SMART(ER) ART: Valuing Artists By The Atom

By Eli Samuel / April 25, 2019

Tommy Hartung’s The Old Testament, a 25 chapter feature-length video is currently available for purchase on the blockchain.

Valuing art as a commodity is not only necessary to further an artist’s career, but the most economical approach to building the communities supporting them. As art evolves into more mediums online and off, it’s becoming easier for artists to monetize their work and reach a wider audience.

On the rise is blockchain art, with diverse crypto-communities ushering in a new wave of decentralized ecosystems designed for artistic experiences of all kinds; from owning a stake in an Andy Warhol painting to buying Cryptopunks and breeding Cryptokitties.

Recent New Lab member, Snark.art, understands blockchain technology disrupts the art-commerce industry as much as it evolves the artistic process. The team launched its blockchain laboratory to initially tokenize creative works, and in doing so, afford commercial and financial viability to artists. “We’re developing tools for artists to further develop their work,” explains CEO and co-founder, Andrey Alekhin. “We’re not trying to use technology to perpetuate the current art world, but more so to change art itself and how it’s experienced in the future.

Art(ist) Community 2.0

Founders Alekhin and Misha Libman, Snark.art’s Head of Product, believe blockchain can be an artistic medium to bring communities and artists together. “The communal aspect in our society is always growing and art is no different. There are new ways to create and interact,” Libman insists. “Everyone is looking for an experience, we’re all trying to explore it through art. This new technology fell in our laps, so we decided let’s do something with it and create art that everyone can enjoy.”

Snark.art Founders, Andrey Alekhin (left) & Misha Libman (right).

While blockchain art isn’t new, the crypto-art market has seen a recent spike in interest and record sales. This past February, artist Kevin Abosch sold Forever Rose to a collective of investors for a cryptocurrency valuation of $1 million. Each buyer received one-tenth of a virtual rose – essentially a string of digital code – as a token on the blockchain. You can’t touch or smell the rose, but collectors can keep, sell, or transfer it to someone who wants flowers that will never die and increase in value. “We’re seeing a new kind of art collector,” Alekhin expounds. “One who doesn’t need to own the whole piece and seeks to exhibit art that’s more interactive; not just to be placed on a wall.”

The Forever Rose by Kevin Abosch

By making it possible to digitally invest in fine art equities, blockchain-based art platforms, like Snark.art, have the power to cultivate new markets, authenticate art sales, globalize fine art investment, reduce forgeries, and establish smart contracts with ethical ways to pay artists – both unknown and prominent, living or dead.

A Decentralized Canvas

Historically, the art market has a difficult time verifying an artwork’s authenticity, especially when the artist is no longer alive. In a 2014 report, The Fine Arts Expert Institute (FAEI) in Geneva reported over 50% of the artworks it had examined were either forged or not attributed to the correct artist.

Blockchain-based art could not only fix errors in attribution, but correct valuations and the work’s provenance. Token transactions are stored publicly on a distributed ledger that anyone can edit or access, allowing buyers and sellers to easily track the entire history of ownership. If the token doesn’t originate from the artist’s crypto wallet, or with an established gallery or investor, its provenance is challenged and corrected.

Even the auction houses concur; Richard Entrup, chief information officer at Christie’s, says that the benefits of the blockchain include “increased transparency and long-term data security for relevant information about the artworks.” Producing art on a distributed ledger empowers artists and buyers to do more: make investible purchases that have both social, technological, and artistic significance.

The concept of loaning and borrowing atoms among collectors in a decentralized fashion fosters an environment where artists and their community can constantly recreate the original artwork. “We believe this is a key feature of this project,” adds Alekhin. The tokenization of art restructures how different projects are viewed, how they can be seen through a communal lens, and explores the artistic intersection of investment and emotion incentive that brings people together in solidarity.

Beyond the art world, global leaders in humanitarian aid, finance, technology, amongst others, have also begun embracing blockchain to increase transparency in their operations, inventory management, and the manner in which they can confidently communicate to customers.

Atomizing Art

For their inaugural proof-of-concept showcase, Snark.art featured artist Eve Sussman. Her video project 89 seconds Atomized  — the blockchain version of her 2004 acclaimed work 89 seconds at Alcazar, which reenacts the 1656 oil painting ‘Las Meninas’ by Diego Vasquez — was tokenized on the Ethereum blockchain and distributed to buyers in digital segments called “atoms.”

Rendering of 89 seconds Atomized by Eve Sussman. Photo credit: Eve Sussman and Snark.art

Currently held by a number of New York museums and private collectors, the 2004 full video’s run time is roughly 10 minutes, fragmented into 2,304 atoms. Each atom is 400 pixels of the entire video’s visual frame and can be viewed singularly or reassembled with other atoms that are collected through the community of owners. “Every atom is tokenized, and you can see its movement,” Libman asserts. “We develop non-fungible tokens connected to digital art files. Ownership of a token means you own the artwork or atom of the artwork.”

Visual artists are increasingly creating digital artwork, which might not ever have a physical presence. Digital files, however, can be replicated and distributed without the artists’ consent. By registering their artwork on the blockchain, artists can establish proof of ownership, and therefore a secondary market. Blockchain technology itself becomes the canvas for the artist and their wallet.

“Blockchain art can capture a global audience,” Alekhin concludes, insisting art will always have a real world impact and a life of its own. “It allows us to build communities of collectors, move them emotionally, and hopefully create more artistic works that can be experienced differently each time, in original and exciting ways.”

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