Art supplement to CAPITAL magazine in May 2022
Marc Peschke conducted an exciting interview with Andreas Greulich about NFTs and the art market today.
“The NFT has elevated speculation to pop culture.”
Frankfurt gallery owner Andreas Greulich on the NFT hype and what lies behind it.
Are digital images of bored monkeys from the Bored Ape Yacht Club or crypto-punks created with just a few pixels the future of the art market? Currently, everything that is possible is being monetized as NFT, or “non-fungible tokens.” The source code for the World Wide Web, the first tweet from 2006, the first text message, the first Wikipedia page, pictures of soccer stars – or Beapel’s puzzle of 5,000 digital pictures auctioned off at Christie’s, which made Mike Winkelmann a multimillionaire. Anything can become an original as an NFT. But does that have anything to do with art? We spoke to Frankfurt gallery owner Andreas Greulich about the NFT hype, about gold-rush sentiment and how much there is to the NFT thing …
Dear Mr. Greulich, as one of the first gallery owners in Germany you already decided last summer to do an NFT crypto exhibition in your gallery in Frankfurt. In the meantime, NFT has become the talk of the town. What has changed in the past few months?
Things are changing at my gallery: we are currently preparing our third NFT exhibition within a year. We are curating an NFT project for a large financial services provider. Our virtual gallery Greulich 2.0 is under construction and I’m writing a small book on NFT that will be published by fall. The hype around “the NFTs” is actually just the tip of the iceberg. Rather, the NFTs show how the art world is preparing for the future. I’m not saying that everything is changing. But new concepts in art and art education are developing, which are essentially an expression of our time. What has also changed is that pop culture has moved much more into the focus of the conventional art market and speculation.
“What hot sh!it” they called this first exhibition, which has since been followed by others. Is crypto art still the hot shit today?
Yes. There is so much to discover here, which is great. But the sheer mass of art, phenomena and projects is of course also overwhelming. For me as a gallery owner and curator, that’s very reassuring: Today, good gallery owners and mediators are needed more than ever.
The classical art world reacts in part with disgust to blockchain technology. Why?
I understand the confusion that exists at times. At the moment, a lot of things are still being thrown around. The terms and phenomena have not yet been clarified and defined. Quite apart from that, the crazy prices on the auction market are arousing speculative expectations. There, in the context of art, the prices of digital Panini pictures are discussed. Without paying attention to what is being discussed at all.
How interesting are NFTs for investors?
I am a gallery owner and not an investment advisor. If you are interested, you can read the corresponding podcasts and websites. There you will find reports of exorbitant value multiplications within a few weeks.
How will NFTs change the art market?
Through NFT technology, digital art has proven to be art marketable. Not to mention, NFT will become important for the marketing and community building of the art market. Many people don’t even have that on their radar yet.
You have repeatedly pointed out the advantage that blockchain technology makes it possible to identify originals and their owners. The digital, non-exchangeable seal based on blockchain guarantees authenticity – but you could guarantee this authenticity in the same way for classic art media?
Correct and that is by the signature directly on the artwork. The signature on the picture is the certificate of authenticity. The signature on the digital artwork was not possible until now. The proof of ownership is then something else again. To speak of a file as an original in the conventional sense or in the sense of Walter Benjamin is not quite right. The NFT enables a signature and proof of ownership corresponding to the medium. The proof of ownership is stored digitally in the blockchain. It will be even better if, in the future, the file – I’ll say the GIF – can actually be stored directly in the blockchain.
What aesthetic standards do you set for crypto art? The same as for photography or painting?
The artists set the standards, and these standards are not exclusively aesthetic in nature. I merely look at whether the artistic position has relevance in my eyes. Crypto-art must correspond to the medium. Crypto-art must explore the possibilities of the digital. Simply imitating a chalk drawing or an oil painting digitally makes no sense.
How do your old, classic collectors and collectors react to their new offer?
Many collectors who are interested in the current developments in art are very interested in what is happening here. They buy, and not only the cheap stuff.
How do you see the future of NFTs? Is the hype already over again? A lot of crypto art also remains unsold …
I hope that the hype will soon be over. It is not doing the cause any good. There are too many outside interests in the market. Knights of fortune, financial investors, the crowd of everyday speculators operate here. But also very exciting and pioneering artists*. Of course, a lot of crypto art remains unsold. It’s the same in other artistic media. But the NFT technology brings more transparency to the market. Via the NFT, I can check on the trading platforms how the sales of a work or an edition are going. This transparency is a great advantage for collectors.
Some NFT supporters speak of the “democratization of art” through NFTs. What does this democratization consist of? Or is it not rather the other way around? Aren’t we simply dealing here with a simple money-raising exercise?
It is true that some platforms for NFT art, such as “Hic et Nunc” are looking for new ways of distribution and do not want to take on a gatekeeper function. That’s why everyone can offer their art there – or what they think it is. A lot of ideology and idealism drives people at times. That is very refreshing. As is so often the case, grassroots democratic efforts are undermined and exploited. This happens not only by the big financial investors. But also by 15-year-old nerds who buy and sell crypto art for little money on the side and fuel the speculation hype.
Speculation meets pop culture?
I would say that the NFT has elevated speculation to pop culture. In this sense, you could call it democratization. The same thing is happening on the stock market, except that the barriers to entry are still high. Formally and emotionally. Before I buy shares, I have to know what they are about, don’t I? At least that’s still the feeling of investors. With crypto art, it seems I don’t have to have a clue. I listen to some hip podcasts, get some cryptocurrencies and off I go. Personally, I’m critical of it. But yes, it is the democratization of speculation and greed for profit.
Climate footprint issue: will NFTs, will blockchain technology be greener in the future?
For sure. At the gallery, we used a very energy-efficient variant with the Tezos blockchain. Sustainability is fortunately a big topic for the community.
What new NFT projects do you have?
Ah, there are a few projects on the subject of NFT at the start. We are setting up our own NFT with a work of art for a very large German financial services provider. The next exhibition in July has to be prepared. The Virtual Gallery Greulich 2.0 for NFTs is about to be finished.