Mainly focusing on minting NFT copies of their masterpieces, museums tried to profit from the NFT train last year following the extraordinary losses they suffered during the pandemic. To wet our own palate on reflecting about the possibilities the metaverse offers to traditional museums for their fundraising, we start with some examples of these first attempts.
NFTs to Save Degas
This year, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has been unrolling a NFT collection of 24 rarely-exhibited French Impressionists pastels by the likes of Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir to fund the conservation of two Degas paintings, “Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli” (c.1865) and “Father Listening to Lorenzo Pagans Playing the Guitar” (1869-72). The sales are still on-going on LaCollection.io.
10,000 NFT Puzzled Kisses for Valentine’s Day
The Belvedere museum in Vienna split a digitized image of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss (Lovers)” into 10,000 NFT tiles (numbered and imprinted with their coordinates) released on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 2021. A month later, the sales were about €4.3 million, according to the museum. Trades are still on-going today, many of the pieces of Kiss’s puzzle now selling for a fraction of the initially estimated sale price of €1,850, sadly making it more gimmicky and less interesting than the poster in your bathroom.
The British Museum cashes in on Turner and Hokusai
The British Museum in London also partnered with French platform LaCollection.io for several token drops, first using digital copies of works by Katsushika Hokusai last year, and J.M.W. Turner this year. Prices range from $500 to $40,000 with a resale commission on the secondary market of 10% for the museum. Notably though, the Hokusai NFTs minted on Ethereum lost 75% of their initial value between November 2021 and June 2022, which besides the criticism the museum is facing regarding the carbon footprint of its NFT enterprise, raises concerns for the possibility of a long-term revenue solution.
Ancient Days For Modern Days
Partnering with online art platform Vastari Labs, Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester sold 50 NFT editions of its most iconic painting in 2021, William Blake’s “The Ancient of Days.” It was the first UK museum to join the NFT wave, overall raising more than $40,000 for its community outreach art projects, and making this initiative a part of a wider restructuration of the museum leading to the 2023 exhibition “Economics the Blockbuster.”
Lost Paintings Revived as NFTs
The Leopold Museum in Vienna organized a drop of 24 NFT-based works by Egon Schiele this May, including a replica of “Leopold Czihaczek at the Piano” (1907), painted by the artist at 16, which was thought to be lost for more than a 100 years. The fundraising was divided in three price points: “ultra rare” (at €100,000), “super rare” (at €15,000), and “rare” (at €499), with a “special rare” category for the rediscovered painting at €999.
Renaissance NFTs in Italy No More
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence partnered with contemporary art dealership Unit London and Italian tech company Cinello to sell 7 NFTs in 2021, including replicas of Caravaggio’s “Bowl of Fruit” and Raphael’s “Madonna of the Goldfinch.” The sales yielded €250,000 for the museum, however criticism followed around legal rights and the sum (€70,000) actually pocketed by the museum after deducting production costs and fees, which has prompted the Italian government to halt all sales of digital masterpieces this year… Hopefully, to be continued.
Signed by the Director The State Hermitage Museum in Saint-Petersburg held a week of auctions of single NFT replicas in September 2021 on Binance. “Your token is kept in the Hermitage,” included tokenized versions (two of each, one kept by the museum) of “Little Madonna” by Leonardo da Vinci along works by Vincent van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, and Claude Monet. Signed by the director of the Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky, the digital copies sold for $444,500 in total, “Little Madonna” alone reaching $150,500.