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A woman looks at an NFT digital art titled CURIO CARDS (EST. 2017). (AFP via Getty Images)

The rise of digital art and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) has taken the world by storm this year, and as our shopping habits continue to change online, London has found itself at the forefront of the mania.

Since their inception in 2014, a growing number of people are now spending a fortune on things that cannot be seen or felt in real life via NFTs – from digital clothing to artwork, and from music to GIFs.

An NFT is a one-of-a-kind crypto asset that allows collectors to authenticate, own, and trade original authenticated versions of special digital goods on the blockchain.

In economics, a fungible asset is something whose units can be easily traded, like money. You can exchange one £ 10 bill for two £ 5 bills and it will have the same value.

However, if something is not fungible, it has unique properties and therefore cannot be swapped for something else.

When an NFT is purchased, the buyer receives a certificate secured by blockchain technology, making them the owner of that specific digital asset.

It cannot be duplicated or substituted, and it can only have one official owner at a time. NFTs are transparent and no one is able to edit the ownership record or copy / paste a new NFT.

Read more: Non-fungible tokens: what are NFTs and why do they make so much noise?

According to a study by NonFungible, the total value of NFT transactions quadrupled to around £ 178million ($ 242million) last year. The number of digital wallets trading them has doubled to over 222,179, he added.

Meanwhile, sales volumes reached $ 10.7 billion (£ 7.8 billion) in the third quarter of this year, more than eight times over the previous quarter, according to market tracker data. DappRada.

London in particular has straddled the frenzy, with galleries and auction houses across the city tapping into digital art and NFTs.

Christie’s auction house is currently offering five works by Nigerian artist Osinachi, while the city’s Saatchi Gallery held an immersive private exhibition last month, leading up to an auction.

Watch: What is an NFT? Here’s why some pay millions for digital art

The British Museum also sells NFTs of over 200 works by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. It has partnered with French startup LaCollection to launch digital postcards with paintings reproduced from Hokusai’s work, including The great wave off Kanagawa.

The launch of a Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum, titled The big picture book of everything, will contribute half of the NFTs sold, while the rest will come from the museum’s own collection, plus 103 unpublished drawings discovered in the book.

British contemporary artist Damien Hirst will also showcase his 10,000 NFT series at an exhibition taking place as part of this year’s Frieze London art fair.

Read more: NFT mania hits the stock exchange with a £ 35million listing in London

Elsewhere in the UK, the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester minted and sold an NFT of a famous William Blake image, with the proceeds going to a fund for community-based ‘socially beneficial projects’.

The rise of digital art comes amid recent cuts in funding for art and culture, which means artists are looking for new ways to create and sell their work.

Galleries and museums have also had to close during the coronavirus pandemic to curb the spread of the virus, and the movement provides a new form of funding as well as appeal to younger audiences.

Watch: What are PSPCs?

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