Artory Featured in the 2020 TEFAF Report to Discuss Blockchain and Art Patronage

Art Market Guru Interview

Nanne Dekking, founder and CEO of Artory, describes the potential of provenance and transaction tracking using blockchain for art.

Dekking sees the technology as being capable of empowering every section of the art market: from collectors, to artists, to institutions. Dekking discusses the unique potentials of blockchain by explaining how Artory has helped an art collective aimed at aiding children being held at the U.S.-Mexico border. Moreover, Dekking explores how the use of blockchain technology within the art market can create a centralized community within a decentralized system. 

The value of art has always been bound up in stories. In the art market, you cannot separate the value of artworks from the languages that they speak and the stories that they tell. Data about the time period during which an artwork was made, the reason for which it was made, and the artist who made it affect not only the price tag of the artwork, but also the artworks ability to create an impact. Through the use of blockchain technology, every event in the lifecycle of an artwork can be recorded immutably, ensuring that our shared stories are set in something more enduring than stone. Of course, the implications for recording transactions on the blockchain are invaluable–but this capability is just one half of the picture. In what ways can blockchain benefit the larger mission of art, beyond just a dollar value?

In the Fall of 2019, Artory and Winston Art Group, the leading independent art appraisal and advisory firm, partnered with DYKWTCA (Do you know where the children are?) a call to action and exhibition of over 100 leading visual artists that brings attention to the nearly 4,000 unaccompanied children who are being detained at the border by the U.S. government. Led by well-known artists Mary Ellen Carroll and Lucas Michael, the collective–which includes Julie Mehretu, Dan Graham, Kay Rosen, and Amy Sillman–made over 100 artworks, each based on an interview with a detained child conducted by Flores Settlement investigators at the U.S.-Mexico border. The artworks will be sold at a fixed price of $500 through an anonymous system and all proceeds from the exhibition will go to organizations working at the frontline of immigration policy at the border for the most vulnerable asylum-seekers.

Jesse Presley Jones, “And they tell us it’s the law” (2019), paint on glass, 8 x 12 inches (copyright Jesse Presley Jones) (all images courtesy of DYKWTCA, Mary Ellen Carroll, and Lucas Michael)

The goal of the collective’s partnership with Artory’s blockchain-enabled public Registry is to preserve the stories of these children in perpetuity by linking them immutably to the artwork’s blockchain record. The blockchain record will track the provenance of the artwork and guarantee that proceeds from resale are split appropriately between seller, artist, and immigration rights organizations. Moreover, by engaging with the blockchain, the initial purchaser ensures that the children’s stories are kept public and undisturbed. The purchaser is then also integral in telling the artwork’s story and in carrying out DYKWTCA’s intention: the children’s experiences will not be erased, and these injustices will not be forgotten.

By claiming their blockchain record on Artory, buyers at DYKWTCA become responsible for the artworks’ stories and work tangibly with the artists toward a shared objective: a piece of art in and of itself.

On a more technical level, blockchain technology can further strengthen the art community through cryptographic signing as well. Cryptographic signing gives artists the ability to sign-off on the information associated with their artwork. By signing the artwork records attributed to them, an artist’s unique signature is immutably linked to the artwork information on the blockchain. This signature allows artists to verify the information about their artworks in a space that cannot be manipulated or changed by outside parties. Additionally, when an artist signs a record on Artory, the record becomes a digital certificate of authenticity which can be claimed by collectors. Beyond just the benefits of data protection, cryptographic signing creates an added layer of connection between artists and their collectors.

When institutions add their signature to artwork records on Artory, they make a public statement about the provenance of the artwork and the diligence that was carried out during their inspection of the artwork. By adding this data and signature to the blockchain, collectors can be more confident in the acquisitions they make. In creating a connection between collectors and trusted art world institutions, we take a vital step in democratizing the art market: giving collectors access to information and a level of trust that was once reserved for the upper echelon of the market.

Blockchain also has the potential to empower communities to better curate the artworks on display in their local museums. On the horizon for Artory, an art tokenization platform will allow a group of several hundred or several thousand individuals can pool their resources and purchase an artwork. Each member would then be issued a digital certificate of ownership akin to a share of a stock. The artwork itself, meanwhile, would be loaned to a local museum, allowing members of the community to freely enjoy the work. This novel form of art patronage, which is only possible with blockchain technology, would afford interested groups the ability to participate in the highest echelons of the art market and to better craft the story of their community.

Ultimately, the advent of blockchain in the art market has the ability to strengthen its every facet. By tracking transactions, every artist, seller, and buyer can be more confident in the dollar value of their work. Beyond just that, however, blockchain’s specific capacity for recording information empowers the stories that make up our cultural landscape.

Read more from the TEFAF Report here.

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