Damien Hirst's NFT Experiment Explores Burning Question

Buyers of Hirst’s “The Currency” have a year to decide whether to keep the physical artwork or the digital version. One will be burnt.

AccessTimeIconJul 13, 2021 at 11:01 p.m. UTC
Updated May 9, 2023 at 3:21 a.m. UTC

An “art-based social experiment” involving non-fungible tokens (NFTs) created by the celebrated British artist Damien Hirst was officially kicked off on Wednesday.

Hirst, who is probably most famous for exhibiting a 14-foot shark in a vitrine of formaldehyde, has launched “The Currency,” comprising a series of 10,000 of his widely recognized “spot paintings” on signed and watermarked sheets of A4 paper, along with digital watermarks in the form of NFTs cast on a blockchain.

The one-week window for applying to own one of the pieces opens Wednesday at 3 p.m. London time.

Over the past eight months or so, there has been a breathless rush into NFTs, which has seen sports stars, musicians and artists hawking blockchain-based title deeds linked to various items, climaxing in Christie’s auction house selling a digital artwork for $69 million in March. 

However, Hirst’s foray into NFTs, a more measured affair, was over three years in the planning, according to Joe Hage, a collaborator of the artist’s. Hage is the CEO of art services business HENI, which has partnered with Brooklyn, N.Y.-based ConsenSys on the NFT-focused Palm ecosystem to bring Hirst’s work into crypto.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Hage said in an interview. “It’s such a beautiful project in its simplicity, but it’s been a challenge to do it the way we wanted, technologically.”

The project involves 10,000 originals, each with a different array of dots.
The project involves 10,000 originals, each with a different array of dots.

It also comes with the artist’s inimitable twist. 

Buyers of “The Currency” (each edition is priced at $2,000) must choose whether to swap the sui generis digital version for the physical artwork. They will have one year from when the NFTs are distributed – or until 3 p.m. BST on July 27, 2022 – to decide to keep either the digital NFT or the A4 piece of paper.

If they have not exchanged their NFT in that period, the physical artwork will be destroyed. Similarly, if they have redeemed their token for the physical work, the NFT will be destroyed. 

“It’s a kind of battle between the people who want the physical art world and people who want some NFT or digital art,” said Hage. “People can decide what they want, like an art-based social experiment.”

Only time will tell which version the market values more.



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