Christie’s Auction House Exec: NFTs Are the ‘Art World’s Napster'

"It could be that disruptive to the way people do business," said Noah Davis, Christie's point person on NFTs, at Consensus 2021.

May 25, 2021 at 4:01 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:01 p.m. UTC

From art auctions to sports collectibles, non-fungible tokens (NFT), have had a breakout year. But where do we go from here? 

Everywhere, according to panelists at a Tuesday discussion during CoinDesk's Consensus 2021 conference. Representatives from venerable British auction house Christie's, the president of Time Magazine and prominent NFT collectors MetaKovan and Whale Shark laid out the bullish case for future NFT applications that could range from collectibles to proof of university degrees. 

“This is the art world's Napster, potentially, because it could be that disruptive to the way people do business,” said Noah Davis, Christie’s point person on NFTs, referring to the music-sharing service. The British auction house announced in February it would accept ether, the Ethereum blockchain’s native currency, as a payment method, right before Beeple’s watershed digital artwork went under the hammer. The artwork was eventually sold for $69 million to Singapore-based blockchain entrepreneur MetaKovan, aka Vignesh Sundaresan. 

Time Magazine, the nearly centenarian publication, has also ventured into the NFT and crypto space over the past few months. The company said in April it would begin accepting crypto payments for subscriptions, and auctioned its first set of NFTs in March inspired by its April 8, 1966, “Is God Dead?” magazine cover. 

“Covers are collectibles. Historically, they represent sort of moments of society, the world, they touch people,” said Keith Grossman, president of Time Magazine. He said the selling of NFT covers was almost like an extension of the magazine’s analog cover store. Grossman said Time places crypto use cases into three categories: high-end collectibles (via NFTs), mid-tier collectibles for niche spaces and a chain that allows the magazine to provide access to subscriptions, memberships and unique experiences. 

Collectors MetaKovan and Whale Shark are very bullish on NFTs, noting that as people spend more and more time online it's only natural they’ll come to value verifiable digital ownership more significantly. 

“Whether that be a skin on Fortnite, whether that be a weapon skin on CS-GO [Counter Strike: Global Offensive],” NFTs represent “a very mature solution” – one that takes such assets and is able “to give it provenance and scarcity so that they can be treated like normal collectibles,” said Whale Shark.

Responding to a question about whether an NFT could be used to fund museums, MetaKovan said it’s possible to do but designing one to ensure consistency and baking in the allure to get people to walk through the museum's doors is equally important. 

“It's not about just putting something there. But you know, creating a culture of people being able to perceive something,” he said. 

The panel agreed non-fungible digital assets are likely to have a strikingly bright future but a measured and patient approach is also important considering the scope of experimentations going on in the space. 

Davis said that while Christie’s has spoken with “probably 1,000 people” with solid NFT ideas, the auction house is planning its strategy on a one- to three-month basis, with recent auctions involving blue-chip items such as Andy Warhol NFTs and more experimental rollouts. 

“The future of NFTs is when the word 'NFT' actually just disappears from linguistics,” said Grossman, adding that it would be similar to the way tech specifications fell out of computer-speak when the experience took center stage. 

“I expect NFT technology to be so integrated within society that when you ask people: ‘What is an NFT?’ They'll just say ‘I own it’” said Whale Shark.

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