A non-fungible token platform curating works by renowned traditional and digital artists receives an infusion of funding from leading members of the art and technology world.
TRLab, co-founded by Xin Li-Cohen, non-executive vice chairman of Christie, in Hong Kong in May 2021, raises $4.2 million from multiple investors, including a number of venture capital funds such as Animoca Brands, owners of blockchain based game sandbox.
Art-world investors include Pace Gallery and its blockchain-focused subsidiary Pace Verso, as well as former contemporary art co-chair of Christie’s Loïc Gouzer, who founded digital-based auction company Fair Warning. Also on the list are art collectors Adam Lindemann, founder of the Venus Over Manhattan gallery in New York; and Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile, a longtime collector of work by prominent NFT artists including Mike Winkleman, aka Beeple.
The platform also receives support from the digital sector from the NFT funds Metapurse, which bought Beeple’s Everyday life: The first 5000 days for $69 million at Christie’s in March 2021 – and WhaleShark, the pseudonym of an active digital collector, is said to own more than 200,000 NFTs.
NFT investors are attracted to TRLab because of its focus on artists, curation and fostering a community of artists and collectors, says Audrey Ou, the platform’s co-founder and CEO. The platform is also taking steps to ensure its NFT-based artworks remain valuable over the long term, Ou says.
“It’s not like a lot of other collectible NFT marketplaces where people talk about reserve prices and sales volume, it’s really people who think deeply and hold on to the art,” she says.
For example, to participate in limited sales of more affordable NFT offerings, potential bidders must complete a survey that challenges their knowledge of the artist. Those that pass will be placed on a “white list” for them to bid on.
“We want them to know what they’re buying, what artists they’re collecting,” says Li-Cohen. “It develops a long-term relationship between collector and artist.”
Traditional artists like US-based Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who had no experience in digital art or blockchain technology, feel empowered by this approach and the fact that the platform works with artists to bring their ideas to life TRLab dressed. Cais in July Ephemeral Eternity – 101 detonations of gunpowder imagesfetched $2.5 million at a TRLab auction.
TRLab, whose name comes from Latin tabula rasa, or blank slate, intends to use the additional funding to deepen its connections “between the digital and traditional art worlds,” in part by “exciting people with new additions to our artist roster,” says Ou.
The platform will continue to offer “Genesis Creations” by renowned traditional artists such as Cai and curated thematic collaborations such as: KI 2041: Ten visions for our future, a book by Stanley Qiufan Chen and Kai-Fu Lee. But new applications for blockchain technology are also being explored that will “push the boundaries of what NFT art can be,” says Ou.
Among art world supporters, both Pace and Gouzer have made successful forays into NFTs of their own. Gouzer, for example, recently co-founded Particle, which bridges visual arts and technology by dividing artworks into “particles” that are sold as NFTs.
“Pace and Loïc have their own focus, but hopefully we can all work on something together in the future,” says Li-Cohen. Ou agreed, saying that both understand that bridging the digital and traditional art worlds requires having a platform built to support artists and focused on “a very young and energetic community of art fans.”
TRLab has built its community on Discord, the video chat platform where artists often stop by to talk to collectors about their work or the work of other TRLab artists. Cai, for example, comes to the platform every day, no matter where he is, to say “good morning”.
Other sponsors in the latest round include Andrew Steinwold, managing partner of NFT investment firm Sfermion, and Chinese venture capital firms BAI Capital and INCE Capital. Other venture investors include Kenetic Capital – founded by art consultant Jehan Chu – Digital Renaissance Foundation, Plutus Capital, StableNode and Willoughby Capital.
Other private investors include Marc Bhargava, Gabby Dizon, Sabrina Hahn, Olivia Wang and Jennifer Zeng, and art collector Svetlana Kuzmicheva-Uspenskaya.