To NFT or Not to NFT?

On the 10th anniversary of the first NFT ever created, we address the question that's still confounding art critics today.

Ten years ago today, the first NFT was programmed into being. An animated loop of expanding neon octagons and circles, Quantum by Kevin McCoy foreshadowed the surreal 'hype-circus' that was yet to come.

Until Covid, NFTs enjoyed a steady rise in popularity thanks to their humorous pop-culture make-up and the Ethereum blockchain. But once Covid's global lockdown measures were enforced, they catapulted into the mainstream, and totalled the contemporary art market with their success. Christie's, for instance, sold Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days NFT for a record-making price of $69,346,250 in March 2021. This boom highlighted the need to invest in art's digital future, and consumers, art institutions and galleries understood and obeyed.

Soon after the Beeple's sale, Christie’s launched their NFT auction platform: Christie's 3.0, which recently released a book by the digital artist Robert Alice on the history of NFT's. Meanwhile, the Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, MoMA and countless other galleries ingested NFTs into their exhibition strategies and merchandise. Together, they created “the immersive institution” we're now familiar with and was discussed by The Art Newspaper in February 2024.

Is There A Future For NFTs?

Despite the climactic success of NFTs, we can't ignore their meteoric crash in sales in 2022. According to Statista, the sales value of art and collectibles NFTs worldwide, has decreased by over 60 percent year-on-year since 2021. With this in mind, is there a future for NFTs? In answer, hopeful forecasters have pointed to similar peaks and troughs that have plagued other markets.

Meanwhile, many digital artists insist that there are numerous admirable aspects to NFTs, which should contribute to their longevity. For one thing, 'minting' a piece digitally records their provenance for years to come. Secondly, digital marketplaces eliminate traditional gatekeepers like art dealers and allow users to buy art and connect with artists directly. Their tokens enable multiple parties fractional ownership of high-value art pieces. These platforms have seemingly democratised a typically high-brow industry that favours blue chip artists.

But if there's one lesson to be learnt from 2023, it's that the value of NFTs and crypto-currency is unpredictable. When considering buying an NFT, it's important to understand which artworks and artists have loyal followings, as a piece's value is bolstered by the communities who truly believe in it. Thankfully, owners of Johnny's Friends & Heroes-inspired NFTs can rest easy. His staunch following and creative community (connected through his Never Fear Truth platform) are not going anywhere.

Title image. Liz Taylor NFT by Johnny Depp, 2023