Does a da Vinci by any other name smell as sweet?
Museums financially strapped by the pandemic have turned to non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to help them recoup money — and are even selling digital reproductions of famous masterpieces.
As The New York Times reports, some European galleries and museums have begun selling NFT reproductions of works by like the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael, and Gustav Klimt.
In partnership with the Italian company Cinello, which in 2021 patented an NFT method involving high-resolution reproductions that are displayed on backlit screens placed inside period-appropriate frames, the digital-focused Unit London art dealership, as the Times notes, just closed out a showcase of Italian masterpieces reproduced as NFTs.
The show, titled “Externalising Art History,” is the latest effort for cash-strapped museums — like the Italian galleries where the originals from the showcase are housed — to raise money while also cashing in on the NFT craze.
To be clear, not all the museums hopping on the NFT trend are broke. The British Museum, for instance, has jumped headfirst into the hubbub, inking an exclusive five-year contract with the Ethereum blockchain-based LaCollection platform that will only stand to make the institution famed for owning countless stolen antiquities even richer.
The final NFT sales figures raised by these museums and galleries as listed in the Times initially seem demure by art world standards — from the $444,000 raised by the State Hermitage Museum in Russia for NFT replicas to the 10,000 digital reproductions of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” sold at roughly 1,850 euros each for Valentine’s Day. But considering that these aren’t original works of art — remember, they’re just high-resolution replicas that confer dubious ownership status — those numbers start to look awfully high.
Once again, NFT enthusiasts have accidentally stumbled into the très postmodern argument about what constitutes art. There’s no denying that good reproductions are worth paying good money for, but when those replicas also carry a high environmental price tag, it truly makes one question whether it’s worth it at all.
READ MORE: Museums Are Cashing In on NFTs [The New York Times]
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