digital art and NFT settle comfortably at the great contemporary art fair

At Art Basel, the Pace gallery has just unveiled the first piece in a series of sculptures that the artist known for his balloon dog and tulips intends to send to the moon with SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space exploration company. .

Jeff Koons, one of the most expensive living artists in the world, plans to install 125 miniature versions of these named sculptures Moon phases with a photograph of their location, sold as an NFT (Non-fungible token). Buyers will also receive a life-sized sculpture, set with a precious stone to mark its position on the Moon.

“We are also discovering it for the first time”Marc Glimcher, director of the gallery, enthusiastic about presenting this 39.4 cm moon-shaped statue, which has just arrived at his stand in Basel.

Pace is one of the few major galleries to have ventured into NFT territory. According to Clare McAndrew, author of an art market report for Art Basel, only 6% of galleries sold NFTs in 2021. Highly speculative, their prices have soared since last year’s Christie’s auction. of an NFT by the American artist Beeple for 69.3 million dollars (66.3 million euros at current exchange rates).

But since their peak in August 2021, NFTs have plummeted. While art-related NFT sales volumes soared to $ 945 million in August, they dropped to $ 366 million in January and then to $ 101 million in May, according to statements by Clare McAndrew.

However, these ups and downs do not make the boss of the Pace gallery go back, convinced that NFTs are the sign of a nascent digital art market. He compares their excesses to the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s. “Obviously it was a bubble. But we still have the internet today“said Marc Glimcher during an interview with AFP, who sees him as a”new methodology for the distribution of digital art“.

For this edition, the organizers of the fair have collaborated with the blockchain platform Tezos, which presents digital works by artists, the new versions of which are generated by machine learning in the form of NFT. Visitors can come and download one for free from his booth, although some were already putting it back on sale as soon as they left the show.

At its side, the ViveArts platform offers for its part a dip in digital art using augmented reality glasses, presenting in particular an avatar of the German artist Albert Oehlen in a 3D universe. In the corridors of the fair, the French gallery Edouard Montassut has put up for sale a digital creation by the Turkish artist Özgür Kar representing a man surrounded by three skeletons reminiscent of the bas-reliefs of churches, but on a liquid crystal screen.

“I think NFTs will have a place in the market in the future.“Marc Spiegler, director of Art Basel told AFP, even though their prices are”recently collapsed“at a time when artists are experimenting with digital tools.

In the short term, the labors that wealthy collectors can install in their living rooms have returned to large numbers: a spider by the French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois has snatched $ 40 million, a work by conceptual artist Félix Gonzalez-Torres is gone for 12.5 million, an oil on canvas by the German Georg Baselitz sold for 5.5 million.

The climate – obviously despite the complicated global context with the war in Ukraine and the general economic situation – is excellent“, Welcomed the head of the fair.

The fair, which takes place from 16 to 19 June, brings together a myriad of very real works, ranging from a giant bronze statue of the British Thomas J. Price to an installation by the Franco-Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping representing a cuisine dotted with huge cockroaches or a series of portraits carved in wood by the Franco-Cameroonian Barthélémy Toguo.

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