Search Museum Next

NFT “Art Heist” sees famous artworks sold online

Museum NFT

NFTs have been making big news this week with the sale of a digital only artwork by the artist Beeple for $69m.

NFTs or Non-Fungible Tokens designate ownership of a digital good, a certificate of sorts that is minted on a blockchain.

Artists are now selling NFTs as a way of showing that one person “owns” a digital artwork, and the high prices that some are making has created a boom market.

While fortunes are being made in NFT auctions many art museums stand closed because of the Covid pandemic.

The past year has seen a rapid acceleration in the way in which our cultural institutions use technology, but they have struggled to increase revenues online.

So I was interested to see the Birmingham Museums Trust collection available on a NFT auction website, alongside those of Rijksmuseum, Cleveland Museum of Art and Art Institute of Chicago.

I could bid to “own” the digital rights to artworks by world famous artists such as Klimt, Van Gogh, Degas and Cézanne.

But the digital rights to these artworks were not being sold by the museums who house them but by GlobalArtMuseum, an independent seller based out of Singapore wishing to disrupt the art market.

They state their mission on Twitter to be:

The pages selling the NFT of these artworks also stated that 10% of any money raised would be given to the museums that house these artworks.

However, when I approached Birmingham Museums Trust about this, they had no such arrangement with GlobalArtMuseum, and had not given permission for the artworks to be sold in this way or made any agreements about the use of their name or receipt of payment.

The Rijksmuseum posted a statement on Twitter stating that they have not made any arrangement with GlobalArtMuseum.

And Global Art Museum confirmed this themselves when asked about their arrangements on Twitter.

24 hours after contacting the NFT marketplace about these images being sold on their website the collection names were amended to remove the associations with the museums, but the artworks remain for sale.

To date nobody has made a bid.

NFTs offer museums the opportunity to earn revenue and a new medium to explore (once environmental concerns are tackled) but doing so will require imagination and creativity. Many museums have partnered with museums and designers to remix their collections and I think this is where value can be created.

UPDATE – On Monday 15th March 2021, Global Art Museum released a press release stating that posting the artworks mentioned above on OpenSea was a publicity stunt and they at no time intended to profit from the sale of these NFTs.

Interested in learning more about Museums and NFTs, read more here.

About the author – Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on digital and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now spends his time championing best practice through MuseumNext.

Subscribe to the latest museum thinking

Fresh ideas from museums around the globe in your inbox each week