What is more valuable – a painting or an NFT?
Last summer, Damien Hirst paired thousands of unique dot paintings with corresponding NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which he put up for sale for as little as $2,000 each. The catch? The owner would have to decide by the summer of 2022 whether to keep the NFT or trade it in for the physical canvas copy. The unselected version would be destroyed.
Now, with 10,000 units sold, the results are in. A majority of buyers, 5,149, chose to keep their physical art, while 4,851 chose NFTs. Hirst’s project, called “The Currency,” is in its final stages: the real pieces that buyers have rejected in favor of corresponding NFTs will be burned piece by piece this fall, reports the Guardianis Harriet Sherwood.
The experiment “explores the boundaries of art and currency — when art transforms and becomes currency, and when currency becomes art,” writes HENI, the art-tech company that conducted last summer’s sales, on its site.
A prolific multimedia artist who became famous for his large-scale pieces made from pickled dead animals, Hirst says he’s fascinated by the world of NFTs. NFTs are digital files (music, memes, drawings and more) that are “certified” using blockchain technology. The biggest hype around NFTs right now involves digital art, such as edge‘s Mitchell Clark wrote in June.
Hirst kept 1,000 of the NFTs and faced the same choice as his buyers: Would he trade them in and save his physical artwork from destruction?
“In the end I decided that I have to keep all my 1000 currencies as NFTs, otherwise it wouldn’t remain a real adventure for me,” he continues Twitter. “I’ve decided that I need to show my 100 percent support and faith in the NFT world (even if that means destroying the corresponding 1000 physical artworks). Eeeeek!”
Hirst began painting spots in the late 1980s and in 2012 displayed a collection of spot paintings at an exhibition held simultaneously in galleries around the world. Themes in his work – which can also take the form of installations, sculptures and drawings – include death, religion, fear, beauty, science and the human condition. In addition to his penchant for shock and spectacle, Hirst has described a fascination with patterns.
“People are afraid of change, so you give them a kind of belief through repetition. It’s like breathing. I’ve always been attracted to shows and couples. A unique thing is a pretty scary object,” Hirst once said at the Gagosian Gallery.
Hirst created this series of signed spot paintings in 2016. Each has its own title and slight color variations. Everyone also carries their own microdot, reports Caroline Goldstein Artnet. Microdots, widely used during World War II, are tiny text or images that have shrunk to about the size of a period that can be read when magnified.
The Currency also uses machine learning to categorize and rank its thousands of similar paintings. An algorithm scans each piece and converts colors, drips, textures, color density, among other things, into data to define what makes each canvas unique. After all, the inherent value of an NFT lies in its uniqueness.
NFTs have been the subject of great fascination and speculation in the technology and art worlds, leading to, or perhaps culminating in, a $69 million sale of an NFT at Christie’s. The NFT market has since gone into serious slump, but as the edge wrote, many people are willing to wait and see.
As for Hirst, he says he’s impressed with the online community surrounding NFTs and excited to see where it all goes.
“I still don’t know what I’m doing and I have no idea what the future holds, whether the NFTs or the physical devices will be more valuable or less valuable,” Hirst continues Twitter. “But this is art! [T]The fun, part of the journey and maybe the point of the whole project. Even after a year, I have the feeling that the journey is just beginning.”
Paintings from The Currency will be on display at the Newport Street Gallery on September 9th, after which one will be lit each day.