The first NFT auction will be held in Israel this month, and many artists and collectors are embracing the emerging technology.
Hosted by the Tiroche Auction House in Herzliya, the May 30 auction is dedicated to contemporary art and will be held in collaboration with leading art galleries from across the country.
Similar to cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, NFTs exist as data on the blockchain — a secure digital public ledger — but their value is set by the highest bidder. Artists who wish to sell their work as NFTs must first register on the marketplace, then create digital tokens on the blockchain and list them for auction.
According to Amitai Hazan Tiroche, managing director of Tiroche Auction House and third-generation owner of the company, the May 30 event not only represented Israel’s first NFT auction, but also its first entirely dedicated to contemporary art auction.
“This is a retrospective of some of the most well-known and respected artists in contemporary art,” he said.
A total of 120 works – including NFTs and traditional works – will be auctioned. NFTs are run by industry pioneers: Koketit, Shirley Shor, #TAG and Moran Victoria Sabbag. Additionally, dozens of non-NFT artworks will be auctioned, including Zoya Cherkassky, Sigalit Landau, Michal Rovner, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, Adi Nes, and Ron Arad.
Those looking to buy NFTs at auctions will be able to do so by paying with cryptocurrencies or shekels and dollars.
Last year, digital artist Mike Winkelmann (better known as Beeple) sold an NFT work for a record $69 million at a Christie’s auction.
Since then, more and more artists and high-tech professionals have started working in the NFT industry, and collectors have shown interest in buying their works as an investment.
“Everyone can see the NFT, everyone can use it, but only one person is the rightful owner of the token,” explained Hazan Tiroche. “It’s almost like buying a certificate [of authenticity]. Once you buy an NFT, you can only enjoy it in your digital wallet. “
Since the concept of digital ownership may be difficult for some collectors to understand, Tiroche Auction House will also provide an electronic screen showing the video art of purchased NFTs. The screen can then be hung on the buyer’s wall.
Some have criticized the sudden popularity of NFTs, warning that the industry is a bubble or even a scam. Others argue that copyright claims are unenforceable because digital images can be easily viewed and shared for free.
As the owner of Israel’s largest auction house, where does Hazan Tiroche see the whole NFT trend going?
“There’s too much noise, too many people doing NFTs, and it’s hard to focus on the very talented and successful 1% of creators,” he said. “I do think NFTs are the future. Facebook decided to change its name to Meta because the next world will be in the ‘metaverse’ where people will wear glasses and take their avatars to digital malls and buy digital real estate. Maybe We can’t understand it today, just like people in 1996 didn’t understand the Internet.”
The term metaverse was originally coined by author Neil Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel Avalanche. It refers to an immersive virtual reality world dubbed “the future of the internet” by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Such platforms would rely on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets to transport users into a three-dimensional virtual space.
Israeli new media artist Shirley Shor, one of the pioneers in the NFT space, will be selling his work at the upcoming Tiroche auction. Her video and sound installation “Strange Days” (2018-2022) explores the relationship between the human body and machines, and how the two are beginning to merge as technology advances rapidly.
Shor has been a digital artist for the past 25 years. “When NFTs came, it was supernatural,” Shor said. “It’s another platform to perform some of my work.”
Like Hazan Tiroche, she believes the potential of NFTs is enormous, and humanity is on the cusp of a new virtual age.
“When someone asks what the internet was 30 years ago, we don’t really know what it was,” Shore said. “The internet as a concept is changing.”
More and more artists are selling their work as NFTs, she said, as the technology enables creators to live a decent life without the need for intermediaries like brokers or art galleries. In fact, NFT data firm Nonfungible.com reports that NFT transactions will exceed $17 billion in 2021, up from $82 million a year ago.
Shor believes that NFTs will develop and eventually become part of serious art collections, where people will display their virtual possessions in a virtual world.
“Right now, everything is messy; we’re all making history in real time,” she said. “Traditional art collectors realize that NFTs are here to stay, so they need to get used to it.”