Damien Hirst’s NFT Experiment Comes to an End: How Many Buyers Chose Digital Tokens Over Physical Artworks?

Damien Hirst is into NFTs. Some will regard this as a reflec­tion on the artist, and oth­ers a reflec­tion on the tech­nol­o­gy. Whether you take those reflec­tions to be pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive reveals some­thing about your own con­cept of how the art world, the busi­ness world, and the dig­i­tal world inter­sect. So will your reac­tion to The Cur­ren­cy, Hirst’s just-com­plet­ed art project and tech­no­log­i­cal exper­i­ment. Launched in July of last year, it pro­duced 10,000 unique non-fun­gi­ble tokens “that were each asso­ci­at­ed with cor­re­spond­ing art­works the British artist made in 2016,” as Art­net’s Car­o­line Gold­stein writes. “The dig­i­tal tokens were sold via a lot­tery sys­tem for $2,000.”

Hirst also laid down an unprece­dent­ed con­di­tion: he announced “that his col­lec­tors would have to make a choice between the phys­i­cal art­work and its dig­i­tal ver­sion, and set a one-year dead­line — ask­ing them, in effect, to vote for which had more last­ing val­ue.” For each buy­er who choos­es the orig­i­nal work, Hirst would assign its NFT to an inac­ces­si­ble address, the clos­est thing to destroy­ing it. And for each buy­er who choos­es the NFT, Hirst would throw the paper ver­sion onto a bon­fire. The final num­bers, as Hirst tweet­ed out at the end of last month, came to “5,149 phys­i­cals and 4,851 NFTs (mean­ing I will have to burn 4,851 cor­re­spond­ing phys­i­cal Ten­ders).” Hirst also retained 1,000 copies for him­self.

“In the begin­ning I had thought I would def­i­nite­ly choose all phys­i­cal,” Hirst explains. “Then I thought half-half and then I felt I had to keep all my 1,000 as NFTs and then all paper again and round and round I’ve gone, head in a spin.” In the end he went whol­ly dig­i­tal, hav­ing decid­ed that “I need to show my 100 per­cent sup­port and con­fi­dence in the NFT world (even though it means I will have to destroy the cor­re­spond­ing 1000 phys­i­cal art­works).” Per­haps this was a vic­to­ry of Hirst’s neophil­ia, but then, those instincts have served him well before: few liv­ing artists have man­aged to draw such pub­lic fas­ci­na­tion, enam­ored or hos­tile, for so many years straight — let alone such for­mi­da­ble sale prices, and not just for his stuffed shark.

“I’ve nev­er real­ly under­stood mon­ey,” Hirst says to Stephen Fry in the video above. (You can watch an extend­ed ver­sion of their con­ver­sa­tion here.) “All these things — art, mon­ey, com­merce — they’re all ethe­re­al,” ulti­mate­ly based on noth­ing more than “belief and trust.” Return­ing to the tech­niques of his ear­ly “spot paint­ings” — those he made him­self before farm­ing the task out to stead­ier-hand­ed assis­tants — and mint­ing the results into unique dig­i­tal objects for sale was per­haps an attempt to get his head around the even less intu­itive con­cept of the NFT. All told, The Cur­ren­cy brought in about $89 mil­lion in rev­enue. More telling will be the price of its tokens on the sec­ondary mar­ket, where they’re chang­ing hands at the moment for around $7,000: a price impos­si­ble prop­er­ly to eval­u­ate for now, and thus not with­out the thrilling ambi­gu­i­ty of cer­tain mod­ern art­works.

via Art­net

Relat­ed con­tent:

What are Non-Fun­gi­ble Tokens (NFTs)? And How Can a Work of Dig­i­tal Art Sell for $69 Mil­lion

Bri­an Eno Shares His Crit­i­cal Take on Art & NFTs: “I Main­ly See Hus­tlers Look­ing for Suck­ers”

The Art Mar­ket Demys­ti­fied in Four Short Doc­u­men­taries

Mark Rothko Is Toast… and More Edi­ble Art from SFMOMA

Damien Hirst Takes Us Through His New Exhi­bi­tion at Tate Mod­ern

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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