During the pandemic, Tokyo tattoo artist Ichi Hatano's typical business has diminished, but he's eager to harvest a new source of money at Japan's first crypto art exhibition. Hatano's ink depicting Japanese folk creatures was particularly popular with international travelers until Covid-19 forced Japan to lock its gates to foreigners.
Hatano's creations are now available as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), digital objects that have caught the art market by storm. “Having a new market offers up a lot of opportunities for artists,” said the 44-year-old, who has five digital artworks on display at the Tokyo show, which debuted last weekend.
NFTs turn anything from paintings to memes into virtual collectors' items that cannot be replicated, thanks to the same blockchain technology that powers cryptocurrency. They have exploded into the mainstream this year, and they are now exchanged at big auction houses, producing hundreds of millions of dollars in monthly transactions. His work is among the 150 NFTs on show at the CrypTokyo exhibition in the popular Harajuku neighborhood of the Japanese capital.
Hatano claimed that the creative process remained the same despite the pixels replacing the familiar human skin canvas. “This is the birth of a new economy and a new method to assess art,” he told AFP, expecting that technology will help artists like him reach a wider audience. A rotating collection of works is displayed on the wall screen.
The NFT is available for buy online using the Dai and Ethereum cryptocurrencies, with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to over $50,000. Hatano is hoping to earn between $ 1,400 and $2,400 for each of his offers. Maxim, the leader of the British electropunk band The Prodigy, who lately turned to NFT art, has some of the costliest pieces.
Almost any digital work may be exchanged as an NFT, and artists can monetize digital art by granting buyers the ability to brag about their own ownership, even though they can endlessly reproduce it online.
According to Yasumasa Yonehara, a 62-year-old artist who is exhibiting at the event, there is still a long way to go before crypto art becomes the norm in Japan. “In Japan, NFTs are renowned for selling celebrity tweets for exorbitant prices, and few people understand what that means,” he added. In March, an authorized copy of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey's first tweet (the first on social media) sold for $2.9 million.
According to Sascha Bailey, the exhibition's 27-year-old curator, Japanese purchasers are still wary of the format. “Many people's difficulty with NFT art is figuring out how to live with it and interact with it in regular life,” said Bailey, who manages the blockchain art trade on the worldwide sales site.
“At least at this prototype stage, what we're trying to accomplish is show how technology can be integrated into your regular life.” Some of the static sculptures include augmented reality components that come alive when seen on a smartphone screen, and the three-week show will include conversations with the artists. Botchy-Botchy, a 48-year-old French artist, sold his first NFT at an exhibition in Tokyo.
“The actual benefit is that every resale of tokens gives the artist royalties,” he added. Moreover “it is extremely new” in the art world. Large-scale Beeple sales are an “exception,” according to Bailey, who sees significant value in the potential of NFTs to inspire a wider spectrum of innovation. “Perhaps (Beeple's sale) was essential to demonstrate the mainstream art world that it's a competitive thing... I view crypto art as the most powerful and significant when it comes to supporting lesser artists,” he added.