Wandering around Singapore’s first large-scale NFT art exhibition at Le Freeport, the fortress-like high-security storage and display facility, feels like an otherworldly and futuristic experience.
From early artistic explorations around cryptocurrencies in Sarah Meyohas’ Bitchcoin; Andy Warhol’s Untitled (Flower); Refik Anadol’s hypnotic journey in the mind of a machine explored with vast synthetic landscapes of Mars; Internet meme Pepe the Frog gracing the front cover of Time Magazine to Beeple’s surrealist depiction of a skeleton encircled with flowers presented across an array of prints, projections, and on screens, it’s a digital art exhibition like no other.
Having taken place from November 7 to 14 at Fine Art Storage Services in Le Freeport, the Right Click + Save exhibition was presented by Coinhako, a digital assets wallet service provider, and Appetite, a multi-concept space and research centre. Works from some of the world’s most influential artists were on loan from leading collectors of the digital and crypto art world, spanning the gamut of new media, creative coding, generative art, artificial intelligence and data visualisation.
For the uninitiated, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) or digital assets give creators digital proof of ownership of their work, such as digital art, music and even tweets. The information is stored on a digital ledger known as the blockchain. In the last year, NFT mania has been dominating the headlines. In March, a digital collage by American artist Beeple sold for a record US$69 million (S$93 million) at a Christie’s auction to Singapore based Metakovan. It was the first fully digital artwork ever sold at auction and the third most expensive work sold by a living artist.
Are There Cyber Security Risks?
As a newcomer to the NFT scene, I was curious about Singapore’s emerging interest in NFTs. Coinhako’s co-founder and chief executive Yusho Liu shared, “Singapore has become a crypto capital in the last few years. Because of our forward-thinking regulations and the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s friendliness towards innovation, it’s drawn prominent crypto firms such as Binance as well as major trading firms from the United States, who want an Asian presence. Naturally, many of these leading entrepreneurs and investors in the space also happen to be leading collectors as well.”
Just this year alone, Coinhako saw the total volume of cryptocurrency traded increase tenfold. The firm has over 300,000 users in Singapore, aged between 18 to 40 years. Interestingly, the once male-dominated space is also seeing an increasing number of women keen to enter the crypto economy, said Liu. In spite of that, there is still a lack of understanding of cryptocurrencies and their technicalities, which is hindering more people from getting onboard, he said.
To access the crypto-economy, users will need to start with platforms like Coinhako to convert fiat to crypto. They can then transfer the crypto to external wallets to access platforms like OpenSea, the world’s largest digital marketplace for art and crypto collectibles. They can use their crypto balance to purchase NFTs on OpenSea.
Like any other investment, NFT art and collectibles come with risks as well. For example, a user can mistakenly purchase an impersonated CryptoPunk (one of the earliest NFTs minted on Ethereum’s blockchain).
“As most blockchain transactions are irreversible, there is no recourse when this happens. Phishing links masked as NFTs are also becoming commonplace, which could lead to users sharing passwords and key information with bad actors.” said Liu.
Many NFT-related phishing incidents have come in the form of NFT airdrops into a user’s crypto wallet, where interacting with the token grants scammers access to the wallet, he explained. To avoid these, people dabbling with NFTs should take a similar approach to how they would avoid phishing links on the internet. They should avoid clicking any suspicious or unfamiliar links. If an airdrop inexplicably appears in their wallet, they should take steps to verify the authenticity of the token before interacting with it or just outright ignore it. It is better to be safe than sorry after all, Liu shared.
Despite the challenges, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding this space, with the massive shake-up on the landscape for artists, buyers and digital and new media art as a whole.
The response has been “overwhelming,” said Kaushik Swaminathan, Appetite’s general manager. The exhibition, which allows viewing by appointment only, was fully booked before it even opened. I was told that a mix of top executives, influencers, leading curators, collectors and art professionals would attend.
On the motivation behind organising this exhibition, he says, “We don’t want to just serve the existing group of crypto natives who are already familiar with and embedded into the NFT communities. Rather, we want to introduce the subject of NFTs to new audiences who are curious – maybe even critical and skeptical – of this new kind of art production. We want to challenge conventional ideas of what constitutes ‘real’ and ‘important’ art, and show that NFTs are to be seriously reckoned with.”
Exhibition visitor Kurt Loy, a fan of new technologies, software hacking, toys, digital art, design and music, says collecting NFT art was a “natural extension” of his interests. He is also a strategist in digital innovation. So far, he has purchased artworks from American graffiti artist Futura and leading anonymous crypto artist Pak.
For freelancer Wilfred Loy, NFTs represent a lucrative investment opportunity. Having spent some $500 on a few graphic design pieces, he plans to resell them when the value goes up. The gamer and graphic design hobbyist has also minted his own samurai NFT and relies on NFT communities on Discord or Twitter channel to keep up-to-date on the latest happenings.
“Just like a piece of art stored in any museum in the world comes with its own value, that’s how I see the value of NFT,” he explained.
Still, I marvelled at the jaw-dropping amounts at which people are willing to fork out for an NFT, especially where they can view it for free online.
Swaminathan explains the logic. “It might seem crazy that people are paying hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars for a digital asset, or a digital artwork.
“But those same complaints and criticisms have also been laid against traditional art. It’s not all too different from someone saying that $60 million for a Picasso is ridiculous. The truth is that valuations within the art world are complex and sometimes really arbitrary, and NFTs aren’t different in that regard,” he said. The biggest difference is that NFTs allow for a way to verify origins and to prove that an artwork is original, and digital artists can benefit from resale royalties in perpetuity, which in the past they couldn’t.
Already, brands are cashing in on this booming business opportunity. A super-exclusive edition NFT of “Doge To The Moon” and a figurine by local collectibles company Mighty Jaxx was up for auction as part of the exhibition, with a starting bid price of 500k Dogecoins (worth about US$260,000).
Since the end of 2019, Mighty Jaxx has jumped on the “phygital bandwagon”, chipping most of its physical products with NFC technology and building a proprietary app to scan and authenticate ownership, said Shaun Chua, senior product manager at Mighty Jaxx. In December, it will release its inaugural generative NFT Doge collection as well.
“NFT culture is all about the spirit of play and experimentation and that’s what we’re doing at Mighty Jaxx too. The market is still very nascent but there’s been a greater understanding of the possibilities of the Metaverse (a shared space built on virtual reality, virtual currency and NFTs), and we see it truly taking flight.” Leaving the exhibition, I reflect on how we’re on the cusp of a cultural revolution as we know it.
As Loy tells me with a laugh, “I don’t actually have to come down for the exhibition because I can see it on the blockchain. But I want to be here to witness this moment. It’s a statement to announce to the world that digital artists can make their mark with physical pieces now too – with NFTs!”