When everyone clung to computers, tablets or smartphones in lockdown and tried to keep everything going digitally, it happened: Christie's auctioned one online in the spring for $ 60.25 million, with a buyer's premium of 69.3 million A collage of thousands of digital pictures by Beeple alias Mike Winkelmann - and a collective jap took hold of the art business.

Not only that a graphic designer from the pop business with trashy memes, after Jeff Koons and David Hockney, had climbed third place on the list of living artists for whose work the highest prices were achieved.

In the auction in New York, at which the auction house allowed cryptocurrency as a means of payment, neither a picture to hang up nor a file was sold, but an NFT.

A what please?

Ursula Scheer

Editor in the features section.

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Up until then, non-fungible tokens, the term behind the abbreviation, were at most casually on the lips of crypto-disciples, who handle blockchain and Bitcoin as a matter of course.

Now artists, critics, dealers, collectors and museums learned in no time: NFT could be the solution to a huge problem in art in the digital age - and a money printing machine.


An NFT is a certificate of authenticity for a digital work stored on a blockchain.

It makes what can in principle be copied infinitely often unique.

Like a signature, it marks an original authorized by the author and notes its owner.

Is that the cryptographic answer to Walter Benjamin's essay "The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility"? In 1935, in view of the photo, film and sound recordings, he had seen the “aura” of the work of art, founded in the “here and now”, disappear. An NFT certainly does not have an aura in the Benjaminian sense, the glow of which still suggests a reflection of the cultic origins of art. Beeples' little pictures, to stick with the initial example, were posted as daily comments for years, freely available on Tumblr and Instagram; they are part of the traditional context of social media. The NFT of the retrospectively compiled collage of these cartoons leaves the context. It's a deedwhich ignites the speculative rage of a crypto-affine clientele outside the traditional art business. It's not about aura, but the manageability of digital goods as collectors' and traded goods, made possible by the technical merging of the world of art and finance. It couldn't be more unromantic.

Fabian Müller-Nittel, next to Markus Reindl and Jesse Damiani one of the curators of the first museum NFT show "Proof of Art", which can be seen in the Francisco Carolinum in Linz, adapted Benjamin's essay title appropriately: An NFT is a "work of art in Age of its digital reproducibility ”. What the exhibition organizers are not interested in is obvious: They ignore the Beeple hype as well as the auctioning of the Internet source code written by Tim Berners-Lee as NFT at Sotheby's or the efforts of world-class museums to cryptographically pimp their souvenir shop. If the Uffizi sell a scan of Michelangelo's “Tondo Doni” including a certificate signed by the museum director as an NFT, this may alleviate the financial misery of the pandemic-ridden house.For Müller, however, it is an insult to Michelangelo and NFT technology at the same time.

Does that help digital artists?

Originally it was developed - by Anil Dash and Kevin McCoy - so that digital artists can better protect their works and trade with them, without intermediaries, in a collective virtual space.

What sounds wonderfully democratic, turned out to be a suitable tool for turbo capitalization pretty quickly.

Blockchain artists, in turn, exploit this in cold-blooded self-irony and subvert it.

They always keep the logic of the platforms and algorithms in mind.