By Alfred Weidinger: Blockchains? Bitcoins? Tokens? The encyclopedia of art needs an update and the words it will incorporate were only known to financial experts for a long time. Too long.
Too long. The art experts in museums only woke up when the art market got into great excitement: After a series of remarkably lucrative auction proceeds of works by digital artists such as Pak and Trevor Jones caused a sensation in 2020, Beeple (* 1981) established a record one on March 11, 2021: The sale of EVERYDAYS – THE FIRST 5000 DAYS for USD 69.3 million at the legendary Christie’s auction made Beeple, aka Mike Winkelmann, the third most expensive living artist – after Jeff Koons and David Hockney.
Koons and Hockney belong in exhibitions at a museum, nobody would doubt that. But what is digital art doing there, doesn’t it belong on the internet? I wish for an Ism for the digital avant-garde, which, like any avant-garde, has to conquer museums through the back door.
As director of the MDBK in Leipzig, I already gave digital natives a platform: the exhibitions VIRTUAL NORMALITY. WOMEN NET ARTISTS 2.0 (2017/18) and LINK IN BIO. ART AFTER SOCIAL MEDIA have revealed the importance of checking the status quo yearly. PROOF OF ART is also a preliminary report: an exhibition about the current state of art and its roots.
Even though the hype on the art market is being discussed very loudly: “Computer art” is by no means a new phenomenon, but as old as the first “data processor” and it’s a major task of a museum to moote artistic positions: to show them, to discuss them and, in the case of the NFTs, to clear the circumstances. Because there is an almost Babylonian confusion of languages that needs to be unraveled in order to focus on the essential: Contemporary art deals with its time – and our age is digital.
So: An NFT (Non fungible Token) is the artist’s digital signature. It makes the work unique. It binds his work to a secure trading platform and stands for his copyright as well as the right of ownership of the collector. This is the technical side we have to understand to keep the mentioned aberrations from causing further confusion. For instant: To produce a unique digital copy of a painting by Michelangelo, moreover in an edition of 10, which are delivered with the handwritten signature of the museum’s director on physical certificate of authenticity is simply absurd – and a misunderstanding: NFTs are not an instrument to update the renaissance for the 21st century in order to make money with it. NFTs are not extending the marketing of a museum through digital merchandising. NFTs are the technical instrument for digital artists to protect their art and to be able to trade their work – which is a good thing, disregarding the gold rush-mood, an art museum has to be interested in primarily one topic: art.
Museums therefore are on the right path if they collect, preserve and exhibit digital art – it’s our duty. That is why the main target of the exhibition PROOF OF ART is to show the foundation on which NFTs stand, because they are based on decades of development. Even if the great attention may have originated from a shock moment in the art world, the further discussions should revolve around something other than the art market-hype and the enormous sums of money that are being implemented there with NFTs: This hype has unleashed an huge artistic potential, that inscribes itself in art history with an unseen speed. As a museum, we need but also love to accompany, depict and support this development: with PROOF OF ART and subsequent exhibitions at our analog location FC–FRANCISCO CAROLINUM in Linz and, last but not least, in our virtual space, the DFC Francisco Carolinum in the Metaverse Cryptovoxels.
First published in: PROOF OF ART. A short history of NFTs, from the beginning of digital art to the metaverse. The catalogue is published as part of the exhibition PROOF OF ART held at Francisco Carolinum Linz from June 11 until September 15 2021.
Alfred Weidinger is the Director of Oberösterreichische Landes-Kultur GmbH in Linz, Austria. He was born in 1961 and studied art history and classical archaeology at the University of Salzburg. Since mid-2017 he has been the director of the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig. In 2007, he became the chief curator and vice director of the Belvedere in Vienna, and before that he was the vice director of the Albertina. His research focuses on classical modernity and contemporary photography as well as media art. Amongst his numerous publications are the catalog of the complete watercolors and drawings of Oskar Kokoschka, the catalog of the paintings of Gustav Klimt, and a comprehensive monograph on the media artist Peter Weibel.
Marjan Moghaddam, TAKING THE KNEE IN SOLIDARITY WITH GAN PAINTINGS, 2020, 3D CG animation of chronometric sculpture, GAN generated artwork
Serwah Attafuah, VOIDWALKER, 2020, 2021, 3D-rendered digital image