NFT named the most influential artistic phenomenon of the year in 2021

The picture has been circulating on the internet for the last ten years: a playful gray cat with a pink sandwich as body, digitized in GIF 8bit version, flying in the starry sky driven by a rainbow popping up from behind. Since its appearance in 2011 on a comics website, then a Youtube video with joking music carried by a rattling voice, the sweet character of Nyan Cat has become an emblem of digital culture and what is called “a meme”. Since yesterday, he has created a surprise by reaching a new level: The cat is in first place in the Power 100 of ArtReview magazine, one of the most anticipated rankings in the art world, which each year ranks the most influential artistic personalities. Surprise! the cat’s viral GIF thus refers the famous gallery owners David Zwirner, Larry Gagosian and Emmanuel Perrotin to the background. It also surpasses artists Hito Steyerl, Theaster Gates and Olafur Eliasson, and even collector François Pinault and fashion designer Miuccia Prada. If it achieves such an achievement, it is thanks to the price that its creator sold it at in February 2021: the colossal amount of $ 580,000.

Behind the Nyan cat’s icon, ArtReview actually identifies much more than a GIF, but a real phenomenon, which has set in motion contemporary art for several months: the NFTs. Created a few years ago, the NFT process [Non Fungible Tokens] allows you to encrypt a signature in a digital file that authenticates its original and unique character, such as the certificates of authenticity that have accompanied works of material for centuries. Therefore, if in the digital world we can replicate an MP3 or JPG document ad infinitum, we will not be able to duplicate its authenticated version thanks to this computer technology. Utilized in recent years by a few artists to market their virtual creations, NFTs have mainly spread in the world of digital art.

But in March last year, there was a dramatic turnaround: the very institutional auction house Christie’s puts a digital work up for sale for the first time: produced by the American Beeple, the huge colorful mosaic – consisting of 5,000 images taken from the internet – is sold for the equivalent of $ 59 million, paid for in cryptocurrency. An earthquake whose shock wave will disturb the art world. Since then, speculation has raged and NFTs have been available everywhere: musicians, creators of memes (including Nyan Cat) … A 400-foot-tall building will even be completely dedicated to those in New York to optimize traffic flows, cryptocurrency . What deeply questions the hierarchy of works of art in the digital age, which explains how a cat ranks number 1 in the Power 100 of ArtReview, even though it appears there under a more abstract identity, ERC-721, its NFT format more specifically linked to Ethereum’s cryptocurrency exchange system.


Beeple, “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS” (2021). Non-fungible token (jpg) 21,069 x 21,069 pixels

If the presence of a movement – rather than a person – in the classification ArtReview is surprising, however, it is not new. Thus, in 2020, the magazine chose the Black Lives Matter movement as number 1, revived by the resurgence of racist murders and attacks in the United States. The assassination of George Floyd by a police officer has actually had very concrete consequences for the art world, which has given significant impetus in favor of diversity: the creation of numerous works, exhibitions and engaged conferences, but also the appointment of curators and non-white directors at the head of major US institutions.

This year, the rankings again celebrate personalities who are very sensitive to race issues and postcolonials such as the African-American poet Fred Moten, the artist Arthur Jafa and the researchers Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy, who were already present in last year’s Power 100, but also the artist Steve McQueen, or the young gallery owner known for representing the African diaspora Mariane Ibrahim , which has just opened a new space in Paris. Note that American anthropologist Anna L. Tising, a specialist in feminism and environmental issues, comes in at number 2 on this year’s rankings. Her book The sponge from the end of the world: on the possibilities of life in the ruins of capitalism, has attracted attention since its release in 2015. This story follows the evolution of the matsutake fungus to investigate the harmful effects of humans and capitalism on our planet. In the hundredth place of the Power 100, another surprise: we find billionaire entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg, who recently renamed his Facebook group “Meta”, a reference to the origins of his empire, the meta-verse, all the virtual worlds of the Internet galaxy .

Experience the full Power 100 offArtReview from 2021

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