“I always wanted to own art, even when I had absolutely no money—I wished I could have at least a tiny stake in the paintings that I liked.” So said Loïc Gouzer, the ex-head of contemporary art at Christie’s and a co-founder of Particle, a new NFT company that aims to fractionalize ownership of traditional artworks by converting them into sets of NFTs called Particles, thus allowing for potentially thousands of people to share ownership of certain works. After receiving $15 million in seed funding from a venture capital firm and announcing its presence as a company this past summer, that wish is now a reality.
Particle revealed on Wednesday that its first acquisition is Banksy’s Love Is in the Air (2005), which the Particle team acquired for $12.9 million at auction. The work has been segmented into 10,000 NFTs, each representing a unique section of the painting. An initial offering of Love Is in the Air will begin January 10 and run through January 14, allowing collectors a chance to purchase a Particle of the work for about $1,500. After the initial offering, the Particles will enter the secondary market across NFT platforms and there’s no telling how they might change in value.
The physical version of Love Is in the Air will be handed over to Particle Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the company that will maintain, preserve, and tour the work so that collectors can see the pieces they can rightfully claim to own. Royalties received in the resale of Particles (like all NFTs, Particles are attached to a smart contract that ensures a portion of the resale value is returned to the creator of the NFT) will be partially used to fund Particle Foundation. And the foundation will also retain 1 percent of Love Is in the Air Particles to act, as a press release explains, “as a protective shard and ensure no one person can envisage claiming possession of the physical painting.”
With the entanglements intrinsic to the fact that each Particle will fluctuate in value across a vast and changing collector base, it would be intensely complicated to ever attempt to sell the physical work. To make a comparison: For a company like Rally, which fractionalizes ownership of collectibles in a more traditional manner, the sale of an entire object or work is the only way for collectors to see a return on their investment. Currently, some 5,500 joint holders of a copy of the Declaration of Independence are voting on whether or not to sell the historical document. If they decide to sell together as a group, they’ll all get their investment returned, and potentially more.
In Particle’s case, the potential for return on investment is not a collective decision but instead something immediate and individual to be carried out on secondary NFT platforms. The downside of that is that each investor must take the responsibility of marketing and selling their asset in the volatile NFT market.
Together, Particle and the Particle Foundation have stated ambitions to create a kind of meta museum, combining the stewardship of traditional institutions with the exclusivity of a private collection and the returns and risks related to the rabid digital market that is NFT trading. The enterprise’s vision is highly dependent on its own ability to endure the challenges of this complicated matrix.
For Gouzer, the challenge is worth it for what it might mean for more people to know the feeling of owning great works of art. “Particle Foundation is going to be a museum for the people, but also by them,” he said. “It will be great to see art like that, because pure enjoyment of art is not complete until you feel you own it.”