Web3 Art Collectors

Even if digital art existed for a long time, digital artists have been working without recognition, without recompense, for a very long time. Why? jpegs could be easily downloaded and copied. And then came the NFT-Boom and blockchain technology that allowed to rethink digital artworks. And the space started to evolve very quickly, incorporating immersive art, VR and AR, principles of web3. Artists are talking now to collectors, mainstream museums want to collect digital art, and a new generation of artists is emerging.

In a New Age of Art, few questions emerge:
*How collectors are collecting digital art?
*How did the collector-artist relationship change?
*In the web3 era, do we still need the middlemen, the gatekeeper?
*What are the tensions between the old physical art world and its gatekeepers and the new digital art world?
*Value allocation for art is becoming more transparent? (why certain artworks prices are going up?)
*Do we need new institutions that respond to the needs of new contemporary digital artists?
*What will be the future of digital art?

These are only a few questions that were debated with digital art collectors. The panel was organized by ArtReview in partnership with APENFT Foundation, with guest speakers:
Sylvain Levy – (Founder of DSL Collection),
WhaleShark – (Collector; Founder of WHALE and E1337),
Sydney Xiong – (Director, APENFT and Secretary General, Art Dream Fund)
Moderator: J.J. Charlesworth (Editor at ArtReview)

TechvangArt picked up some of the ideas, but if you want to follow the entire discussion, you can see it Here.

WhaleShark, describes himself as the most accidental art collector – not having a background in art history, before becoming a digital collector.
The reason why he saw digital art as an opportunity was because NFT technology allowed to take GIF files, JPEG files, 3D modeling files and be able to attach a provenance, scarcity and ownership to it. This is very important nowadays, because the average person spends 9 to 10 hours a day online or on their phone or in front of their computer. And given that society is moving into the digital environment, if we don’t have a way to determine the provenance, scarcity and ownership of digital assets, it makes it extremely difficult for us to take value allocation into this next stage of life, argues WhaleShark. As such, he is a major proponent of NFTs as a technology behind digital assets.

Sylvain Levy was already collecting digital art for several years, when he first heard about NFT from the traditional art collector Adam Lindemann talking about it in 2018. For Sylvain Levy, NFT has very unique aspect which makes it different, also because of the broader context – the creator economy, the cryptos, the need for decentralization – as everybody feels that the world in which we live in is controlled by big corporations, institutions.
“We need spaces of freedom!”, Sylvain Levy is convinced. And NFTs were a way to create freedom for the artist to express themselves and to make a living out of that. A way for people to collect in another way, to share in another way, to create new communities.
In addition, Sylvain Levy has a wishful thinking that in the future in the metaverse a lady in a retirement house will be able to experience the metaverse with her grandson. “This is the future of digital. This is what I call the metaverse”.

Sydney Xiong points out that the digital art space would really start talking more about digital artworks, digital collectibles, instead of NFTs because NFTs are actually really just in technology.

WhaleShark is in the same line of thinking considering that digital art, digital photography, digital music is an industry, and NFTs are just the technology behind it. (and yes, he also added that NFTs are not all jpg files with monkeys or birds :P)

Sylvain Levy pointed out few challenges that collectors face nowadays with NFTs, and a number of very issues that need to be solved related to:

  • accessibility- most of the collectors are not geeks, and they want to collect things which are easy to collect. And a lot of NFT are dealing with copyright issues, and smart contracts; and many collectors don’t want lawyers dealing with art collection.
  • Security – traditional artwork has the recipe how to be protected, but many collector don’t know how to protect their NFTs
  • insurance – how do you ensure an NFT?
  • how you appraise the value of an NFT – if you want to donate it to a museum – and the value of an NFT is changing every minute.
  • NFTs is a token or an artwork? If you want to give an NFT to your children – is that a token or an artwork?
  • multiple chains – WhaleShark pointed out that there is no proper process to be able to mint on multiple chains. However, the ability to transfer an NFT asset from chain to chain should come in the relatively near future. Also, he said that from a legal, convenience, security, insurance perspective, this market is very early, and there’s a lot more that we all need to learn, but it is moving fast.

WhaleShark summed up the benefits that NFTs brought a significant amount of benefit to the creator and the collector community.

  1. For creators – it allows anybody and everybody to become a commercial creator without any racial bias, gender or nationality bias. That’s the beauty of what has happened with web3.
  2. Democratization of curation. In web3, there are platforms where aesthetic preference is being determined by the world’s population, rather than a few people sitting within a museum.
  3. Value Allocation- as the final level of democratization. Prior to NFTs and web3, you had to be within a certain circle to accumulate a certain collection and have access to artists. And the transparency behind why an artist, why collection was going up, sometimes that wasn’t as transparent as it should be. When you look at web3, everything is on the blockchain, everything is there. It’s complicated to survive, but, it’s no longer a couple of people allocating that value, the curation has been democratized, as has the transparency and value allocation of collectors who want to collect a certain art piece or a certain artist.

Sydney Xiong also senses the changing attitude in web 3, and what she find the most intriguing is that collectors and communities are encouraged and incentivized to promote and advocate the artworks they collect and participate in this ecosystem.

Sydney Xiong considers the main challenge for collectors remains the same: how to build and maintain a sustainable narrative around their collection? And the idea of having a focus on storytelling is important for collectors who want to build their own legacy.

Collectors need to do a considerable amount of research on artists and their works before purchasing a piece of art simply online. And she draws attention, that now, it is even more difficult for collectors to decide what to buy, given the fact that they are exposed to so many choices and artworks. This is why institutions that support artists are crucial. In the beginning, the main goal of APENFT Foundation was to support emerging artists. “There is never a shortage of talent, but often the support needed for artists”, she considers. And this is the reason why the artists fund was initiate.

WhaleShark draws attention to the changing relationship between artists and collectors. In the traditional art world, the artists communicate with the gallerist and the gallerist communicates with collectors. In web3, the middleman- the gallerist – is completely removed, and artists communicate directly with their communities and with their collectors. Sometimes, that also can mean that the collectors or the patrons of a certain artist become their source of inspiration. WhaleShark says that he has weekly conversations with artists, and there’s so much more to that relationship as a patron. Collectors are no longer part of the audience, but really a participant in their art.

The direct relationship can be a double edged knife. There’s a reason why galleries exist – and they manage the commercial, marketing, branding or PR aspects. It is very difficult to do all this when you need to spend the majority of your time creating. When you talk with collectors about the price of the artwork or how collectors and artists can collaborate to bring more prominence to the artwork; without enough exposure to aspects of financial literacy and negotiation skills, artists can be put at a disadvantage – especially when dealing with sharks.
As such, some sort of service from the traditional art world needs to remain within Web3.

J.J. Charlesworth noticed that many from the art scene set up magazines, and this can be seen as interesting attempts to create a critical dialogue about what’s going on the scene. That’s a – a kind of mediation and art criticism. He also thinks that the art scene will not get away from the middle person, which is necessarily a bad thing.

Definitely not when new forms of art are getting traction, there is a period of adjustment between the old and new. How are discussing and reacting to ecosystem players?

Sydney Xiong considers that the traditional art institutions still play an important role as gatekeepers and have a say in telling the public what good art is. This might be a reason, which is why people from the crypto space are celebrating cryptoArt and nfts acquisitions by museums. Or when MOMA announced the potential to acquire digital art, people were curious what they would acquire. Acquisitions by museums are seen by collectors, as validation and approval from the artworld.

On the other hand Sylvain Levy considers that nowadays, validation is made especially by market.
Whatever the artist will do, people will look at the market. If the market is not strong, it will be very difficult for the artist to be considered. Nowadays, the artistic value is behind the initial market demand, the monetary value.

WhaleShark also considers that in the traditional art, when one analyzes the major gatekeepers (museum or auction houses), a market first approach can be noticed. When you look at the initial record breaking sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, that wasn’t determined by the curatorship over those two auction houses, but rather by involving themselves in the market and looking at what was gaining a significant amount of popularity. For artists, being present in museums or auction houses is an advantage. But, he believes that it is less of a gatekeeping dynamic in the web3 world.

“we need new institutions”

Sylvain Levy is not that optimistic about the collaboration between traditional museum and the new digital art. “When you see what happened with digital art in museums or in the market, it will always stay at the margin”, considers Sylvain Levy. Just to fight to have digital art in a museum, is perhaps not the right way to promote this new art. Museums can buy NFTs but it will always be very limited.
He admits that there are limits currently for the digital art scene, but, if the digital art scene wants to do something relevant, a new world had to be invented.

“ We have to invent new museums, with new types of works, new types of experiences, especially digital experiences and new types of ways to monetise that”

The solution is not to just try to bring NFTs into the museum, but to try to bring something new – new types of experiences- where people with their avatars, will be able to consume and also to experience art.

When it comes to the mix between physical and digital, Sylvain Levy is pretty forward: “we need a mixture: the phygital spaces”

In the same line, WhaleShark considers that it is inevitable that the physical and digital will need to merge together. WhaleShark owns galleries in the Metaverse, but he also organizes physical exhibitions, and it is important that digital art can create almost an omniversal experience which will truly capture all aspects of that experience or that digital art. It’s really up to the artists of how they want to merge the physical with their digital art. There are artists that came from the physical world, but when they entered digital, they found a way to absorb the elements that are worth making digital, and using the digital canvas to maximize the meaning of what they were trying to convey to the audience.

Sydney Xiong highlighted that because of COVID, much of our interaction with art moved from physical to digital, which will have a long lasting impact. And there’s a real need to re-integrate and enrich physical experience and a greater interest for high quality in person experience, also with immersive digital components.

She admitted that is fascinated by the potential to combine the digital and physical and there have been many NFT shows that took place in physical locations. And also, APENFT Foundation mounted a Digital Wanderlust in Beijing earlier in 2022. And they aim to decontextualize digital artworks in the physical space and bring to life multi-sensory experiences.

She finds the working process to rematerialize digital artworks interesting – it is a kind of exhibition inside and exhibition. We call it hyperspace connecting the physical and digital worlds because viewers can walk into a room that has holographic screens that display in real time. So, the he show is composed of two layers, one is artist NFTs and artworks focusing on gamified and interactive experience.


About APENFT Foundation:
Formally registered and established on 29 March 2021, APENFT is backed by the underlying technology of blockchains Ethereum and TRON with support from the world’s largest distributed storage system Bittorrent File System (BTFS) to deliver the mission of registering world-class artworks as NFTs on the blockchain. The collection of the APENFT Foundation includes artworks by Picasso, Andy Warhol, and crypto-artists Beeple, Pak, as well as other high-end NFT collectibles of various categories such as Punks avatars and EtherRock, with a total value of more than $46 million. APENFT Foundation has successfully sponsored the ‘Art + Technology’ Summit at Christie’s in New York. In the future, it will curate a series of online and offline exhibitions with world-renowned artists and facilitate high-end IP collaboration.

About Art Dream Fund
The Art Dream Fund aims to identify, nurture and support quality NFT artists and their works with an initial investment of $100 million. Apart from the funding support for art creation, the foundation will also advise award winners on marketing, publicity, copyright protection, and legal affairs.

About ArtReview
Founded in 1949, ArtReview is one of the world’s leading international contemporary art magazines, dedicated to expanding contemporary art’s audience and reach, and tracing the ways it interacts with culture in general.
ArtReview’s website artreview.com features art and cultural news, criticism, opinion, video, podcasts, articles from the latest issues of ArtReview and ArtReview Asia, artist projects, highlights from the magazines’ 70-year archives and multimedia content from around the web.
ArtReview Ltd is part of Modern Media, China’s leading high-end communications group, whose portfolio of publications includes The Art Newspaper China, LEAP, Modern Weekly, Nowness and Numéro, among other titles.