Crypto-art craze sweeps into Beijing at exhibition dedicated to ‘NFT’

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Bitcoin-inspired paintings and nightmarish faces conjured up by artificial intelligence, the global craze for “NFTs” -- virtual authenticity certificates -- swept into Beijing on Friday as curators opened one of the world’s first exhibitions dedicated to blockchain art.

The show includes digital paintings by American artist Beeple, who sold a collage at Christie’s for a record $69.3 million earlier this month.

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A coin-shaped canvas by UK-based Robert Alice, covered in painted fragments of Bitcoin’s source code, hangs in a secluded room accompanied by a TV screen showing its digital twin.

Works curated by Chinese organizers Block Create Art run the gamut from computer-generated videos of metallic Buddhas to a virtual reality maze and folk art-inspired paintings.

A collection of old TV monitors play animated images including a rainbow-hued portrait by American teen artist FEWOCiOUS, while a GIF of an inflatable goose head by Chinese artist Yitian Sun gyrates on a nearby wall.

Blockchain adds “a kind of abundance to art,” curator Sun Bohan told AFP. “It’s a kind of new experiment and exploration.”

What the works have in common is NFTs -- or non-fungible tokens -- which use the same blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies to turn anything from internet memes to tweets into virtual collector’s items that cannot be duplicated.

Though bewildering to many, a manic appetite for digital objects authenticated through blockchain technology has spread through different markets.

The most famous example is Twitter boss Jack Dorsey selling his first tweet, from 2006, which reads “just setting up my twttr,” at an ongoing auction -- with bidding reaching $2.5 million.

NFTs have recently taken the art world by storm as investors seize the opportunity to monetize digital art.

Wealthy collectors claim the bragging rights to ultimate ownership of an original virtual file even if the work can be endlessly copied.

“First Supper,” a psychedelic reworking of Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th century painting of Jesus’ Last Supper, comprises 22 visual elements created by different artists which can be sold through online auctions.

The one-off digital copy is on display at the Beijing show, meaning every time an element -- the dinner table or the diners at the supper -- changes hands, its collector can also change a color or texture that will appear real-time on the screen at the exhibition.

Sun said blockchain will improve the “ecosystem” of the art world, changing the “liquidity of artworks, and the diversity of relationships between collectors and creators.”

Read more: A shot fired for racial equality, says mystery buyer of $69 mln digital artwork