Excitement was in the air on Thursday afternoon at London’s Newport Street Gallery. But the crowds of visitors chatting excitedly or taking pictures of the show weren’t the usual artistic crowd, and this certainly wasn’t the usual art opening.
It was a ‘community event’ to showcase Currency, Damien Hirst’s first NFT collection in collaboration with HENI, an international art services company, ahead of today’s official opening at the artist’s gallery. Most of the members of this “community” were “coin holders”, which means that they participated in the Hearst pilot project.
“The Currency” was launched in July 2021 as a set of 10,000 NFTs, each corresponding to one of 10,000 unique spot paintings by the UK’s richest artist. Those who acquired one of the NFTs, originally for $2,000, have the option to keep the digital token or exchange it for physical artwork.
The exchange period closed on July 27, as 5149 “coin holders” chose to trade their NFTs for physical plates. In the gallery, the panels collected in the display have been replaced by transparent black-and-white slides from the original spot painting.
As for the remaining works on paper, which represent 4,851 works owned by people who have chosen to keep the NFT, they will be burned by the artist himself during Frieze London Week. And so it is shown here for the last time before disappearing into the flames.
“The entire project is a work of art, and anyone who buys the currency They’re going to be involved in this business, it’s not just about owning it,” Hurst said in a statement. “It’s the most exciting project I’ve worked on so far.”
Judging from the preview of the show, he wasn’t exaggerating. The participants here shared a sense of excitement widely. Many greeted each other in person as if they were long lost friends, seeming to represent the spirit of “community” that is so widely promoted in NFT culture. They ranged from seasoned art collectors to those who had never set foot in a gallery.
Henry Elphick, 39, a seasoned designer and collector who said he owned a few Hearst prints in the past, was spotted looking for “coin” pieces at the gallery. Elphick was playing on both sides of the project: He replaced one of his NFTs with a physical spot plate while keeping another NFT.
“I find it cool,” Elphick told Artnet News. “I wanted to see where it leads us. [Hirst] He’s clearly quite clever to try to migrate this kind of physical assembler to the digital world, while potentially everyone else is doing mostly digital work right away.”
Stewart Bumford, a 49-year-old painter, wore for the occasion a colorful T-shirt to match the artwork on display. He noted that “The Currency” was the first NFT project he had been involved in, adding that he and two of his friends were excited that their requests to buy the NFT and participate were successful. However, he and his friends eventually chose to keep the physical artwork.
“I knew I didn’t really want one of them to be one of the people who were going to get burned,” said the shy but cheerful to the camera. The project had to turn Bumford into a fan of NFT, but it got a lot out of the culture around “the coin” nonetheless. He was happy that he “meet a couple of people on Discord. It’s obviously a great community out there”.
Naomi Ford, a psychotherapist in her forties who was standing in a long line to buy a “coin”-themed tote bag (the display comes with a large selection of associated merchandise) noticed there was a noticeable absence of women at the community preview. . Ford was one of the few women seen on the show. Unlike the men Artnet News spoke to, she chose to keep NFT, her first.
“I know, crazy,” Ford said, though her eyes were sparkling with excitement. “I didn’t know the NFT market space because it was new, and I kind of wanted to be a part of that. I know a lot of people say, ‘Ah, I wish it was on my wall.’ But then also, there might be something else going on.”
The scarcity of women showed that the world of NFT “is a very male-dominated place”, though she added, “It may be like the rest of the world.” She also noted that the crowd that attended the opening was relatively mature. “Look at the age demographic here. We’re not that young. But that’s money, right? It probably has to do with where you put your money.”
Skeptics may wonder if “The Currency” was just another exaggerated show of the media-savvy artist, or was it just a cash-coat. But for the enthusiastic audience who followed this project from day one to seeing the art hanging in the gallery, “Coin” brought a great deal of joy, which is invaluable.
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