In early March 2021, the artist Beeple earned $69.3 million USD at auction for a work non-existent in physical form. Rather, the collage of five thousand digitally rendered jpegs, is a non-fungible token (NFT) – an emerging digital asset that uses blockchain technology to assure authenticity and ownership. The landmark sale signifies the unification of two once opposed realms: the art world and internet.
NFTs counter how images and videos typically circulate online as authorless, reproducible ephemera. They are exclusively bound to the object, rendering it scarce, unique and immune to counterfeit.
'Everyday: The First 5,000 Days' – the digital collage-cross-NFT that has made Beeple the third most financially valued living artist.
The rise of NFT art is symptomatic of a more general shift in the art world. After a year spent indoors, collectors found themselves with only online apparatus to satiate their art appetite. Consequently, they and the surrounding art world were compelled to finally forego their hesitancy towards the digital. With the bond between the internet and art continuing to strengthen, here’s our guide to buying art online securely, savvily and joyfully.
Evan Mackley, 'Flowerscape – Rockstars'
Like the kind of free association spurred by surfing the web, Steve Rosendale trawls archives of vintage imagery to find inspiration. As a result, his work is suffused with a sense of distant familiarity, a nostalgia that is both lingering and unyielding.
Finding the Real Deal Online
One of the prime concerns collectors cite when buying art online relates to authenticity. Without seeing a work, how can you verify it’s real?
Authenticity can be best corroborated not in the object but its source. If you can trust the seller, you can trust the art is real. When it comes to online sellers, like any e-commerce transaction, inspect their digital presence. Are they associated with reputable industry bodies, relatively established and easy to contact? Use common sense and if purchasing an original work of art, request a Letter of Provenance.
The logic of a Letter of Provenance is a work’s history of ownership: it is a dynamic, self-sustaining verification of authenticity. It’s an analogue blockchain, transcendent of one person or organization's decree.
Anne Marie Hall, 'Untitled (Dream Portrait)'
Sally Smart's 'Beeology' (below) is a punny feat of the uncanny. The fruit of cutting, arranging and stitching, it is at once about female embodiment and the creation (or collaging) of identity.
Sally Smart, 'Beeology'
Smart is an artist to watch, having recently been featured in the National Gallery of Australia's landmark 'Know My Name' exhibition.
Finding art online
The volume of art available online can feel confounding. While in theory a limitless sea of images is stupefying, this is not how collectors usually experience art online. Think of the internet as a city populated with neighbourhoods. You might need to move around to find your area, but once you do the digital streets will be lined with enlightening art.
The internet can take you places sans air travel. In Christopher Rimmer's Amapondo series, he takes to the water's edge in South Africa, where Pondo cows inexplicably pilgrimage to daily.
Keep an eye on what artists, movements and subjects you’re drawn do; follow art businesses on Instagram; and let the algorithm unfold itself for you. Variety is the internet's strength, so relish in the breakdown of physical and theoretical boundaries. Online, the world is your oyster.
As a meme co-opts, subverts and disperses, Philippe Le Miere's 'This is not a fountain, after Duchamp' joins a tongue-in-cheek art historical conversation. He takes Duchamp's irreverent urinal as art and fuses it with Magritte's 'This is not a pipe'.
With many of us spending the bulk of our day online, the once rigid line between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ life feels increasingly mutable. Museums, auction houses, artists and dealerships are starting to realize this. In a world dependent upon virtual connection, ushering art into the digital offers benefits for artists and art lovers: accessibility, empowerment and play.
Let’s return momentarily to the NFT. Recently, the company Injective Protocol bought a Banksy screen print only to burn it on a Twitter live-stream. All that remained was the NFT. Equal parts playful and provocative, the stunt cuttingly questioned where the art lies: in the physical product, or its digital thumbprint?
Wherever you fall on this, it’s clear that the art world is moving into new territory. Here lies the opportunity for play, pranks, discoveries and secure, edifying acquisition. Come log on.