Uffizi

Museums Are Dipping Their Toes Into the Wild World of NFTs. Here Is What They Need to Know Before Plunging All the Way In


NFTs have roused major interest (and cash) on the commercial side of the art world of late. This summer, the omnipresent blockchain-based collectibles made the leap into the institutional landscape of museums, after a small but notable delay.

Several public collections from around the world have taken the bait, announcing that they would sell NFT versions of their art. For some, it was in hopes of recuperating money that was lost during the pandemic. For others, it was a curatorial exploration or display of institutional power. For all of them, it’s been a way to stir up attention and a bid to reach new audiences.

A quick run-down of recent museum NFT initiatives: the tech-loving Uffizi in Florence sold an NFT of a painting by Michelangelo, Doni Tondofor a cool €140,000 ($170,000) in May. More recently, this month, the Hermitage announced its plan to sell several NFTs connected to masterpieces from its collection, hot on the heels of the Kansong Art and Culture Foundation in Seoul’s decision to tokenize a national treasure to help keep its operation afloat. The Whitworth in Manchester is also incorporating a major NFT sale of William Blake’s work, The Ancient of Days NFT, into an exhibition about the economy.

It seems that despite the divergent tacks, NFTs are becoming something like a new form of digital merch—albeit with a potentially heftier price tag than, say, Mona Lisa tea towels or limited edition silk scarves printed with Monet’s flowers. But as with any new medium, there are sure to be growing pains. Are museums jumping in too soon? And as countries consider new legislation to govern the cryptocurrency trade, what are the pitfalls?

“This may sound like science fiction, but with the NFT explosion, this transformation is happening much faster than museums may realize,” said Jason Bailey, cofounder and CEO of Club NFT.

Cinello founder and CEO Franco Losi (L) and Uffizi director Eike Schmidt (R) with Michelangelo's Doni Tondo (1505-06).

Cinello founder and CEO Franco Losi (left) and Uffizi director Eike Schmidt (right) with Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo (1505-06), which sold as an NFT this summer.

New Funds, New Patrons

“My own kids don’t know who William Blake is, but they know what an NFT is,” said Alistair Hudson, the director of the Whitworth, speaking on the phone from Manchester.

He sees the advent of NFTs as an opportunity to achieve two goals at once: to offer education on digital collectibles and reach new audiences. “We are not doing this just to make money or to look at it is as a commercial revenue stream, but as part of our intellectual and curatorial considerations,” Hudson said. “NFTs are being exchanged and traded by school kids and also in the upper end of the market by digital billionaires, showing the power of your wallet. The whole thing is a demonstration of financial power.”

The institution has a particularly thoughtful approach: They will sell 50 NFTs of William Blake’s 1794 work The Ancient of Days on the eco-friendly NFT marketplace Hic et Nunc (actually, they are using multispectral imaging equipment to generate something that is an interesting new high-tech version of the familiar image).

Crucially, profits from the sale will go towards the Whitworth’s community projects, and the museum is hoping it will generate a revenue stream that lasts for years to come. That is because written into the blockchain are smart contracts enshrining royalties to the museum every time one of the Blake works is resold.

“We are interested in looking at how we can recalibrate the economic system of the museum to fit with the shape of the new world,” Hudson said. “NFTs have the potential to create a more democratic form of philanthropy… It is not about us reinforcing the capital of the institution. It’s about generating new forms of capital that can be of public benefit.”

Hito Steyerl speaking with Martti Kalliala from Amnesia Scanner and Joseph Vogel about crypto and art at Studio Bonn, hosted by Kolja Reichert.

Hito Steyerl speaking with Martti Kalliala from Amnesia Scanner and Joseph Vogel about crypto, art, and NFTs at Studio Bonn, hosted by Kolja Reichert.

Bailey, an expert on NFTs who has helping the Whitworth with its sale, is hopeful this strategy of seeking new patrons could help diversify the museum’s base of support. “Decentralized finance could change the way museums raise money and reduce dependency on a small number of high-net-worth patrons whose values do not always align with the communities museums are designed to serve,” he said.

This new kind of fundraising comes with its own challenges. Zachary Kaplan from the web art organization Rhizome recently received the largest gift in its history via an NFT sale. He told Midnight Publishing Group News that there are still some “caveats” to be smoothed out between art NFTs and institutions.

“There are still barriers for nonprofits,” he said. “For example, the exchanges are not optimized towards new or small institutional users.” He added that “the value of NFTs is driven by engagement from their artist and collector community, which does not overlap 1:1 with traditional museum supporters.” Successful projects, he said, will need partnerships between institutions and creators where creators are “in the lead, engaging their community for the cause they support.”

Rafaël Rozendaal, Endless Nameless (2021). Courtesy of the artist and Rhizome.

Rafaël Rozendaal, Endless Nameless (2021). Courtesy of the artist and Rhizome.

Legal Questions

The reason that museums have been comparatively slower on the uptake than other segments of the art world likely has something to do with the red tape around what they can and cannot do with works in the public domain.

For the Hermitage, which is selling NFTs of works like Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna Litta (1490), Vincent van Gogh’s Lilac Bush (1889), and Claude Monet’s Corner of the Garden at Montgeron (c. 1876), the experiment is simply about exploring the new format in a nation where much of the crypo trade is outlawed. The Hermitage does not even intend to earn money, according to its general director Michael Piotrovsky, who is spearheading a sale together with Binance, a crypto trading platform that has been riddled with legal issues.

The Russian museum is splitting famous works in its collection into not one but two NFTs—one of the digital tokens will forever reside in its collection and the other will go to the eventual buyers. “Our financial issues are measured in billions,” Piotrovsky told Forbes Russia. “It’s not serious to resolve financial issues with the aid of tokens… For the moment, we want to see what sort of reception this form gets.”

The Hermitage’s approach is informed by Russia’s strict laws governing cryptocurrency trading, which went into effect in January. The museum has found a way to comply—though it has offered little information on exactly how the sale will work in this regard. Some suggest it is exploiting a loophole that NFTs are not explicitly mentioned in the new laws.

The Uffizi was one of the quickest to enter the new space, perhaps unsurprisingly. Under its upstart director Eike Schmidt, the home of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus has also been quick to jump on TikTok and even launched playful cooking shows during lockdown. Enthusiastically entering the NFT arena, it sold Doni Tondo for €140,000 ($170,000), taking a 50/50 split of the profits with their technology partner Cinello.

At the time of the drop, the museum announced they would also put NFTs of other classics in the collection up for sale: Birth of Venus, Raphael’s Madonna del Granduca, and Caravaggio’s Bacchus were all on the list to be turned into tokens.

“There is a component of spreading knowledge of these works of art,” Schmidt told Midnight Publishing Group News. “But just as in the past you could not run a museum through the sale of posters and postcards, we won’t be able to run a museum of the future through digital twins.”

The Uffizi museum in Florence, Italy. Photo by Giovanni Mereghetti/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

The Uffizi museum in Florence, Italy. Photo by Giovanni Mereghetti/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

The upcoming sales are being put on hold, according to Schmidt while the Italian culture ministry looks into legislation on digital sales and, in particular, NFT reproductions of works owned by national museums. “Hopefully [we do not have to wait] for too long, because we do not want to miss the next phase of our sale,” he said. (The culture ministry did not answer repeated requests for more information about their possible legislation.)

While he looks forward to continuing with its NFT sales (pending the government go-ahead), he is also sure that the real value of NFTs for museums lies elsewhere. “The blockchain technology is far more interesting for new creations of works of art and for other sectors of the museum, such as ticket sales and smart contracts. We are looking into that actively.”

Different Possibilities

In a recent discussion at Studio Bonn, artist Hito Steyerl laid out her skepticism about blockchain, crypto, and NFTs, as well as the cultural sphere’s optimism about them. “The centralization of power is happening within the crypto-sphere,” warned the artist.

In fact, she announced that she has been “squatting” on Ethereum addresses of cultural institutions like the Humboldt Forum, Berlin, and the Bundeskunsthalle, a major cultural institution in Bonn. “The entire art world is mine,” she quipped.

Steyerl’s point, though symbolic, raises important questions about the ethics around privatizing objects, public goods, or just space in general on the blockchain. Should institutions really be selling off original digital versions of their works into private hands?

Views of the State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace St Petersburg, Russia. Photo: by Julian Finney/Getty Images.

Views of the State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace St Petersburg, Russia. Photo: by Julian Finney/Getty Images.

Bailey, who advised the Whitworth and has helped the museum incorporate the NFT sale into their programming, urges other museums to harness this moment for engagement and education. But he also advises caution—do not sign your art away too quickly.

“Make sure you understand what NFTs are and the role they will play in the future before you sign away your rights to the NFTs in your collection,” he said. “I use the example of Walt Disney, who in the 1930s refused to sign his rights to television away even though most people had no idea what it was at the time. By 1966, it was estimated that an astronomical 100 million people were tuning in to watch Disney television shows.”

Navigating the stickier issues of the NFT boom while taking advantage of its opportunities will be a balancing act. One must commend the various institutions who are sticking their necks out, and willing to make the first mistakes that others can learn from. In fact, the Whitworth is currently planning to chronicle all the highs and lows of its NFT sales in an upcoming exhibition in 2023 on the subject of economics and art exhibitions.

“The great unknown is the perpetual nature of the blockchain,” Hudson said. “What does it mean to have a work functioning in perpetuity? One of our jobs is to disseminate images… This is a way of doing that. We are taking an image from 1827 and making it operate in the world anew.”

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A Revelatory Exhibition Traces the Poet Dante’s Path Through Exile in Italy, and the Artworks He Likely Encountered—See Images Here


A new art exhibition in Italy takes an oblique look at the life of the poet Dante Alighieri, whose banishment from his native Florence in 1302 serves as the narrative lynchpin of the show. 

Dante, who is most famous for writing the Divine Comedy, was a Florentine government official when he was exiled in 1302 by political rivals. Forced to wander the Italian peninsula, he passed through Rome, Verona, and Bologna before finally setting in Ravenna, where he died of malaria in 1321, one year after completing his most famous work.

The exhibition at the Museo d’Arte della Città in Ravenna (“Art in Times of Exile,” through July 4) marks the 700th anniversary of his death and looks at the major artworks Dante may have seen on his travels.

Installation view. Credit MAR - Museo d'Arte della città di Ravenna.

Installation view. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

The show includes works by artists who were revered in Dante’s time, including Cimabue, who is represented by an important mosaic.

Works on view were borrowed from an array of institutions, including the Louvre and the Uffizi Galleries. The latter sent two works: the Stigmata di San Francesco by Maestro della Croce and the Badia Polyptych by Giotto di Bondone.

Other artists in the show include Arnolfo di Cambio, Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, and Giuliano da Rimini, all of whom were known to Dante.

“To think that our wonderful Byzantine mosaics influenced and inspired Dante in writing the last cantos of Paradise arouses great emotion and pride in us,” Ravenna’s mayor, Michele de Pascale, said in a statement.

“Prestigious loans from all over Europe are both expressions of timeless beauty and extraordinary sources for Dante’s inspiration, which informed the greatness of The Comedy and of the entire production of this supreme poet.”

See more images from the show below.

Installation view. Credit MAR - Museo d'Arte della città di Ravenna.

Installation view. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

Venetian-Ravenna master from the late 13th-century, Madonna Enthroned with Child. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Sculptures, don. Jean-Charles Davillier. Credit MAR - Museo d'Arte della città di Ravenna.

Venetian-Ravenna master from the late 13th-century, Madonna Enthroned with Child. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Sculptures, don. Jean-Charles Davillier. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

Installation view. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

Arnolfo di Cambio's <i>Bust of Pope Boniface VIII</i>. On loan from Vatican City, Fabbrica di San Pietro in Vaticano.

Arnolfo di Cambio’s Bust of Pope Boniface VIII. On loan from Vatican City, Fabbrica di San Pietro in Vaticano.

Giotto di Bondone's Polittico di Badia (1295-1297). Courtesy Uffizi Galleries.

Giotto di Bondone’s Polittico di Badia (1295-1297). Installation view. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

Installation view. Credit MAR - Museo d'Arte della città di Ravenna.

Installation view. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

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Are NFTs a Shrinking Market or the Next Amazon? Kenny Schachter Wages War With Crypto-Cynics and One Irksome NFT Terrorist


Joshua Decter is a “writer, curator, theorist, educator, and editor” who really, really loathes NFTs, so much so he has been engaged in a months-long, cross-platform attack against me on everything from Twitter to Instagram, culminating in his threat last week to have his beef with me spill over onto the streets of New York. (He’s certainly not the first—or last presumably—to threaten to beat me up.) Decter is adamant that NFTs are divorced from art and exist as nothing more than a debased cryptocurrency scam. I am sorry to persist in pushing back on this, but his wholesale dismissal is entirely misplaced. He also happens to be the author of a 2013 book entitled Art Is a Problem. I’d suggest the real problem is more likely his intemperate machismo and childish, obstinate shortsightedness.

Let’s make something abundantly clear, once and (one hopes) for all: People think of NFTs as a thinly veiled currency (at best), which couldn’t be further from the truth. That became all too clear with the rapid rise of Ethereum, which all but violently thwarted NFT sales as the art couldn’t compete with the underlying crypto it’s traded in. To illustrate, the closing price of ETH on March 11th, the day of Beeple’s Christie’s sale was $1,826; since then, on May 11, ETH hit a high of $4,178. (As I write its fluctuating around $3,800.) If Vignesh Sundaresan (aka Metakovan) kept his hand off his keyboard during the frenzied Beeple bidding war, the 37,787 ETH he purchased it with—the equivalent of $69 million then—would have reached a high of $157,876,232 less than two months after his prescient (eye roll) acquisition! Regardless of ETHs trajectory, I’d hazard a guess that the present actual value of Beeple’s best is less than $10 million.

Video killed the radio star and NFTs killed the NFT star—by fueling ETH inflation. NiftyGateway, the highest-profile NFT platform, is cancelling hundreds of drops due to the fact that the torrent of content creation isn’t commensurate with today’s shrinking marketplace. (Incidentally, I have my do-or-die third NiftyGateway release coinciding with publication of this article. Fingers crossed.)

 

“The Hoarder” is included in Kenny Schachter’s NiftyGateway drop.

Larva Labs, programmers of 10,000 unique CryptoPunks (2017), a group of which fetched $17 million at Christie’s last week, rushed to market with their latest project, 20,000 Meebits, on the back of the Punks’ auction hype. Some complained they were aping “Bored Apes” by the Bored Ape Yacht Club (another collection of 10,000 “unique” NFTs). Are you following? The salient point is that “Meebits” are trading well below their launch price due to the overall constricting of NFT valuations, though creators Matt Hall and John Watkinson did bank another $75 million after their “Punks” auction. It’s revenge of the nerds—on amphetamines.

 

This Meebits video is also included in Kenny Schachter’s Nifty drop.

If you’ve ever seen Midnight Publishing Group News’s ace reporter Nate Freeman about town at a local watering hole, he resembles a throwback to a 1950s-era newshound, often clad in a brown tweed blazer with a notepad in one hand and martini in the other. But when it comes to NFTs, his mindset is as antediluvian as his attire. His Wet Paint column is nothing short of a relentless broadside against digital art and the cryptocurrency that underpins it. He recently complained that the Christie’s CryptoPunks buyer was host of a consortium of investors with a portfolio of Punks. Actually, that’s not altogether different from the Mugrabi clan and their passel of Basquiats, Warhols, Condos, et al.—who also happened to underbid on Urs Fischer’s recent NFT drop on Loïc Gouzer’s Fair Warning auction app. At least they have the foresight to adapt to a changing technologically enabled world, unlike my esteemed Midnight Publishing Group colleague.

Similarly, Tim Schneider, of Midnight Publishing Group News Pro’s The Gray Market recently authored a column headed: “Why NFTs Aren’t the Solution to Museums’ Deaccessioning Dilemmas or Any Other Big Problems, Either.” That was before the storied Uffizi Gallery in Florence sold an NFT of the Michelangelo painting “Doni Tondo” (1505-06) for €140,000 ($170,000). Not to gloat, but… I have been saying for ages (most recently in Austria’s Der Standard newspaper), that museums should sell NFTs alongside posters and postcards instead of deaccessioning art. Max Hollein, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whom I count as a friend (and who I hope won’t be offended), said in an interview that NFT deals are primarily propaganda for speculating in cryptocurrencies. He might reconsider before commencing a deaccessioning campaign of his own.

When it comes to NFTs, as Katharina Rustler of <em>Der Standard</em> interpreted it, “Grab chance by the eggs!" Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

When it comes to NFTs, as Katharina Rustler of Der Standard interpreted it, “Grab chance by the eggs!” Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

It’s not just Old Masters teaching the new by taking a lead in combating the staggering loss of revenues that COVID has wrought on art institutions, but commercial stalwarts like Art Basel and even eBay are getting in on the NFT game. Bitsky (Banksy’s Russian cousin?) is yet another startup that just raised $19 million from the likes of Serena Williams and Jay-Z, led by Marc Andreessen (who bears a striking resemblance to a Conehead of “Saturday Night Live” fame) of Andreessen Horowitz, a $16.6 billion tech fund that has cemented a chokehold on the NFT market, indicating a fervently bullish long-term view. (They’ve also been throwing gasoline on the NFT speculation fire through Clubhouse, the live convo app they’re backing that seems to host a different NFT hypefest every 10 minutes.) Bitski, for its part, is meant to employ a rudimentary consumer interface, creating ease for the crafting of NFTs payable by credit card and sidestepping the fear and hesitancy of crypto-cynics.

German art royalty: Johann Koenig (who’s got a few new ideas up his sleeve when it comes to role of art dealer) and Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne, which is coming up in November’s return to normalcy. Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

German art royalty: Johann Koenig (who’s got a few new ideas up his sleeve when it comes to role of art dealer) and Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne, which is coming up in November’s return to normalcy. Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

Bafflingly, it is the historically staid auction houses, instead of galleries, that have been at the forefront of acclimating to the changing landscape of the art world vis-à-vis technological innovation. Except, that is, for Johann König and Nagel Draxler—at whose Cologne gallery I curated “Breadcrumbs: Art in the Age of NFTism,” through August 21. König has gone as far as staging auctions and initiating his own platform with Dapper Labs— the marketplace known for CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot Moments—to sell NFTs, while also potentially offering fractionalized ownership opportunities for emerging artworks, just like the wildly popular stock-trading app Robinhood does for meme stocks. I asked Johann, “What are you trying to be with all this frenetic activity?” He replied, without missing a beat: “Amazon!” The question of whether (or not) there is a mass public business for art rivaling Apple and Alibaba remains to be seen.

Here’s a video starring a Paul Thek that is part of Kenny Schachter’s NiftyGateway drop.

Christian Nagel, for his part, is a pillar of the German gallery scene, having opened his first space in Munich in 1986 and, four years later, in Cologne, where he began exhibiting works by the likes of Martin Kippenberger, Franz West, Günther Förg, Michael Krebber, Cosima von Bonin, Andrea Fraser, Charline von Heyl, and Martha Rosler. Saskia Draxler, a philosopher and cultural critic, joined as a partner in 2009. As far as NFTs? Nagel informed me that, were it not for a Clubhouse chatroom when a critic questioned the gallery’s commitment (or rather antipathy) to crypto art, I wouldn’t have found myself in Cologne curating what might well be the first meatspace NFT art show in a conceptual art gallery.

Nagel Draxler gallerist Christian Nagel and me in my new show. Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

Nagel Draxler gallerist Christian Nagel and me in my new show. Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

The exhibitions itself is indistinguishable from a non-NFT show inasmuch as there is an installation-based framework upon which photos, computer printouts, paintings, and objects are presented—but it will have a parallel expression as a series of Non-Fungible Token drops, which will follow on OpenSea in the coming weeks. The artists range from such pioneers in the NFT space as R. Myers, Max Osiris, Dot Pigeon, Kevin Abosch, Robness, Osinachi, Ruylton Fyder, Sarah Friend, Olive Allen, and Anna Ridler, commingled with regulars on the contemporary gallery circuit like Tracey Emin, Darren Bader, Eva Beresin, Theo Triantafyllidis, and Koichi Sato (and me, of course!). The imprimatur of the venerated gallery Nagel Draxler is as significant as any of the participating artists in the exhibit, as the embrace of NFTs in such a context speaks volumes about their acceptance, legitimacy, and credibility.

In other news, I received an actual (if unusual) ransom letter last week from Alfred Itchcock, the buyer of the NFT I helped Jerry Saltz release for charity last month. In it, Itchcock stated this was nothing less than an act of digital terrorism and threatened to shred Jerry’s “The First 10,000” unless Saltz engaged in some specific acts regarding the smart contract accompanying his NFT that would entail paying a transaction fee of anywhere between approximately $2,000 to $10,000. Though it wasn’t entirely clear, the purported intent appeared to teach Saltz a lesson for initially criticizing and dismissing NFTs, and (maybe?) prove they have import and significance beyond the low effort Jerry expended on the creation of his.

The self-proclaimed crypto-tax fixer, sure to be the accounting world's busiest man! Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

The self-proclaimed crypto-tax fixer, sure to be the accounting world’s busiest man! Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

In Alfred’s own (semi-legible) words: “A concrete consequence of “The First 10,000” being shred is that it stops being transferable. It’ll be “lost” in a sense that’s very real to people here. Not being transferable means it can’t ever be resold so you’ll never get royalties from secondary sales. Hence NFT terrorism 🙂 I don’t encourage burning/shredding NFTs since it’s unfair to the artist. One exception is when used as a counter-trolling move. “The First 10,000” isn’t shred yet, it can still be recovered by making one single Ethereum transaction. If that doesn’t happen by May 28 then surely it’ll be shred and lost forever. Luv you all, Best! Alfred”

He closed with line: “DONT PUT YOUR PRIVATE KEYS IN THE WRONG PLACE.” (Thanks for the heads-up, Alfred!) I responded with my inimitable diplomatic brusqueness, the sentiment of which Jerry was fully aligned with: “We wouldn’t pay 5 cents to save this NFT, so your point (whatever that may be) is moot. Knock yourself out and have a ball.” So long “The First 10,000”… till the next. This encounter affirmed one thing for sure: techies are weird.

An article on Paul Thek was published in The University Chicago Journal quoting the artist from 1965: “The world was falling apart, anyone could see it, I was a wreck, the block was a wreck, the city was a wreck; and I’d go to a gallery and there would be a lot of fancy people looking at a lot of stuff that didn’t say anything about anything to anyone.” At present, the world is a wreck. No, NFTism isn’t going to affect things in the big (or little) scheme of things overall—but art may very well instill a greater sense of empathy and humanism, so sorely missed across the globe in the face of war, Covid, and hatred. I am simply a proponent of more artistic expression and communication in whatever form pleases, and less irrational judgments and actions to the contrary.

 

This is some kind of commercial for Kenny’s Nifty drop, and it’s also included in Kenny’s Nifty drop.

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The Uffizi Gallery Just Sold a Michelangelo NFT for $170,000, and Now Is Quickly Minting More Masterpieces From Its Collection


The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is turning some of its most prized artworks into NFTs and selling them to raise funds after a cash-strapped year. And it’s starting off with a bang: an encrypted Michelangelo painting of the holy family, Doni Tondo (1505-06), just sold for €140,000 ($170,000).

The museum will split the proceeds with Cinello, an Italian company that has patented a new way to make digital facsimiles of famous paintings, as part of a new partnership announced today. Cinello’s digital artworks, which it calls DAWS, are produced in the dimensions of the original piece, and purport to be completely unique and theft proof. An NFT token is created on the blockchain for each DAW, certifying ownership. 

Each piece produced for the Uffizi comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by Eike Schmidt, the museum’s director. As part of the agreement with Cinello, the museum banks 50 percent of the profits for each DAW made from a piece in its collection and sold by the company.

Cinello founder and CEO Franco Losi (L) and Uffizi director Eike Schmidt (R) with Michelangelo's <i>Doni Tondo</i> (1505-06).

Cinello founder and CEO Franco Losi (L) and Uffizi director Eike Schmidt (R) with Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo (1505-06).

A spokesperson for the Uffizi declined to provide details about the Michelangelo sale or the museum’s deal with Cinello. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that the buyer of the digital Michelangelo was a woman in Rome who purchased it for her husband, a prominent collector, for his 60th birthday.

For the Uffizi, which saw its annual visitor numbers fall from 4.4 million in 2019 to 1.2 million last year, according to The Art Newspaper, the side hustle might yield some extra cash at a crucial time. 

“In the medium term [the NFT sales] will be able to contribute to the finances of a museum, comparable to the proceeds of the restaurant business,” Schmidt told Corriere della Sera. “It is not a change of direction in terms of revenue, it is an additional revenue. But creating such a market is not a quick thing.”

A dozen other major works from the Uffizi’s collection will also be turned into DAWs in the near future. Among those on the list are Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, Raphael’s Madonna del Granduca, Caravaggio’s Bacchus, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino.

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Art Observers Scratch Their Heads as the Uffizi’s First Expansion Into Contemporary Art Is a Mark Wahlberg-Themed Piece of Street Art


In a puzzling move, Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, renowned for its unparalleled collection of Italian Renaissance masterpieces, has accepted the donation of a piece by contemporary British street artist Endless.

The artist, who does not appear to have ever had a museum exhibition, is a strange fit for a collection best known for such art historical luminaries as Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. Nevertheless, Uffizi director Eike Schmidt summoned a great deal of enthusiasm for the piece at an event unveiling the unlikely acquisition.

Praising the work as “an original fusion between punk and pop” that brings self portraiture into the realm of Conceptual art, Schmidt claimed that branching out to the world of street art was in the tradition of the Medici who first built the museum’s collection. “The Medici, always at the cutting edge, would be happy to see Endless’s work enter the collection,” he claimed in a statement.

The museum is billing the acquisition as its first work of street art, but it’s clearly a work on canvas, created in a studio environment—not on the city streets. The mixed-media piece features two vertically stacked printings of a Noel Shelley photograph of Endless posed between British artist duo Gilbert and George, surrounded by their names in graffiti lettering.

British street artist Endless has donated this work featuring Gilbert and George and his Crotch Grab artwork appropriating Mark Wahlberg's Calvin Klein ad to the Uffizi in Florence. Photo courtesy of Uffizi Galleries

British street artist Endless has donated this work featuring Gilbert and George and his Crotch Grab artwork appropriating Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein ad to the Uffizi in Florence. Photo courtesy of Uffizi Galleries.

In a nod to the tradition of the anonymous street artist, Endless’s face is partially hidden behind an open magazine featuring Crotch Grab, a recurring image in the artist’s work. Based on a famous Calvin Klein underwear ad featuring actor Mark Wahlberg, Crotch Grab originally appeared on the streets of London and was later appropriated by Gilbert and George.

“Endless elaborates on his symbolic explorations, moving between the brush and spray paint, luxury and pop, and creating a mirror of two different perfections, one wise and tragic, lived on the cutting edge of heresy and madness/folly, the other scientific, experimental, expanded upon analytically,” art critic Pasquale Lettieri pronounced at the work’s unveiling.

High praise, if a bit overwrought. But although the work was allegedly created specifically for the Uffizi, nothing about the subject matter nor the techniques involved in its making would seem to make any reference to the storied Florentine institution that would explain its sudden addition to the collection.

“The gallery director, Eike Schmidt, wanted to collect contemporary works and open a new portrait section to the Uffizi Gallery,” Endless told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email, noting that the gift had been in the works for several years. “He had requested my work to be in this collection.”

British street artist Endless with the work he gifted to the Uffizi in Florence. Photo courtesy of Uffizi Galleries.

British street artist Endless with the work he gifted to the Uffizi in Florence. Photo courtesy of Uffizi Galleries.

The Uffizi’s collection stops in the 1930s with Modern art—a portion of the collection relegated to upstairs galleries in the museum’s Pitti Palace location on the other side of the river. Branching out to more contemporary work isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if an artist like Endless seems like a very strange place to start.

“I was surprised as the collection is most famous for its Renaissance works,” Endless admitted. “I am very honored to have my work feature amongst such a significant collection.”

Endless’s website claims that “the public buzz around his work has snowballed, to a point where now iconic brands, celebrities and the art world all know his name.” But his CV appears to be almost entirely London gallery shows. HIs other big project right now is painting a mural at an Italian ski resort for the 2021 Alpine Ski World Championships.

The Uffizi previously waded into the waters of contemporary art with “Flora Commedia,” a 2018 Cai Guo-Qiang exhibition, that was part of a series of shows by the Chinese artist responding to the collections of major international institutions.

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