LONDON – “Waking up to one of these is quite special – having a Leonardo at home,” said Joe Kennedy, director of the London contemporary art dealer unit, recently raving about a display. LED is elaborately framed with a digital replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician glowing on his gallery wall. The original is 800 miles away in the Ambrosiana museum in Milan.
Leonardo is one of six ultra-high-resolution replicas of famous paintings from the centuries in Unit’s moody “Eternal Art History” exhibition, which closed on Saturday. . The show is the latest attempt by cash-poor museums to generate money by selling non-edible tokens, or NFTs. Last year, NFTs, often tied to the high-flying but volatile cryptocurrency Ethereum, took the art and collectibles market by storm, with sales estimated in the tens of billions.
Pandemic-related closures and re-directed government spending have put public museums around the world under financial pressure. However, to date, despite the formidable sales numbers achieved by NFTs, very few institutions have explored the digital asset as a fundraising mechanism.
Florence-based unit and technology partner, Cinello, has entered into licensing agreements with several renowned Italian museums to create a hybrid of limited edition LED replicas in antique style wooden frames, each side comes with a unique NFT.
The same size digital versions of Leonardo’s portrait, Caravaggio’s “Fruit Bowl” (also in Ambrosiana) and Raphael’s “Madonna of the Goldfinch” (in the Uffizi in Florence) were offered in versions. nine, with prices ranging from 100,000 euros to €500,000 each (about $110,000 to $550,000). Fifty percent of the proceeds were returned to the licensing museum.
On the Friday after the show closed, seven sales were confirmed up to €250,000, including at least one of Leonardo’s NFT paintings.
The collaboration between the Unit and Italian museums follows previous efforts by other European institutions to join the NFT group. Among them is the State Hermitage Museum, in St.Petersburg, Russia, which last September held an auction of NFT copies of five of its most famous paintings, raising $444,000.
The Belvedere Museum in Vienna has segmented a digitized image of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” into a 10,000 NFT drop. This was released on February 14, Valentine’s Day, priced at 0.65 Ethereum, or €1,850, per coin. Earlier this week, Irene Jaeger, media relations officer at the Austrian museum, said about 2,400 of these Klimt NFTs have been sold, raising about 4.3 million euros.
NFT production uses a lot of energy, especially on the Ethereum blockchain. By one estimate, the computational power required to cast an NFT produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as a 500-mile journey in a gasoline-powered car. Nonfungible tokens can make money for museums, but they also have the potential to create environmental problems that are harmful to the image.
The more eco-friendly 50 NFT offering based on William Blake’s print, individually priced at 999 units of the “green” crypto tezos (about $3,290 at current value), has so far collected attracted eight sales to the Whitworth museum in Manchester, England. , since its release in July, according to Bernardine Brocker Wieder, chief executive officer of Vastari, the project’s technical partner.
Environmental issues are one reason so far only a dozen museums have experimented with NFT as an alternative revenue source. The instability and uncertainty of unregulated cryptocurrencies, the difficulty of finding reliable technology partners, and the cost of such partnerships are also noted by experts. Museum cited as the reason for procrastination.
Tina Rivers Ryan, curator specializing in digital art at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo, said: “America’s museums are nonprofit organizations operating in the trust of the United States. general public. “This means that legally and morally, they are bound to move slowly.”
However, many American museums are currently having internal discussions about how NFTs can be incorporated into their missions, Ryan adds. “The market is changing very quickly,” she said. “There are legal, environmental and other ramifications that have to be thought through very carefully.”
One organization that has wasted no time in using the NFT as a fundraising tool is the British Museum in London. Chaired by George Osborne, former UK finance minister, the museum signed an exclusive five-year partnership in September with Ethereum-based NFT platform LaCollection. Since then, the museum has made several token drops, in versions ranging in size from two to 10,000, using digital copies of works by Katsushika Hokusai and JMW Turner. Prices range from $500 to $40,000.
Aware of the environmental sensitivity of large-scale token drops, LaCollection says on its website that “for every NFT minted, we plant a tree” to “offset” the amount. carbon emissions of operations.
Sophie Reid, a spokeswoman for the project, said last month sales hit “seven figures”. The British Museum declined to comment.
Suse Anderson, an assistant professor of museum studies at George Washington University, said she is skeptical of museums participating in the mania for the NFT. “It risks becoming more of a gimmick than focusing on the work itself. Anderson said.
However, she admits that there is currently a market for NFTs from museums. “It may not last, but this is a time of potential fundraising and visibility,” she said.
Right now, that market is relatively small. Publicly funded galleries are wary of cryptocurrencies and, for those immersed in that world, digitized old art devoid of the speculative pleasures of “native” NFTs ”, like CryptoPunks or Bored Apes, can sell for millions of dollars. However, none of the museum NFTs have managed to gain traction on resale platforms, such as OpenSea.
But what if the reproduction of a masterpiece is so good that it looks like the original, hung in a beautiful frame on the wall? Those people don’t have the potential to sell millions, or at least hundreds of thousands?
On the final day of the Unit’s “Eternal Art History” show, Eve Smith, a lawyer, seemed impressed. “This is the second time I have had this happen. I was absolutely amazed,” Smith said, staring at the ultra-high-resolution digital replica of Francesco Hayez’s 1896 painting, “The Kiss,” in the museum. Pinacoteca Brera in Milan.
“It looks like satin. There seems to be texture in what you’re looking at, but there isn’t,” Smith said. “Do I still want to go to Brera? Of course.”
But is she willing to pay Unit London’s €180,000 asking price to own one of the nine, plus its NFTs?
“It depends on how much you like the repro,” says Smith.