Communication tools, NFTs also seem to be an innovative source of funding for museums. But is it risk free?
What are French museums waiting for to start using NFTs? The question is on everyone’s lips at a time when several major museum institutions have already crashed into the breach with a weighty argument: it is urgent to save the coffers after the Covid crisis. Leading the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which from May 2021 sold a digital clone of Tondo Doni by Michelangelo for 140,000 euros [dont elle ne toucha que la moitié, soit 70 000 euros, l’autre étant dûe à la plateforme Cinello, ndlr]. Followed by the Hermitage Museum, which holds cryptocurrency auctions via the Binance NFT platform, for five digital duplicates of its masterpieces sold for more than $ 440,000, or in February last year, the Belvedere Palace in Vienna split Kiss of Klimt in 10,000 servings of NFT, of which 2,400 were sold for more than 4 million euros on Valentine’s Day! The experiments are refined, just as the terminology, such as “digital lithographs in limited editions”, evokes multiples. But at the moment, French institutions are on guard against the sulfur-containing image of this little digital token, which is causing the art market to fluctuate as it pleases. The Louvre indicates that “thinking, like many other museums, about how NFTs can take part in the lives of the collections”. Pending the recommendations of the Ministry of Culture, scheduled for this June and handed over to the ethical-legal analysis of lawyer Jean Martin, commissioned in November last year by the Superior Council for Literary and Artistic Property.
The arguments put forward today: rejuvenation of the museum’s image and fundraising, close to a protectionist approach, although the purely philanthropic aspect is missing. Nevertheless, the financial support is real – just like the wave of crowdfunding – the money raised can be used for restoration or acquisition of works. “I think we live through a historical period in art historyexplains Jean-Sébastien Beaucamps, co-founder of LaCollection, a start-up set up in January 2021. Through their NFT acquisition, new collectors are supporting museums. We are in the process of imagining counterparts to create a bridge between the virtual and physical world. And we design our platform with a curatorial and not purely transactional approach. » TheCollection, already affiliated with the British Museum, is the origin of the 24 limited NFTs of the Leopold Museum, which will fund the museum’s acquisition of all or part of a rare early painting by Egon Schiele that was recently rediscovered. in a Viennese collection whose price is not stated. “The goal is younger, more international. NFT collectors are on average under 40 years old”adds the specialist in blockchain, pointing out that in this technological sector, France has three unicorns – Sorare, Sandbox and Ledger – whose founders are in the capital. However, it is impossible to know the commission for these operations, the spirit of which is based on the licensing agreements.
“Museums become players in the market by creating products that are easy to sell. By perhaps moving away from their primary missions, they also risk suffering from the instability of their courses. It is not certain that all the NFTs issued will find recipients, and when the issue is successful, foreign experience shows that the NFT is quickly resold with a significant capital gain, which only benefits the speculator. “warns Géraldine Goffaux-Callebaut, professor of private law and co-director of the Art Market master’s degree at the École du Louvre, and specifies that there is currently no legal framework governing the NFT, whose volatility is difficult to limit.
In one month, the Vasarely Foundation, the first French private institution of public supply to venture there, has also paid the price. Very pleased with her first sale of NFT (which aims to support the restoration of the architectural integrations of the master of Op Art), she saw prices fluctuate from 600 to 400 euros. “We have done our best to reduce this risk by setting a level that cannot be exceeded, and we have created our own sales platform to not be dependent on using Polygone, the most environmentally friendly solution on the market. blockchain », explains Ugo Vasarely, operations manager at the fund. Sensitive topic actually because “from an environmental point of view, NFT emissions are not neutral”, abounds Géraldine Goffaux-Callebaut. As for the possible capital gain on resale, as in all the cases mentioned, it will benefit the institution and the issuing platform if necessary in the form of a percentage, as a resale right.
Another innovative financing method is “tokenization”. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp is the first in Europe to try it with the help of the Belgian platform Rubey for acquisition in the form of digital assets or “Art Security Token” (which is not NFT and has the same legal character) as shares) of virtual devices of Binche Carnival by James Ensor. In this case, each buyer becomes a co-owner and accepts that the work is hung up in the museum (as soon as it reopens on September 24), as only the depository, in the form of a 10-year long-term loan.
However, “French museums have the right to take the time to address these issues”, supports Géraldine Goffaux-Callebaut and recalls the absolute principle of independence of public assemblies and respect for the moral rights of works. Will these new tools ultimately be able to influence the legislature?