NFTs have begun to proliferate across just about every industry you can think of. Ukraine is using NFTs to help fund their struggle against the Russian invasion, healthcare startups are using them to better serve their communities, and even scientists and academic institutions have been raising money with the technology.
Unsurprisingly, some big names in the museum space have also begun to take an interest in NFTs. It’s a smart move and its timing couldn’t be better. Museums the world over are struggling to stay afloat financially after being hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and NFTs could provide them with much-needed resources to continue on with their cultural missions.
Here’s a rundown of a few of the most notable museums and organizations getting in on the game.
The British Museum and LaCollection
The British Museum has partnered with the French NFT platform LaCollection, a startup launched last year dedicated to selling digitized versions of institutional art collections and museum pieces. By selling NFTs in connection with leading museums, LaCollection aims to motivate the future generation of art enthusiasts and collectors while raising money for cultural establishments.
The partnership has produced two themed drops to date. The first drop was a set of over 200 digital postcards based on images from painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai’s, including the iconic “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” The second focused on the work of the English Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner, whose 1823 masterpiece “A Storm (Shipwreck)” has been called “the most violently tempestuous seascape ever created in watercolour.”
LaCollection sells the NFTs across a few different categories depending on a piece’s artistic and cultural value: “Common,” in which roughly 10,000 editions of an artwork’s NFT are sold, “Limited,” meaning roughly 1,000 are produced, while “Rare” entails 100, “Super rare” 10, and “Ultra-rare,” only two. Some of the NFTs are sold at a fixed price while others are sold at auction. Prices for the NFTs in these two drops reportedly ranged from $500 to $40,000.
The partnership’s next NFT drop is set for the first of April, featuring the calligraphic works of Yang Jiechang.
The Ambrosiana Library and Uffizi Gallery
By partnering with the British contemporary art dealership Unit London and the Italian encryption firm Cinello, some museums in Italy are finding success in displaying LED reproductions of the work they house in overseas galleries and selling their accompanying NFTs.
By licensing some of their work to Unit London, both the Ambrosiana Library in Milan and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence have allowed some of their cultural treasures — including Leonardo da Vinci’s “Portrait of a Musician” — to be displayed to scale in ultra high-resolution on digital screens in Unit London’s gallery space and sold as an NFT.
The museums also licensed and sold (in nine editions) NFTs of Caravaggio’s “Bowl of Fruit” along with Raphael’s “Madonna of the Goldfinch.” After the Unit London show closed last Friday, there were seven confirmed NFT sales of up to €250,000. 50 percent of the proceeds of these sales return to the museums themselves.
Unit London is currently presenting an exhibition entitled “Transformations,” featuring the works of Maxim Zhestkov, Ellen Sheidlin, Marjan Moghaddam, and more. The exhibition and NFT drop are themed around the cultural shifts that took place due to the pandemic and can be purchased on the Institut platform.
Funding social projects through the Whitworth Art Gallery
In one of the more noble-minded examples we’ve seen of art spaces utilizing NFTs as a revenue source, the Manchester-based Whitworth Art Gallery is selling an edition of 50 of an image generated from William Blake’s “The Ancient of Days” as a lead up to a physical exhibition in 2023.
The gallery chose to mint the NFTs on the Tezos blockchain as it has a much lower carbon footprint than Ethereum and other major chains. The NFTs of Blake’s work are selling for 999 XTZ (just under $4,000). So far, the gallery has raised almost $40,000 from those sales. Proceeds will go toward a local community fund that will use the money for “socially beneficial” artistic projects relating to education, health, and the environment.
Fascinatingly, the image is not a direct digital reproduction of Blake’s work, but rather an altered visual take on the piece. It was created by the John Rylands Research Institute and Library and the University of Manchester via multispectral imaging software, which processed the image through different wavelengths of light, from UV to infrared.
Whitworth has based the concept of both the NFT and its upcoming 2023 exhibition on the idea that current economic models fail to do enough social good in the world. Using blockchain technology, the institution proposes new ways of funneling private capital into social funds, the organization explained in a press release.
How museum NFT pieces differ from native NFTs
As in all things NFT-related, museums selling limited editions of digital reproductions of famous artwork will be a market to watch closely as it evolves. For now, it’s still a relatively small one in comparison to the so-called “native” NFT markets that include artwork from groups like Bored Ape Yacht Club, whose digital pieces can sell for millions at a time.
Still, it’s heartening to see struggling cultural institutions using NFTs to find new ways of funding their missions so they can better disseminate art to the world at large and contribute meaningfully to their local communities.