What the NFT is this?

The 2022 Culturefix morning conversations explored arts and culture as tools for diplomacy. The following session centered around NFTs:

In March 2021, Christie's sold its first digital artwork. The $69.3 million piece by Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, may be relatively unknown in the traditional art market, but that price placed him amongst Jeff Koons and David Hockney as one of the most valuable living artists at auction to date. The growing popularity of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have caused artists and museums to grapple with this newfound market/medium. While NFTs can be seen as a way for artists to gain control over their pieces in the digital space, they also raise questions on ownership, storage, and digital reproduction. For museums, NFTs represent a possible future in the collections space, but are there further considerations in place before museums invest in these pieces? This panel will look to clarify how NFTs fit into the art world and debate whether or not they have a permanent place within museum collections.


  • Kate Knibbs, Senior Writer, WIRED – Moderator

  • Krista Kim, Artist and Founder, Techism Movement

  • Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle, Global Director of Online Sales, Pace Gallery, NYC

  • Laura Ballman, Founder, Capital Art Strategies

Here are some top takeaways from the NFT session:

1. Art and democracy. NFTs have revolutionized the monetization of both personal and commercial intellectual property rights. NFT Artist and Founder of the Techism Movement, Krista Kim, was drawn to NFTs initially as she saw them as an opportunity to achieve a personal sense of autonomy, explaining that she wants future generations to have control over their data, and is weary of the way in which privacy is infringed upon in the current technological sphere. The blockchain is becoming a place for artists to sell on their works with their own IP and disintermediates the access to buyers and the market. From the rapid succession of Bitcoin to blockchain to NFTs, the logistics of creating legislation that supports the rapidly changing digitized sphere while also protecting the rights citizens have to privacy is an aspect of intellectual property rights which has a significant impact on interfering further legitimization of the market. NFTs are powerful vehicles for wealth redistribution, as NFTs are rooted at the intersection of the conceptualization between technology and permeant legers of art. This intersection raises questions about ownership, permeance, and authenticity, thus it is necessary to continue to advocate for the furthering of legislation and protections within the metaverse.

2. Financialization of art. Founder of Capital Art Strategies, Laura Ballman, spoke to the financialization of art and explained that she is not opposed to the development of the market for art from a financial perspective for two reasons. Foremost, she explained that digitalization of the financial sector “used to be the domain of crypto ‘bro’ culture. It is taken seriously now.” To this effect, in a male-dominated financial sector, modes of speculative finance such as NFTs with high-risk and high-reward outcomes have become more inclusive. NFTs, costing a range from hundreds to millions of dollars, leads Ballman to her next point. She expresses that NFTs make fractional ownership more achievable to wider audiences, thus deconstructed medias of art such as movies, music, real estate, and art can be purchased in cheaper and smaller portions that allow more buyers to interact in the metaverse. Understanding that there is also an increased rarity for digital artists and collectors that increases the value proposition of each piece also demands a respect and acceptance to the increase in prices. Krista Kim also explains how NFTs are the building blocks of the metaverse, and represent culture, health and wellness, and other facets of life that we experience in the physical world that create value for places, things, and people. Every worldly object does not have an inherent value. In that sense, the value of art in the metaverse is indistinguishable from tangible pieces of art; the value is in who created it and the people who have interacted with it. The question of increasing financialization of art through increasing interest in NFT ownership is inevitably complicated, but as the market continues to transcend the boundaries of the physical world the stigma surrounding digital art will continue to fall.

3. Museums in the metaverse. Global Director of Online Sales at Pace Gallery, Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle, explains that she sees the future of her gallery as having a permanent, virtual place in the metaverse, and believes that interest in the metaverse needs to increase before it can be possible to invest more in exhibitions. Krista Kim agrees, stating that entities such as Snark.art are already releasing historically significant NFT projects, whereby pieces of renaissance art were created to also convert into small films. Screening for this project would only occur publicly in the event that stakeholders permitted their portions to be screened. Through this project, we can see how museums would need to adapt in order to accommodate art pieces such as those created by entities such as Snark.art. Maneuvering through licensing agreements in this space and being able to accommodate the needs of the artist are conditions museums in the metaverse would need to consider, as the central draw for talented NFT artists is autonomy over their own work. The role of museums as a destination for dematerialized art will change the role of a museum, and the way in which communities are understood to interact with art forms. Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle continues to explain that institutions understand that museums are meant to represent communities, and that “public entities create collections that will amass some kinds of wealth, thus institutions that will amass wealth want to get it right.”

4. Ambiguity of the metaverse and the dematerialization of art. Krista Kim explained that the ambiguity of the metaverse lies in questions pertaining to legal governance within the metaverse. There is a very thin line between adequate supervision of the metaverse for data safety, and over policing which would decrease creative capacity for artists in the technological realm. Krista Kim explains, “culture and art, activated with education, health, and wellness creates a creative renaissance. They all intersect.” To Krista Kim, the space has to be created by people with passion, which adds an intangible value. The concept of culture and passion in the metaverse also exemplifies its ambiguity in that it is still so incredibly reliant on a tangible human influence which the metaverse seemingly seeks to eradicate. The dematerialization of art is explained by Krista Kim, through a lens of understanding that art and the acceleration of hardware will become hyperreal, and almost indistinguishable from what is real or not real. Experiences will be enhanced by these types of art, which is the essence of a metaverse; to let go of the belief that material possessions exemplify wealth and reorient your understanding of power and wealth to be through experience. In the metaverse, art is not a painting or a sculpture. It is everything.

5. The future of the metaverse. All three panelists agree that the future is in Artificial Intelligence. Questions raised pertaining to the legality of intellectual property rights demand answers, but the metaverse is not adequately prepared to give them yet. The importance of user privacy to buyers and sellers is second to none, and NFTs provide clear delineation and authenticity. Platforms to buy and sell NFTs, such as Superrare, KnownOrigin, and OpenSea, are taking the physical and digital world by storm. Understanding that the root of interest in art is wealth, and means of amassing greater wealth, indicates that commercialization of NFT entities is coming, and quickly. The role of culture, health and wellness, and education are not to be overlooked. Krista Kim calls for attention and resources to be diverted away from video games and fun, in order to focus our attention on our respective cultural legacies that will permanently exist in time.

Project summary

What the NFT is this? | June 2022
Program Areas: Culture