T here’s one thing even casual observers know about the art market today: NFTs are here to stay. Once a relatively niche medium, non-fungible tokens have grown into an undeniable cultural phenomenon, capturing global attention, upending market consensus and smashing records left and right.
One person knowledgeable of this phenomenon is Michael Bouhanna, Head of Digital Art & NFT at Sotheby’s, who helped conceive and launch Sotheby’s Metaverse – a sustainable platform for emerging digital art forms that helps meet growing market demand. In 2022 the department established several milestones, including hosting the first live single-owner sale of an NFT collection – that of the visionary MaxStealth – and the presentation of photographer Sebastião Salgado’s largest NFT auction, which supported the important work in environmental conservation conducted by Instituto Terra.
“This year truly was a testament to Sotheby’s ability to pioneer new and diverse markets,” says Bouhanna, who considers himself something of an evangelist for digital art among collectors of paintings, photographs and other physical media. As the hype settled in 2022, he says, “Art, technique and quality became the center of the discussion.”
In the year ahead, Bouhanna predicts that “we will continue to see steady adoption from traditional collectors and the wider public.” Established artists, such as Salgado, embraced NFTs this year and we can expect other traditional artists to venture into the space as well; meanwhile AI and “generative” digital techniques have gained in momentum in artists’ practices. Bouhanna expects these trends to continue in a “selective” market “focused on what is considered blue chip in digital art.”
Although headline-grabbing sales reflect the excitement of this emerging medium, they often belie some of the more technically innovative applications of blockchain on the art market. One promising trend fueling the technology, for example, is the editioning of NFTs as “digital twins” to accompany physical artworks, thus certifying their authenticity and provenance. “The integration of NFTs in daily life will only heighten,” Bouhanna says.