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

Among other things, an auction at Christie’s in February caused a sensation. A Beeple collage sold for $69.3 million. This makes it the third most expensive work – mind you, an image file – by a living artist.

Without banks or intermediaries

Kolja Reichert is an art historian and author. He also works as a curator for the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, among others. For Reichert, the NTFs are the expression of “an anarchist era in which there are many bets”.

It’s about what the future will look like, that is, whether the Web 3.0 utopia will prevail. In this Web 3.0, people network without big technology companies like Google, Meta or Amazon and conclude contracts themselves without depending on banks, notaries or intermediaries.

Will the social model of Web 3.0 with NFTs and the necessary blockchains prevail? According to Reichert, the current reality is rather a plutocracy, that is to say a reign of money.

The evolution of the art market

Especially in the corona pandemic, artists would have benefited from NFTs, like musicians who could not perform. In the medium term, tokens could not only become a substitute economy, but also a sustainable model for the art market, as Reichert points out.

With some forms of NFT, it is conceivable “that royalties flow in the event of resale and that everyone who has already invested in this work also gains a share”, Reichert explains. Among others, small galleries that have invested money in young artists could benefit.

According to Reichert, this year Hito Steyerl showed how “fictional and arbitrary” this new type of ownership is. The artist and filmmaker has reserved the NFT at the address of the Bundeskunsthalle in order, according to his statement, to occupy the Bundeskunsthalle for the public. Next March, Steyerl wants the public to vote on how the Bundeskunsthalle will be run in the future.

agency versus control

“In the end, that doesn’t mean much,” says art historian Reichert. “But if that doesn’t mean much, one wonders what NFTs actually mean. You could say it was socially agreed that this property had value. But it’s actually bottomless in the end. .”

According to Reichert, he observed that “now is the time when all companies and institutions really take care of this and try to set up business models in this area as quickly as possible”. In this way, they tried to “secure their share in this new economy”.

In the best-case scenario, this will lead to Web 3.0 becoming something “meaningful” where users “regain their agency”. In the worst case, there is an “even greater concentration of control” by a few platforms.

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