Last month, Christie’s shocked the art world by selling an NFT artwork by the artist Beeple at auction for $69 million. Since then, artists like Simon Denny and Damien Hirst have released NFT artworks. Now, a different kind of arrangement has been made to sell NFTs, one that involves collaboration between an auction entity, a traditional gallery, and a website that sells NFTs of all kinds. Fair Warning, the auction app founded by former Christie’s specialist Loic Gouzer, is teaming up with Pace Gallery and digital art platform MakersPlace to sell a series of NFTs by the acclaimed mid-career artist Urs Fischer.
“If this works,” Gouzer says of the project, “this will really be a validation for the whole NFT sphere.”
Fischer is creating a series of 501 digital artworks that will exist as NFTs. Collectively, they are titled “CHAOS.” In the first 500 of them, two unrelated everyday objects—for instance, a cigarette lighter and an egg—come together and interact. Number 501 will be an artwork that combines all 1,000 objects. It will be “like a movie,” Fischer said, and it will be exhibited on a screen in a physical space still to be determined. He considers them “digital sculptures.”
Fair Warning will auction off the first of these NFTs, CHAOS #1 Human, on April 11. MakersPlace will begin selling subsequent ones the following day, and they will also be made available on Pace’s website.
Fischer is best known for his large-scale sculptures made in materials from bronze to wax. Since then, his work has dealt in unusual pairings of objects. His “Problem Paintings” superimpose pictures of pieces of fruit and metal on images of famous actors’ faces.
The “CHAOS” NFTs came out of a need for a medium that would accommodate the grand ambitions of his latest project. Two years ago, Fischer started to think about how, “as humans, we hardly ever touch something that isn’t man-made, that isn’t cultured and engineered.” He photographed 1,000 everyday objects, from house cleaner to car seats, and loaded all the images into the same frame as a kind of draft, so that it looks as though they are floating in space together. But he was frustrated—he wanted to find a way for the objects to move and interact.
Last summer, Fischer began discussing his project with Gouzer, who had just launched Fair Warning and become interested in NFTs, in part through Fair Warning’s CTO, who is a specialist in them. When Gouzer told him about the medium, Fischer’s “eyes lit up and he saw a path.”
With so many NFTs, Gouzer knew their sale couldn’t be limited to his auction app, so he sought a gallery partner. “Loic came to me, and I put my hand up really fast,” said Glimcher, who had himself been thinking about how to work with digital art. “Every work of art that I sell that is digital—which is quite a bit—should all live on the blockchain and be NFTs.” (Last week, Pace hired Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle as its first online sales director; one of her focuses will be NFTs.)
(The Wall Street Journal reported earlier today that Gouzer gave Gagosian Gallery, Fischer’s worldwide gallery representative, a chance to partner in selling the NFTs, but that Gagosian is holding off for now on selling NFTs.)
For some, producing NFTs can been considered an easy way of capitalizing on a market trend that may be a short-lived. (According to a recent Bloomberg report, the average price for an NFT dropped around 70 percent between February and March.) But according to Gouzer, Fischer had thought carefully about his NFTs. “Urs has always used technology not like a gimmick,” Gouzer said.” “It was used in the service of his ideas.”
Fischer’s work has sold for millions of dollars at auction. On Fair Warning, the pre-sale estimate for his first NFT is a much lower price—just $1,000–$2,000. “Of course,” Gouzer said, “I want the price to go up because it validates Urs’s art, but especially for the second one on MakersPlace I hope it will not go up too fast too quickly. I think it’s amazing that you could have a unique work by Urs and not have to pay millions of dollars.”
One aspect of NFTs has given Gouzer pause—it’s been difficult for him to square their environmental impact with his own dedication to going green. (Wired recently reported that the 2019 sale of six works by artist Joanie Lemercier on Nifty Gateway used 8.7 gigawatts of energy in just 10 seconds. Many NFT sales go on for far longer periods of time, and can require far more energy.) To remedy this, Gouzer will not only be offsetting the environmental cost of Fischer’s NFT by putting some of the proceeds towards environmental charity—Oceana, where he serves as a board member. He will also help seed Ethereum 2, which will authenticate NFTs through a different process which is less environmentally impactful.
It’s unusual for a gallery to collaborate with an auction house in such a way, even an innovative one like Gouzer’s, and the selling of primary market work at auction—work straight from an artist’s studio—has traditionally been troublesome for the contemporary art galleries and their artists. But Glimcher says NFTs require openness to a different model.
“You’ve got to loosen the screws on your moralistic stance, open your mind a little bit,” Glimcher said, adding, “The speculators are going to come in, but on the other hand, this is a decentralization. I’m opening up my mind to this hybridized way of how to put the art out into the world, which includes some form of auction.”
While it’s as yet unclear how Gouzer and Glimcher’s gamble will pay off, Fischer is already thinking about how number 501—his final, movie-like piece—might be displayed. Might Superblue, a project cofounded by Glimcher to show experiential art by charging for tickets, be an option? From the way Fischer talks about how such creations might ultimately be displayed IRL, he seems open to it. “Maybe you need a different patronage model for some things,” he said. “It’s more like people go and experience something rather than having a possession or owning something.” (Glimcher said an IRL display of the piece could happen as early as this fall.)
Of the NFT craze, Fischer observes, “It’s interesting that this whole thing surfaces now as we all spend a year on the screen.”