At Christie’s Art + Tech Summit, Web3ers Sell Each Other With Mass Data and Mass Adoption – ARTnews | Candle Made Easy

The Christie’s Art + Tech Summit 2022 brought together VCs, VPs, CEOs, COOs, CSOs, Brand Executives, Founders, and every other leadership role you can imagine from a variety of startups and established tech companies to share their insights into an important company important question: What does the future of art look like?

Here’s a preview: Lots of data harvesting and self-measurement, increasing convenience when buying online, and of course more opportunities to offer “value” to the consumer.

Artists weren’t completely left out of the conversation. Artist Blake Kathryn and “digital creator” Andre Oshea were invited to the first panel of the summit, which kicked off Tuesday, to describe how NFTs had changed their respective destinies. Both were freelance digital artists who experienced the “heaven on earth moments” in Kathryn’s description of the ever-rising NFT prices of 2021.

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As freelancers, Kathryn and Oshea felt tied to their client’s expectations.

“When I was freelance, even when I was working on my personal projects, I looked at it through this lens of — would clients like that?” said Oshea. It wasn’t until the NFT boom, Oshea said, that he had the luxury of developing his practice on his own terms.

Of course, the boom of 2021 has screeched to a halt in recent months, and like many in the room, Kathryn and Oshea drew the obligatory line: crypto downturn is good for everyone, flushes out the speculators, real builders will #build, etc. etc. Still, the feeling that a hibernation was underway was palpable among the artists and, frankly, the majority of the NFT community, whose perpetual online chatter has all but died down.

I expected Web3 and fintech leaders to cover the fears of the moment on the summit’s panels, but I was surprised to find one indeed lack of fear. Sure, companies aren’t printing money right now, but no doubt many of these executives walked away from the boom with a nest egg. That’s not to say the cracks weren’t visible.

Kevin Pawlak, head of ventures at OpenSea, which recently laid off 20% of its staff, was scheduled to speak Wednesday but ended up with an empty chair as his representative.

It’s the data, fool

Crypto winter notwithstanding, 2021 has proven to be something pivotal: blockchain technology has the potential to transform the economy of content creation, and art will play a surprising role in that transformation.

“No OG in the crypto space ever predicted that it would be art that would take us into the mainstream,” said Ryan Zurrer, a venture capitalist with a long history in the crypto space, during one of Tuesday’s panels.

Beeple's sculpture depicting an astronaut walking through grass

Still from Beeple Human2021


Zurrer became known as the buyer of Beeple’s second most expensive work last year, Human (2021), which sold for $29 million. He has since become a familiar face in the upper echelons of the NFT scene, working with the world’s most notable collectors at Art Basel before joining NFT.NYC as a key organizer of a charity sale of NFTs in partnership with Christie’s.

Like 99% of collectors, Zurrer is both traditionally and uninterested in the value of his artistic investment and has made it his mission to consolidate the data available to him on the Beeple market (due to the transparency of blockchain transactions, this data is available for anyone who cares to see). Zurrer’s analysis uncovered some interesting tidbits. Beeple’s one-of-ones underperformed, he said, but the artist’s editions did reasonably well. The insights could get even more detailed, he continued, contrasting the performance of certain collections with others.

“As an artist, you can access this information about how their work is performing,” Zurrer said, which he suggested could help artists decide what type of work to make, or at least what format to present it in though Zurrer has yet to announce any concrete business plans based on analyzing this type of data, but he wasn’t the only one thinking about how data could be used to refine the art market.

Evan Beard, executive vice president of fractional art holdings company Masterworks, which has been described as turning art into stock, had a similar idea. According to Masterworks, their platform “democratizes” art because it allows individuals to buy a tiny fraction of a blue-chip painting.

The data associated with those purchases could one day become a “barometer of an artist’s market,” Beard said during a panel Wednesday. Masterworks could offer this data at scale since it would be produced at greater volume and frequency than the traditional market. Picassos are not traded from week to week – at least not in their entirety. But a small square of it?

What was perhaps even more interesting than Masterworks, which might offer a live leaderboard of high-performing artists, was that the company was already collecting all kinds of data to uncover and lure potential “collectors.”

“If you like PGA golf and have clicked on a crypto ad, you are probably interested in buying a stock of Picasso,” Beard said of Masterwork’s recent analysis. “We’re getting better at figuring out who’s out there wanting to invest, which for whatever reason is mostly young males with low-million incomes.”

What a surprise! Not!

Web3 and concurrent technologies are being developed in hopes of getting mainstream consumers to embrace NFTs and other digitized forms of content investment, but developers and creators are shaping their technology based on the activities and desires of a very specific (read: white, male) community.

I don’t think I heard a single panelist discuss how brands or platforms could innovate to benefit working artists. That just wasn’t the discussion.

As easy as buying from Amazon

The other main focus of the summit was mass adoption and how exactly to achieve it.

“For NFTs to go mainstream, the price has to go to zero,” said Eric Diep, co-founder of NFT creation company Manifold, during Tuesday’s “Web3 Adoption: How Brands are Leading the Way” panel. Diep went on to compare the mainstream adoption curve of NFTs to consumer adoption of mobile apps that are free because they trade services for consumer data, which they then sell.

It’s unclear how this would work in Web3’s decentralized, anti-advertising world, where creators are ideally paid.

Noah Davis, former Head of Digital Sales at Christie’s and current brand lead for NFT collection Crypto Punks, and Halsey Huth, Head of Growth & Partnerships at crypto payments company MoonPay, also weighed in on the same panel on how best to achieve mass adoption can .

Huth pointed out, like so many others at the summit, that the average user won’t have a great time with it as long as NFTs and crypto are fraught with friction. “It has to feel as easy as buying something from Amazon,” Huth said.

The comparison to Amazon surfaced more than once at the summit as a sort of target for how the NFT marketplace should work: an abundance of products just a click away from purchase.

There’s a lot of crap on Amazon. There’s also a lot of crap online, but maybe you can sell it now.

The vision sold was that if an artist becomes a successful creator in this environment, he or she could basically produce franchise merch. But it’s not so much that the artist offers these secondary products as that their collector base is constantly asking for them. Because NFT collectors aren’t just consumers, they’re investors, and the returns they get from the sale of an artist’s work aren’t enough. The value of a work lies in owning it. For this reason, for example, the Bored Ape Yacht Club offered the owners of their NFTs IP rights to all the apes they own.

pixelated faces

Larva Labs, CryptoPunks, 2017

Courtesy of Christie’s

When Noah Davis became brand head of Crypto Punks, he formulated a vision of how he would lead the brand.

“I WON’T FUCK WITH THE PUNKS…” he wrote on Twitter post last month announcing his new position. “What does that mean? It doesn’t mean punks on lunch boxes or scary TV shows/shitty movies. It doesn’t mean random rushed use or mindless airdrops. That means if you love your punk(s) for who they are (just punks), then we agree…”

But obviously the punks were not so happy about this statement.

“Democracy is powerful in this space,” Davis said diplomatically when asked during the panel if he would give the punks the lunch boxes they requested. “It doesn’t matter what I say. If the punks want lunch boxes, they get them, even if it defeats my strategy for the brand.”

Though he admitted he wasn’t making any promises at the moment, Davis seemed to understand something essential to succeeding in the world of content selling, something that arts institutions still don’t understand: the consumers make the rules here and they are not interested in art history. If they want lunch boxes, they’ll get them or they’ll walk away. Utility, access, responsiveness – whatever the hodler demands. What a beautiful world we are entering, in which more and more people have the opportunity to behave with the testy, entitled face of the shareholder.

Being measured and always measuring themselves, constantly chasing the suggestive data, constantly producing more value for engagement-hungry consumers, is this the future artists want? If it means achieving financial stability or even success, is that an investment worth it? Is asking even important?

Like everyone else up to this point, artists are likely to adapt to and take advantage of the tools that have been passed down to them. An artist might argue that they are already slaves to metrics, responding to ever-changing algorithms and engagement requirements to get their work known. But do not forget.

It can always get worse.

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