Decoding – and debating – cryptoart

By Alex Moore

4 minute read

There is unrest in the art world. A new wave of artists and collectors are being labelled, by some, as imposters; their work, and the prices it commands called into question. But why? Aren’t these just forward-thinking artists using a modern medium, trying to earn a crust? Why has cryptoart ruffled so many feathers?

What exactly is cryptoart?

Well, it’s simply digital art that is treated like physical art due to the ability to have verified ownership of the piece. 

“Digital has been being made since the ‘70s,” observes Lymited’s Head of Art, Nayrouz Tatanaki. “So, the idea that it has only just come about is a false one. Vito Acconci was making digital works decades ago. The only difference is now you can put a stamp on it to say that this work is original and can therefore be resold. That is the defining change. Digital art can now be owned, by way of an NFT.”

What is an NFT?

An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a unit of data that is linked to a digital asset – in this case, a work of cryptoart. An NFT can grant ownership to anything from a tweet, to a video clip of a slam dunk, to a virtual pair of sneakers. The token proves ownership of the original file, and is stored securely on a digital ledger known as the blockchain. Authenticity wise, it’s a little bit like a painter signing and dating their masterpiece (only rather less tangible).

Again, not everyone is a fan. “I call them ICSs,” quipped British artist David Hockney on Waldy & Bendy’s Adventures in Art podcast. “International Crooks and Swindlers.”  

World Premiere Of
Top: Larva Labs algorithm-generated CryptoPunks, of which six have sold for over $1 million; image courtesy of Larva Labs. Above: Musician Grimes has found cryptoart success via a collaboration with multi-disciplinary artist Mac Boucher; photography by Shutterstock

So, what do I have to show for my NFT?

Not a great deal more than anyone else who has downloaded the image. Although you do get to enjoy the fact that you technically own it – and could essentially sell it – whereas they can only legally observe. 

In terms of viewing your asset away from a phone or laptop screen, there are a number of digital frames available. Electric Objects EO1 is a solid bet, while Samsung’s ‘The Frame’ might set you back a bit more, but doubles as a TV and gives you access to 1,200 digital works from institutions such as Royal Collection Trust, Saatchi Art, and Museo Del Prado.

Who are the crypto artists I need to know about?

It’s still proving difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, so it makes sense to start from the top. Mike Winkelmann a.k.a Beeple, an American graphic designer has been quietly making his own brand of phantasmagoric digital art for 13 years. He opened his NFT account with an image of Donald Trump, naked, seemingly dead and covered in graffiti, which sold for $6.6 million. Christie’s then subsequently sold Everydays (a collage comprising all of his works to date) for $69.3 million, making it the third most expensive artwork ever sold by a living artist.

Canadian musician Grimes hasn’t done too badly either – she made $6 million from a collaboration with multi-disciplinary artist Mac Boucher. While Larva Labs seems to be finding success with its pixelated algorithm-generated CryptoPunks; six have sold for over $1 million, including #7804 for $7.57 million.

“For me, Refik Anadol [a Turkish-American media artist [whose work consists of data-driven machine learnings that create abstract, dreamlike environments] is the best out there,” says Tatanaki. “He has a very strong aesthetic, and creates an almost experiential reassessment for the viewer. His works are like paintings that turn into sculptures.”



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How do I buy cryptoart?

There are dozens of online marketplaces but Nifty Gateway, Open Sea and have established themselves as the preeminent options. Do bear in mind that NFTs must be bought in crypto currencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, so you’ll have to convert in advance.

Is cryptoart here to stay?

Difficult question, but Tatanaki suggests that the new wave of cryptoart has a way to go before becoming established. “What is currently happening in terms of the market price is being encouraged by less than a handful of people who are directly involved in cryptocurrencies. It is not a widespread market trend and it’s certainly not sustainable,” she notes. 

“When the current bubble does burst, cryptoart will definitely exist,” Tatanaki continues, “but I’m looking forward to there being some sort of a filter system, or at least a better understanding of what sets the good art apart from the rest.”  

Is it anything like tokenising art?

Not really. In fact, Lymited’s imminent Token Platform is an entirely different prospect. While we are also recording ownership of assets on the blockchain, the idea here is to enable shared ownership of physical artworks. “The beauty of tokenisation – which is also happening in the digital art world – is that it’s bringing a more democratic process to the art market – quite the opposite of cryptoart,” says Tatanaki. 

“We’re making artworks that were largely inaccessible, suddenly attainable. People can feel like they have a share in something that is much bigger than themselves. That’s what’s very exciting about it. In many ways it has been happening since the beginning of time – in various syndicates and collectives – but not to a wider audience – not in the way that we’re doing it with Lymited.”

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