NFTs debut at Art Basel, where collectors are curious and a little confused about the new artistic medium


A gentleman in a navy crumpled velvet suit walked out of Galerie Nagel Draxler’s “Crypto Kiosk” on the day of the premiere at Art Basel, shaking his head. It was difficult to tell if behind his mask his face was disappointed or confused.

The kiosk marked the first major attempt to insert the very latest avant-garde art objects into this central node of the art industry. This sparked some interesting conversations at the gallery booth in the main section of the fair, leaving more than a few collectors new to the curious format, and others quite perplexed.

Nagel Draxler’s usual backroom has been transformed into a physical outpost of the digital world of NFT, an extension of a recent exhibition called “NFTism” that the gallery curated with Kenny Schachter (who is also, well sure, be an Artnet News columnist). The eight-artist exhibition in Basel is punctuated by bold blue and red floor-to-ceiling wallpapers, and the gallery’s various physical interpretations of NFTs, which it has created in collaboration with artists from “NFTism”.

Another VIP had his iPhone and cable in hand, looking for a place to charge behind Mosaic virus, a work by Anna Ridler exhibited on newsstands but for sale on OpenSea.

The gallery politely let him know he couldn’t do it. “It has been interesting to put the NFTs in a fair context,” said Denise Kokko of the Cologne and Berlin-based gallery. “We can’t even sell the works here… It’s a bit of a conceptual approach.

A view of the stand on the day of the preview. Photo: Kate Brown

Throughout the pandemic, when physical art events were on hiatus, NFTs grew in popularity. NFT news overtook art market news with record numbers, stoking shock, awe and contemptuous looks from the guardians of the art world, except for a few who spotted new opportunities.

Despite the waves made, there remained a notable dearth of new approaches to digital art at Art Basel. Galerie König, despite setting up its own NFT marketplace this fall and exhibiting NFT works in its gallery in Berlin this summer, has chosen not to bring any to the fair. Besides Nagel Draxler’s NFT booth, Sadie Coles brought a QR code cube called 6 sides of Scott Mendes by Darren Bader, an edition of five that went on sale for $ 10,000 each (two sold before the show opened, surely aided by everyone’s new familiarity with vaccine QR codes, which show attendees had to show at each checkpoint).

Despite the difficulty of the proposal, Nagel Draxler reported success with NFT sales, and his small booth was packed with VIPs on the day of the premiere. Olive Allen After death or void address NFT sold for 8 ethereum, around € 25,000, on opening day. An edition of Ridler Mosaic virus– a beautiful three-screen piece of floating tulips and their bulbs, a nod to the plant that became an object of hyper-speculative boom and recession centuries ago – sold for £ 20,000. Kevin Abosch’s NFT sold for around € 40,000 in the early evening on the day of the premiere.

Collectors hoped to buy works on the wall, as they normally do. The dealers, however, had to divert them to OpeaSea, the popular crypto platform where NFTs are bought with cryptocurrency. Nagel Draxler made a few exceptions on preview day, however, allowing some customers to pay in euros or dollars through the usual decades-old billing procedures. In agreement with the artists, the gallery then bought the work with its own portfolio on the platform to close the sale.

“Some traditional collectors are completely unfamiliar with these procedures,” Kikko said. “So we made an exception. We are trying to make NFTs accessible.

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