The Museum of Modern Art’s mission statement is to “connect people around the world to the art of our time”. Unfortunately, it seems that the most important supplier in New York “thought-provoking art” has abstract reasons to consider grabbing a few digital artworks in the form of NFTs.
Pieces by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Francis Bacon (the painter, not the English philosopher), and Auguste Rodin were originally part of the collection of CBS founder William Paley before being loaned to the museum by the Paley Foundation after his death. in 1990. Works include Picasso’s Guitar on a table and Bacon’s Triptych Three studies for a portrait of Henrietta Morales which they hope will cost $20 million and $35 million respectively.
The the wall street journal announced for the first time on Tuesday evening the MoMA and the William S. Paley Foundation’s plan to put 29 of the 81 pieces in the collection up for auction at Sotheby’s auction house. Glenn Lowry, MoMA’s director, told the WSJ that they are considering expanding the museum’s online presence on its own website through digital procedures as well as offsite on social media.
The museum hopes to recoup $70 million to $100 million from the sale, and at least some of the funds could go toward buying MoMA’s first set of NFTs. Lowry told the WSJ they have teams monitoring the digital art scene to look for potential artists or purchases. The museum hadn’t been so keen on grabbing NFTs when the scene was at its height in mid to late 2021, with MoMA’s director telling the Journal that they’re aware they lend any art they collect an “imprimatur” or standard of quality, “but that doesn’t mean we should avoid the domain.”
We reached out to MoMA to ask what types of NFT art it might consider and a spokesperson told us that “the new endowment will be used to fund digital initiatives as well as new acquisitions in MoMA’s collection – the endowment is flexible and open-ended and no concrete plans have yet been made. This is an important question since the most popular, recognizable and lucrative non-fungible tokens are AI-produced derivative lines like Bored Apes or Cryptopunks. It’s hard to imagine a wall of these mass-produced, non-original pieces sharing walls with artists like those of Vincent van Gogh. The starry Night.
The MoMA could encounter other problems inherent in the NFT world. Token markets like OpenSea are struggling to manage copies of NFTs being put up for sale, which really hampers the whole “digital scarcity” advantage that is supposed to be inherent in the promise of non-fungible tokens. The online art gallery DeviantArt had to create AI tools to help detect copiers and stolen artwork. Owning NFTs could also put a target on MoMA for everything pirate seek to get their hands on the museum’s NFTs, which, by their nature in possession of the museum, would theoretically add to their value.
Lowry told the Journal that the museum has struggled to bring visitor numbers back to where they were before the pandemic. Last year they exceeded 1.65 million visits, while in previous years they averaged 3 million. At the same time, museum staff have seen their followers on sites like Instagram and Weibo grow from 30 million before covid to 35 million now.
The museum keeps some of the most famous paintings like that of Picasso Boy driving a horsebut it separates from Renoir’s 1905 Still life with strawberries as well as several statues of Rodin.
Paley was a MoMA board member from 1937 until his death in 1990, long before there was even a notion of blockchain technology. Bill Paley, the son of the CBS founder and vice president of the foundation, told the Journal that they would defer to the museum on how he wanted to spend most of the funds. A small portion of the proceeds from the auction will be used by the foundation for its other efforts. Sotheby’s plans to auction the items at various locations this fall, according to the Journal report.