IN AN EXCLUSIVE VIDEO, THE ARTIST AND FORMER BOE GOVERNOR MARK CARNEY DISCUSS THE VENTURE, WHICH FORCES BUYERS TO CHOOSE BETWEEN PHYSICAL AND VIRTUAL WORK.
Trust Damien Hirst to put a spin on things. In today’s launch of his NFT-based project, entitled “The Currency”, the British artist has devised an ingenious system that calls into question notions of worth and value — and, importantly, makes his buyers declare their colours by presenting them with a choice. He has created 10,000 unique but almost identical spot paintings, each on an A4 sheet of special paper. The paper is not only signed and numbered in the usual way of multiples, but treated and watermarked, with an embedded hologram and other devices that make each sheet very difficult to copy or forge. Just like a banknote, in fact. Their nickname in the studio is “tenner”. Each of the physical works corresponds to a non-fungible token, which can be bought, on application, for rather more than a tenner — $2,000 apiece. The NFTs are immediately tradeable, in the usual way. But here’s the special Hirst-devised twist: two months after issue, owners of the NFTs have a choice. You will have to make a decision on whether to keep the NFT or the physical artwork: you can’t keep both. If you decide on the NFT, or fail to make a choice, the corresponding piece of art will be destroyed. If it’s the physical work you choose, the NFT will be deleted from the blockchain. At the end of a few months, therefore, “The Currency” could consist of either 10,000 NFTs in existence, or 10,000 paintings — or, most likely, a mixture of both. What the percentage of that mixture will be is anyone’s guess, and it’s that which will prove so interesting to market-watchers. It’s a system with multiple challenges. The most obvious one is the challenge to the buyer, especially buyers with investment in mind — will it be the NFT that appreciates most, or the original piece of artwork signed by Hirst? Which will you prefer to own? And how will you take the gamble and make the choice?
As Hirst says in a video interview with former Bank of England governor Mark Carney: “Yes, I’m forcing people to make a choice. But the purchaser always has a choice. It’s not just ‘Where’s the value?’ It’s also ‘Where’s the joy?’” He can’t help hoping, he says, that the majority of people will opt for the artwork. But then admits that it would be “exciting” if they didn’t. “It’s an experiment,” he says. There’s a challenge, too, to the art market as it goes through the mini-revolution brought on by NFTs. If art has traditionally been considered a store of value first and foremost, and a tradeable commodity second, this hybrid scheme blurs the lines: in Hirst’s view, the physical artworks themselves as much as the NFTs can act as a medium of exchange, as “currency”.