Christie’s is auctioning its first-ever virtual work of art and accepting Ethereum as payment. Andrés Reisinger sold $450,000 worth of “impossible furniture” using non-fungible tokens. What does this mean for digital artists?
BY RYAN WADDOUPS
February 27, 2021
After rising to prominence on Instagram for his surreal renderings of perfectly utopian dreamscapes, Andres ReisingerThe creativity of is flourishing. When a picture of him Hydrangea chair went viral, in 2018 he received orders to produce an object that was never meant to physically exist. That didn’t deter the Barcelona-based digital artist and Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe winner, who went on to learn industrial design in a year to fulfill the commission. He’s kept busy ever since, thanks in large part to the minimal constraints of 3D software that allow him to be so prolific.
Although Reisinger has always been forward-looking, his latest project thrusts him headlong into the future and at the extreme forefront of Instagram’s recent group of sought-after digital designers. He recently held an online auction of virtual furniture that can be placed in any shared 3D “metaverse” (think Minecraft), virtual reality applications, and development platforms that create games and entertainment. His dreamlike pieces of furniture certainly look at home in the digital realm: The Complicated Drawer is a chrome, gravity-defying storage unit with individual compartments swinging on a wavy frame; the bulbous Deep Space Sofa looks like a giant wad of taffy that ripples like a waterbed.
While the prospect of acquiring virtual furniture may seem frivolous to the uninitiated, Reisinger sold ten pieces in less than ten minutes for a total of $450,000 in the online marketplace. Clever Gateway. (The most expensive item, a piece he promised to co-design with the buyer, fetched $67,777.) Five pieces will be turned into physical items and sent to their respective buyers. Others? strictly digital.
The authenticity of each item is verified using a non-fungible token (NFT), which are digital assets that represent a wide range of tangible and intangible unique items. NFTs are individually identified on a blockchain, which means that each contains distinctive information and is easily verifiable. This makes the creation and circulation of fake collectibles unnecessary, as provenance is assigned to each item, which can be digitally traced back to the issuer. NFTs are also immutable, which means collectors – not creators – own them. “This contrasts with buying things like music from the iTunes Store, where users don’t actually own what they’re buying,” says Reisinger. “They just buy the license to listen to the music.” (Note: NFTs are confusing. This Coin Desk how-to guide can help clarify them.)
For artists, using NFTs to sell works on a digital platform directly to collectors heralds the rise of a transformative business model. This not only eliminates middlemen like galleries that keep half of the original sale price, but allows creators to determine their share of secondary market sales in perpetuity. (For NFTs, the industry standard is 10%.) Royalties can be programmed into each artwork so that the creator receives a percentage of sales each time their work is sold to a new owner.
“Imagine I sell one of my pieces of furniture for $10,000 and a month later the collector decides to successfully put it up for sale for $20,000,” says Reisinger. “The NFT smart contract allows me to receive a percentage of that sale on the secondary market without even knowing the collectors or the gallery. The percentage is decided when creating the smart contract, so you can decide your percentage for the sales on Think of it this way: if NFTs existed at the same time as Vincent Van Gogh, who sold only one painting during his lifetime, his heirs would receive royalties on par with the children of famous musicians rock.
It’s a powerful antidote to “flipping,” a widely despised practice in which collectors buy up artwork and immediately resell it for big profits. In early 2020, ascendant Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo denounced the practice, when collector Stefan Simchowitz resold one of his paintings just eight months after buying it. Destinee Ross-Sutton, the 25-year-old curator who runs the new Ross-Sutton Gallery in New York and whose list includes Boafo, requires buyers to commit contractually not to resell the works for at least five years. “Every artist should demand that the gallery they work with make that investment,” Ross-Sutton said. Artnet News in December, shortly after the opening of his gallery. “Artists do not make art for the sole purpose of selling a product without it being seen and by as many people as possible. Today we have access to technologies that we did not have before, we must take advantage of them.
Few of these protections exist for independent digital artists, which is part of why they embraced crypto. This often overlooked group are now realizing the potential to dismantle deeply entrenched art market systems that often leave creators financially disadvantaged and collectors with deep pockets. The speculative NFT market is therefore booming. According to the NFT Report 2020, published by L’Atelier BNP Paribas and Nonfungible.com, the value of the NFT market exceeded $250 million in 2020, more than triple its valuation from the previous year. “It speaks to the battered dignity of a long-suffering and perpetually struggling class of artists to earn a living, but who are devalued by the machines of the superior art market and marketing platforms,” said curator Ruth Catlow, who edited the book. Artists Re:Thinking Blockchaintell it New York Times. “There’s an argument to be made for that as a ‘punk’.”
Even the art world’s most revered auction houses are making a name for themselves. Christie’s recently raised eyebrows for holding a two-week online auction of Daily: first 5,000 days(2021), a digital work by net artist Beeple. The piece is a pixelated composite of 5,000 drawings – one the artist made every day for 13 years – using computer software such as Cinema 4D. It marks both the auction house’s inaugural sale of a digital artwork and the first time it will accept payment in the Ethereum cryptocurrency. A few hours after the launch, Everyday its price skyrocketed from $100 to $2.2 million. Bidding continues until March 11, and Beeple admits to not knowing how high the price may skyrocket.
Christie’s compares the recent legitimization of NFTs to that of Street Art. “Much like the rise of Street Art as a premier collectible category, NFT-based art is poised to become the next ingenious disruptive force in the art market,” says Noah Davis, specialist at Christie’s of the post-war and contemporary period. art that spearheaded the Beeple sale. Seeing this as a boon to new media and the power of collecting, he postulates that “we are at a time when there could be a sea change – a demographic shift, a generational shift – in what excites young collectors. Christie’s, as an organization, is really excited about a time when you see $3.5 million in sales organically coming out of nothing. Technology, he adds, now effectively proves the ownership and “true rarity” of digital art.
More and more platforms are emerging to allow creators to capitalize on this promising new market. Goth-pop singer-songwriter Zola Jesus has taken a liking to SuperRare, where she is auctioning off an audiovisual triptych of 30-second videos titled KHTHON. the first edition went for the equivalent of $4,442. “One of my favorite things about crypto art is that it allows me to create and publish my work for everyone to enjoy,” she said. wrote on Twitter. “The benefactor relationship is as old as time, and while imperfect, there are aspects that fit our current arts landscape – access for all.” She admits that the platform, despite her uncertainty, helped fuel her creativity. “The limitations of the format encountered with the current lack of consensus on how it is defined make it so exciting to experiment within.”
For Reisinger, his auction served as an experiment in creating a new, engaging exhibition format unlike anything in the design world. It also offers a curious insight into what he coined (no pun intended) as a “hybrid reality” – one that blurs the lines between digital and physical. “We’re not going to escape the material world anytime soon,” he says. “Instead, I believe we are expanding our experience into a new hybrid era of extended reality, in which art and culture are freed from spatial and temporal constraints and the rules of experience are rewritten. As the physical and digital worlds continue towards unity, I will continue to create through them to reveal the vast human potential their merging is forming, to signal that it is no longer necessary to touch something to to be touched by it, and to question where the imaginary ends and the real begins.
Despite their growing popularity in the art world, NFTs have yet to quite penetrate the still sluggish design industry. “I’m the first to do this,” says Reisinger, “and hopefully it will open doors for many more artists and designers.” If more start embracing cryptocurrency to cut out the middleman in selling their work, seismic disruption awaits them.