Blockchain Applications: How Blockchain Technology is Transforming the Art Space

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Blockchain Applications: How Blockchain Technology is Transforming the Art Space
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Forward thinkers in a variety of industries, from finance to healthcare, are embracing blockchain technology, expected to improve efficiency and transparency of their operations thanks to the distributed ledger. Insiders believe that a strong case can be also made for blockchain’s  applications in creative industries as well. Blockchain art space is experimenting with the new technology and revolutionizing the way art is bought, sold, and created.

Buying Art

One of the best investments in 2018 outperforming stocks was art, writes WSJ: investors who put money into art at the beginning of the year on average gained 10.6% by the end of November. Luckily, blockchain technology is making investing in art easier. A good example is Maecenas, a blockchain-based art investment platform based in Singapore, which is tokenizing art. The platform allows investors to use cryptocurrencies to buy a share of an artwork. The mechanism works similar to the stock market, with values of shares rising and falling similar to stocks, letting the original owners to maintain some ownership as the value grows. The technology encourages art democratization, as it can open up investment opportunities to younger and smaller investors. Now anyone can own a piece of Van Gogh – what can be more exciting? The drawback to this may be however: that the physical artwork – owned by many – may be inaccessible and locked away from view, just like in private collections before.

Selling Art

Major auction houses and art collectors have been trying to stay ahead of the industry’s innovation game, hoping to benefit from secure digital registry. In the Fall of 2018 Christie’s – one of the world’s top auction houses – registered a large privately-owned collection of American Modernist art using a blockchain database. A total of $317 million worth of art sales, including pieces by Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Charles Demuth, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock  were recorded via a secure digital registry administered by Artory, which offers a blockchain-secured registry of verified information about art pieces.

Blockchain technology used by Artory Registry keeps art ownership and trade safer and more transparent. When an artist creates a new artwork, or a collector or a museum sell or buy a piece, they certify it with a token on a blockchain. When the artwork is purchased from the artist or a collector, the token is transferred to the buyer. The token transactions are stored publicly on a distributed ledger, so the entire history of ownership is easy to track. If the token does not originate with the artist’s crypto wallet, or with a well-known gallery or investor, its provenance – a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality – could be questioned.

Creating Art

The Desperate Man 2019 after Gustave Corbet. Image credit: Pascal Boyart

While some artists remain apprehensive, others like visual artist Jacqueline O’Neill take an active role in guiding the application of blockchain and other emerging technologies aiming to improve the art world. O’Neill is Executive Director of New York-based Blockchain Art Collective, which developed a blockchain-based system for cataloguing and securing fine art. With the blockchain art space expanding, many artists in the ecosystem are doing fascinating and groundbreaking work. Blockchain’s impact on the market was reflected in the most recent Art Basel Miami Beach art show, which showcased crypto-themed artworks from several artists and brought together leading proponents of the new world of blockchain and art.

Kevin Abosch and Ai Weiwei in Berlin 2018. Photo Credit: PRICELESS project

There is compelling art being made based on blockchain technology. For instance, in a prominent example, two friends – a well-known Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei and an Irish conceptual artist Kevin Abosch- collaborated in a project called PRICELESS, with the goal to start a conversation about the perception of value of human life in our society. Influenced by immigration stories in their own families and the Rohingya people refugee crisis in Myanmar, the dynamic duo tokenized priceless shared moments together (Abosch says,  “…These fleeting moments like :”Sharing Tea” and “Walking In A Carefree Manner Down Schönhauser Allee” or “Talking About The Art Market” are the building blocks of human experience. All moments in life are priceless.”) They created two new tokens using etherium blockchain and made one of the tokens completely unavailable at any price, and the other one divisible into many pieces and available to individual collectors and institutions. The fascinating project is asking an important question, “if one token is priceless and unattainable, what is the value of the other token which is available?”

Primavera de Filippi – a legal scholar, activist, artist, and faculty at Harvard University – has created an autonomous blockchain-based art/life form – plantoids. These physical sculptures are “robots designed to look, act and grow like a plant.” What is fascinating is that plantoids grow when people donate bitcoin to pay for the supplies and labor of building them. This interesting project explores the legal underpinnings for self-owning and – reproducing virtual and physical “life” forms, enabled by blockchain and cryptocurrency. 

Nanu Berks’ work titled “Crypto Layers” (2018). Photo credit: Blockchain Art Collective

Other art in the space is more traditional but its subject, what it speaks to, and how it is experienced, is linked to blockchain or cryptocurrency. A good example is Nanu Berks’ blockchain and cryptocurrency-themed work. A self-described crypto artist and blockchain entrepreneur with a background in technology and media, Berks explores the intersections between consciousness expansion and transcendental technologies. For her art installations, paintings, and clothing she uses imagery that is often associated with blockchain and cryptocurrency.  

Marguerite Christine, also known as @coin_artist, creates bitcoin puzzles contained within her original paintings. Her last puzzle, which hid 4.87 bitcoins, remained unsolved for almost three years, with a frenzy of enthusiasts trying to solve a series of minor puzzles to get to a painting that contained the private key to the Bitcoin wallet that held the ultimate prize.

Text by Maria Birger