The past two years have seen significant excitement arise surrounding art NFTs – not just from crypto investors and tech enthusiasts, but from artists, collectors and art curators too. In 2021, the NFT sales volume totaled over $23 billion, with art and collectibles accounting for nearly half of that. This was almost the same size as global online art trade, which totaled $13.3 billion in 2021, as per the UBS Art Market 2022 Report.
“No OG could have predicted that it would be art that would bring [NFTs] into the mainstream,” said VC and collector Ryan Zurrer at Christie’s 2022 Art+Tech Summit. This neatly captures the landscape in the world of art NFTs at the moment: While Web3 technology helps artistic legacies reach a wider audience by making them more accessible in digitally innovative ways, art is also propelling Web3 as more and more artists and collectors get involved in the creation and recreation of existing art forms.
Meta-morphic, an art NFT project pioneered by Chinese artist Huang Yuxing alongside LiveArt, represents such a marriage of Web3 and art.
Born in 1975 in Beijing, Huang Yuxing is one of the most renowned contemporary artists in China. His works are easily recognized for infusing ultra-contemporary neon tones and bold abstracts into meditative natural scenes. Huang has been highly sought after in past years within the art market. In his most recent auction, the work Seven Treasure Pines (2016–19) was sold for HK$64.8 million ($8.3 million) at Christie’s.
The concept of “Meta-morphic” is drawn from Huang Yuxing’s thoughts and feelings about nature expressed through ores: the collection consists of 2,197 NFTs with seven types of minerals and gemstones, each of which has been generated through the art direction of London-based design studio Hato and production firm Plinth, and derived from unpublished works by Huang Yuxing.
The Seven Treasures are coral, agate, pearl, gold, silver, seashell and turquoise, each symbolizing a unique blessing and embodying both humanistic and philosophical connotations. Gems are minerals that have evolved over tens of thousands of years deep in the earth, and so are the meteorites from the universe. The different types and patterns of ores therefore represent the traces of the universe’s movement over millions of years. In a sense, ore is both a witness of time and a recorder of change.
Time, change, and the power of (and in) the universe – these are some of the elements that have resided in Huang’s consciousness as an artist since he was young. “A small piece of stone actually contains the mystery of the whole universe. A stone can be interpreted as a planet or a comet. At the same time, it also represents a kind of force or power. It can be infinitely big and infinitely small. It contains the energy of the whole universe, and may be the key to understanding the universe’s mysteries. But in the meantime, it is a very small and fragmented object,” said Huang Yuxing in an interview back in 2008.
By viewing Huang’s work, one can feel the flow of life. Through stones, Huang also ponders the fragility of individual life in more than just human history, but the history of nature, and ultimately, the universe. “[I realized] how one’s history of life as an individual is immensely fragile and can be so easily rewritten. Having a cold can rewrite your life history, and a doctor who invents a new medicine can change your life history, too.” Such reflections are particularly relevant in today’s post-Covid world, where uncertainties and changes – generated by a small virus, which, just like minerals, is simultaneously big and small, representing both the power and fragility of life – happen across the globe from every aspect, at every level and for every country, society, profession, ethnicity, family, and eventually, pass down to every individual and translates into their living experiences.
“Meta-morphic” carries on these very thoughts and concepts, which have evolved over the years as Huang dives more deeply into his creation. Through this series, Huang Yuxing hopes to lead the audience to understand the mystery of the changing nature of the universe and the beauty of natural philosophy, and to give them the blessing that the seven treasures contain.
Marisa Kayyem, Chief Curator of LiveArt and an art advisor, commented in a recent interview that Huang Yuxing’s work has “a sense of discovery and magic, an interconnectedness,” which is what “Meta-morphic” aims to convey by taking collectors on a journey through Huang’s creative journey and into his vision of nature and creation.
As opposed to Huang Yuxing’s previous works in the Web2 world, “Meta-morphic” is a unique series that embodies the beauty of cryptography. Each NFT symbolizes a gemstone floating in multi-dimensional space, with different forms and connotations.
But the significance of “Meta-morphic,” and other art NFT projects for that matter, goes beyond pure form and aesthetics. As mentioned previously, the combination of Web3 technology and art has served educational and accessibility purposes. Artistic works can reach new audiences once they are recreated as digital art and minted on the blockchain (meaning that they are published to be sold, bought and traded). People who are not frequent gallery visitors, whether for economic reasons or simply a lack of interest, can now access innovative art that carries not only the traditional artistic value in the Web2 world, but the magic and beauty of Web3 technology as well. As Huang Yuxing himself noted, “Before [Meta-morphic], I mainly worked with collectors and for gallery visitors…Now I want to reach out to newer collectors and different audiences through the LiveArt platform.”
For the art world, Web3 also helps solve the problem of what is known as provenance, or the ownership history of a specific piece of art, which authenticates the artwork in question. With blockchain technology, the ownership and trading history of a work of art will no longer be lost or damaged in scenarios like wars and natural disasters, as has happened to many classic works from hundreds, even decades ago. That being said, once an NFT is purchased, it does not mean that the buyer has exclusive rights to that work. On the contrary, these sold works can still be found online as high-quality images. In this sense, NFTs are a way of democratizing art.
However, furthering the proliferation of art NFTs, and art in general, requires more than just an artist and collectors who recognize the collectibles.
For artists who are deeply immersed in creation, the NFT concept may be too abstract and novel to execute, not to mention the fact that certain technical barriers may prevent them from trying at all. On the other hand, for NFT buyers, it may be challenging to find works with real artistic value, given the vast amount of NFTs in crypto’s speculative atmosphere. This is where platforms like LiveArt fit into the picture.
Positioned as “the Web3 platform for art and culture,” LiveArt was founded by a team of prominent art advisors, crypto pioneers, and market experts including Adam Chinn, former COO of Sotheby’s, John Auerbach, who worked as an executive at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and Boris Pevzner, the founder of Collectrium, a global digital platform for managing and trading art and high-end collectibles that was acquired by Christie’s in 2017.
For these three co-founders, NFTs promise a brand new era for the art industry. Artists and communities in the crypto world have built an unprecedented marketplace from the ground up, and in the longer term, NFTs may forever change the way physical art is traded.
With this insight, LiveArt aims to bridge the gap between Web2 and Web3 by mediating the gap between artists and NFT collectors. Specifically, LiveArt helps artists manage everything from NFT distribution and licensing to metadata storage and more, building a secure and easy way for artists to publish their works on the blockchain. On the other hand, with its founders’ extensive experience in the traditional art industry, LiveArt has some of the most distinguished art resources, providing it with the ability to help NFT buyers identify projects with true artistic value.
“Many of us live our lives digitally nowadays, so as more and more incredible artists such as Huang enter [Web3] and experiment with digital tools, the acceptance of digital arts in the traditional world accelerates. On the other hand, I believe NFTs have brought the art world to many people who previously felt excluded, and they give people the opportunity to interact with creators and hear directly from the artists…[They] undermine the exclusivity of the traditional art world. I believe that the future of NFTs and digital art is very bright,” said Marisa Kayyem from LiveArt.