Renowned contemporary artist Damien Hirst told CNBC Wednesday that he believes in the survival power of non-perishable tokens, or NFTs, the blockchain-based digital collectibles that have risen, then sank, in popularity this year.
“You look at what’s going on in the NFTs, and you can kind of see the galleries disappear before you see the NFTs disappear,” Hurst said at the Squawk Box, where the British artist discussed his NFT collection called “Coin.”
This project features 10,000 NFTs, each corresponding to their signature works of physical art. NFTs cost $2000 per piece. But the turnaround: its ultimate owners have one year to choose between holding on to the NFT or exchanging it for its physical creation. The only owner who does not choose him will be destroyed.
“They’re both art, and they’re both equal,” Hurst said. “I had to subscribe to that first, and I have to subscribe to the idea that I’m happy to destroy physical art and destroy NFTs.” “I have absolutely no idea what people will do.”
Orders for one of Hirst’s NFTs closed Wednesday after opening a week earlier.
The NFT craze took off early this year, coinciding with the growing interest and value of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether; Both NFTs and cryptocurrencies are based on the blockchain, which is a decentralized digital ledger. Featuring a first-class auction house Christie’s, Sotheby’s later jumped into the NFT event. In March, digital artist Beeple sold NFT for $69 million at a Christie’s auction.
NFTs are unique in terms of design, and proponents say the rarity underpins their long-term value. However, just as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies hit a rough patch this year, the amount of money spent on NFTs suffered a significant decline in May through June, according to weekly sales data from website nonfungible.com. Total money spent on NFTs has started to trend upwards again in recent weeks.
Critics of NFTs say they are just a fad, destined to erode in value over time. Cryptocurrency and blockchain believers widely believe that NFTs are a critical innovation that can establish asset ownership in an increasingly digital world.
Hurst, a leading figure in the young British artists’ phase that began in the late 1980s, said he sees tension between people in the world of physical and digital art. At the same time, Hearst attempted to blur the distinction in some respects.
“I think digital art will probably last a lot longer than galleries. I mean, you probably won’t go to galleries. We’ll sit in bars showing each other what we’ve recently bought on our phones and that’s kind of what we’re doing right now. I just think anything looks and feels good. Good art, and it makes you feel good, you know, it’s good art. It doesn’t have to be in a gallery.”
Skeptics have also criticized the fact that ownership of an NFT-based artwork does not prevent other people from being able to easily view the image online. Since copies of artwork can appear in various digital places, some question the true value of NFT ownership.
Responding to this criticism, Hearst said, “It is nothing new that artists want to reproduce things.”
“I’ve often thought of it like, in terms of ‘Mona Lisa.’ Which would I rather have? The Mona Lisa itself, with all the difficulties of looking at it because of the tourists and the bulletproof glass, or the possibilities of trade? T-shirts and postcards and earrings and mugs,” Hearst said.
“It’s like, ‘I love both. Art is there, in the world we live in today, in both areas. As an artist, I want to reach people, and I think the postcard is really attractive. So, NFT created that for an artist and I think the worst thing for an artist is,” he said. It is to ignore or disappear without a trace.”