NFT (short for non-fungible tokens) art has been hyped as the next frontier in the world of fine art. Forget the computer-generated images of monkeys used as Twitter profile pictures: serious NFT artists are trained in the techniques of the old masters and have a deep understanding of the complexities of artistic creation. Some of those getting in on the NFT art game are already well-established: Jeff Koons recently unveiled his first NFT art project.
NFTs use the blockchain to add a certificate of uniqueness and individuality to digital media. When you right-click and save an image online, you have the image itself, but it’s not analogous to taking a painting off the wall of a museum and bringing it home with you. The concept behind NFTs is that, thanks to the blockchain, you could actually have such an analogous process.
The giant takes a cautious stance
With this in mind it’s no surprise that some existing giants of the art world are getting in on the action. Pace Gallery has its own Web3 hub, Pace Verso, which holds showcases of NFT art projects. It’s an exciting new frontier for a brick-and-mortar gallery which has hosted works by some of the greatest living artists. But in terms of copy, their message remains the same: sober, staid, matter-of-fact.
“Over a year in the making, the partnership between Pace Verso and Art Blocks will see Pace artists extend their practices into Web3 as the gallery continues to support its artists’ creative and experimental approaches to the medium.” This could be a moment of excitement and jubilation—a venerable giant in the world of art moving into a new and exciting space. But Pace chooses to maintain a level head and not make any promises they can’t keep.
Why? Precisely because Pace is a longstanding art world establishment, has seen trends come and go, and knows that what’s hot and exciting one day can seem tired and derivative the next. They don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket, and that’s why they describe a move into the NFT art space in more or less the same voice and tone they’d use for a retrospective of a ‘60s pop artist.
The disruptor finds its own voice
Looking for another approach, we can turn to Verse, a self-described “marketplace for the world’s best contemporary art NFTs”—in other words, an NFT art gallery. You could think of Verse as a disruptor in the art world the same way that other startups seek to disrupt industries like payments and delivery. That’s the view they take: one of the top stories on their website is about their seed funding.
Verse’s copy is simple, even laconic, but comprehensive. Their About page includes an FAQ section which sums up their entire mission in one-or-two sentence responses. Asked “What are NFTs?”, they reply: “A non-fungible token (NFT) is a digital asset secured by cryptography on a blockchain. In essence, they allow us to prove ownership and provenance of digital items.” Asked “What is Verse?”, they reply: “Verse is a platform to collect digital artworks minted as NFTs. Artworks are offered directly from the artists through exhibitions curated by leading art world figures. Collectors can also buy and sell works through a secondary marketplace.”
At first glance this doesn’t seem entirely different from Pace’s approach. Both are sober and matter-of-fact. But Verse goes even further in its tone, reaching an almost Hemingway-like simplicity in the copy. This suggests an entirely different world from the world to which Pace belongs: it’s the world of Silicon Valley start-ups and San Francisco tech offices, where business problems and programming puzzles are considered one and the same and clarity and precision are prized.
This isn’t to say that Verse doesn’t engage with the art the way that a more traditional gallery would. Their Journal, in addition to news about seed funding and Business Insider coverage, includes artist interviews, offering potential collectors insight into the work they’re considering purchasing.
A LinkedIn post from founder Jamie Gourlay lays out Verse’s mission in somewhat more emphatic language: “The art industry’s current model sees galleries incur high costs (shipping, gallery space). Artists pay galleries 50% because of those costs, and collectors end up with illiquid assets as a result.”
Gourlay insists that he is “not trying to disrupt the physical art world”, merely “trying to give people an additional option”, but his copy tells a different story. Inevitably, more options means disruption, because the forces of scarcity and the limits of choice force customers to pick one option over the other—and, in time, one option will take a larger share of the market.
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The choice is yours
So: disruption versus continuity. A vision of a new world versus the recognition that this new world might be an illusion. For those interested in the NFT art space, choosing between these two approaches depends on a number of factors. What audience do you want to appeal to—old-fashioned collectors interested in a new venture, or fresh young entrepreneurs looking to make an investment in something other than equity? As always, know your audience—and know the message you’re trying to send.
Want help finding your voice? Contact the MarketSmiths team today.