NFT art is booming, as many museums and galleries join in on the global crypto art hype. In September, even the prestigious British Museum rode the wave when it announced the launch of an exclusive collection of non-fungible tokens based on the works of Japanese woodblock print master Hokusai. But London had already jumped on the NFT bandwagon long ago.
One look at the exhibitions on display at the Frieze Art Fair, and one could think that London art enthusiasts had paid no attention to the NFT art craze. Indeed, the infamous contemporary art fair showed little interest in blockchain-based digital art. British artist Damian Hirst was the sole NFT creator in the entire event. And yet, London has been sitting for years at the forefront of innovation in the digital arts.
It should come as no surprise since the London art scene has consistently explored the realm of cutting-edge digital art forms. Early on, galleries such as Arebyte showcased multimedia installations in both physical and digital spaces. The Furtherfield Gallery also joined the conversation. As early as 2017, the gallery published “Artists Re: Thinking the Blockchain”. In 2019, it launched the Decentralised Arts Lab to propel visionary blockchain artists to new heights.
Since then, many more galleries have opened their doors to digital artists. In July, the Unit London gallery launched its own NFT trading platform, Institut. Its inaugural curated exhibition took place in both the real world and a virtual space within the metaverse. The illustrious HOFA Gallery followed suit with its hybrid exhibition called “Portrait of an Era”.
But the NFT art boom now goes beyond connoisseur galleries. Indeed, the spike in London-based cryptocurrency start-ups only increased the number of crypto collectors and artists in the capital. And auction houses were quick to take notice.
In October 2021, Christie’s put up the first-ever NFT auction for an African artist. Curated by Daria Borisova, the online sale showcased five works by Nigerian artist Osinachi.
In June, Sotheby’s had already set the stage with its “Natively Digital” exhibition.
The auction displayed some of the earliest NFTs built on the Ethereum-blockchain and landed at over $17 million. A large portion of the sales came from auctioning rare Cryptopunks. And the auction entirely took place in the metaverse.
Indeed, Sotheby’s inaugurated the first-ever virtual NFT galleries on a metaverse called Decentraland. To that effect, the famed auction house created a digital version of its New Bond Street Galleries, as yet another proof of London’s prominence on the NFT scene. The replica still occupies a first-rate location in the thriving Voltaire Art District in Decentraland.
However, Decentraland is more than just a hub of NFT art. In this virtual world, users can buy and sell plots of land to trade cryptocurrencies. They can also erect imaginative buildings or purchase existing structures. What’s more, users are free to attend exclusive events, from conferences to casino nights.
Of course, such initiatives are still in their infancy. And all-virtual entertainment venues and casinos aren’t about to replace their real-world counterparts just yet. But the boom in online casinos shows the lines are ever-so blurrier between real-life and virtual pleasures.
Indeed, websites such as Casinos.co.za help gamblers find online platforms that emulate the experience at a brick-and-mortar casino. Players no longer need to step out of their home to try their hand at a wide variety of games, from classic card games to creative slot machines. The best gambling platforms even offer mobile-friendly options. On top of their accessibility, several generous bonuses keep on attracting new users.
So, is the metaverse the next frontier? Sotheby’s contemporary art specialist, Michael Bouhanna, tends to agree. But for now, the crypto revolution is only just beginning.
The NFT craze is taking over the fashion industry, too, as luxury brands such as Burberry and Louis Vuitton launched their own NFT collections. And they made that move for good reason. Indeed, the sheer nature of blockchain technology prevents any counterfeiting. As a secure and traceable digital ledger, blockchain also erases the issues of ownership and record-keeping.
Thus, NFTs are poised to bring about tremendous changes to the global art scene. And as one of the world’s most innovative cultural hubs, London will continue leading the way.