ING, the Dutch banking group, has been involved with supporting artists for over 45 years. According to the team behind the ING Collection, it has always sought to “foster creativity and innovation.” That certainly seems to be the case with its latest investment into the world of digital art. In August, the ING Collection chose to purchase the first fractional ownership shares of a video work of art made by the digital Romanian artist, Dragos Alexandrescu.
In a first for the collection, a peer-to-peer purchase has been made of the original copy of the work using a blockchain-based system. Essentially, this means that the banking group has bought a 12.5 per cent share of the work in a similar manner to the way that people buy Bitcoins. The use of blockchain technology to verify transactions in the digital world has grown hugely in recent years and it is now being used to promote the sale of digital forms of art, too. The fact that such a serious and renowned art buyer, in the form of the ING Collection, has chosen to go down this route demonstrates just how normal this practice now is.
What the banking group has done is to demonstrate how ownership models of digital art – which don’t necessarily exist in a physical form, like a sculpture or a painting – can now exist and be accepted as reliable. Without the sort of blockchain model of ownership verification, it would be feasible for digital artists on unscrupulous dealers to sell more than 100 per cent of a piece of art or even duplicate it. With a blockchain making this impossible, so confidence in being able to prove the ownership of digital art has grown, helping to boost the market for these modern forms of artwork.
In essence, what the ING Collection has done is to invest in revenue sharing asset tokens that represent the work. Like a cryptocurrency, these are nothing more than a little bit of code that state that their transaction with the artist has taken place. As the price for them rises or falls, so they can be retained or sold, just like a share in a physical work of art. Of course, the ability to connect digital artists to potential buyers is what has been needed to make this market come alive. In this, it is the online community put together for artists and buyers of Wunder that has been the pioneer. Operating since 2014, the team at Wunder have hailed the purchase made by the ING Collection as a milestone in the ‘blockchain ecosystem’ of digital art ownership.
Museum professional should be aware that this technology is now up and running and that it is likely to have an impact on the way buyers think about ownership models for both physical and digital artworks as time goes by.
As far as ING is concerned, being at the forefront of a new way of buying art helps its brand to establish itself as a forward-thinking and innovative one in the fields of both commerce and art. Sanne ten Brink, the ING Collection’s Head Curator said that the purchase of an eighth of Alexandrescu’s work was, “a reflection of… the themes that are relevant to ING.” She went on to add that her team wanted to explore new methods of empowering talented artists, helping them to share their talents with a wider audience.
Alexandrescu’s piece is entitled ‘The Absence of Presence’ and it explores the hand gestures people use when interacting with the touchscreen devices. The video asks us to examine how physical touch operates in the online world. As such, it seems to be a fitting work to have been sold, even if it is in a partial form, through the emerging blockchain-based approach to the digital art market.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.