When NFTs came to global attention in 2021, the art world took notice. These non-fungible tokens utilize blockchain technology to create unique digital artworks with a transparent, verifiable provenance, enabling collectors to own distinct, next-generation art emblematic of what has come to be called Web3, a more immersive and decentralized version of the internet. It’s for this reason that Justin Sun, a blockchain entrepreneur and founder of the TRON blockchain platform, believes NFTs are the future of art collecting.
“In the long term, I believe that NFTs are the most important component of Web 3.0 and a game changer for the next stage of the internet. NFTs have the ability to revolutionize the existing trading model in the art market, especially for digital art,” said Sun in a recent interview. “According to the Web 2.0 paradigm, it is difficult to prevent copyright infringement, which leads to digital artworks lacking the specific attributes of a unique asset. Even if users are willing to pay for a digital artwork, it is difficult to find the right platform and channels to purchase, trade, and sell it on the secondary market because legitimate authorship and provenance have been difficult to track. Now, NFTs allow buyers to confirm ownership and make all information and data available to everyone, bringing a new mode of transaction and transparency to the art world.”
Sharing NFTs and Historical Masterworks in the Metaverse
Sun has backed up this sentiment by investing heavily in NFTs and blockchain-based art projects. In addition to purchasing high-profile digital works such as an EtherRock, one of the earliest NFTs ever created, and digital artist Pak’s cube NFT, Sun has begun collecting traditional artworks as well, with an eye toward utilizing blockchain technology to share these works with the world in the metaverse.
He sent shockwaves through the art-collecting world with the purchase of “Le nez,” a famous 1947 work by the master sculptor Alberto Giacometti, bidding over $78 million for the sculpture at a Sotheby’s auction in November 2021. At another Sotheby’s auction, organized by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou, Sun purchased “Untitled (Kimpsons),” a 2001 painting by the artist and designer Kaws, for roughly $323,647.
In addition to these Sotheby’s sales, Sun purchased two other high-profile works from auction house Christie’s earlier in 2021: Pablo Picasso’s 1932 painting “Femme nue couchée au collier (Marie-Thérèse),” purchased for around $20 million, and Andy Warhol’s 1986 triptych painting “Three Self-Portraits”, purchased for approximately $2 million.
Justin Sun has said that one of the main goals in purchasing these masterworks is to create a Web3 space in which they can be displayed and appreciated by the global internet community and to utilize blockchain technology to transition traditional pieces into the digital world as NFTs.
He donated the cube, “Le nez,” and “Untitled (Kimpsons)” to the APENFT Foundation, which was established to register world-class artworks as NFTs on a blockchain and to support NFT artists. In a statement on the donation of “Le nez,” Sun explained that he would like “our community to have the opportunity to appreciate it through online and offline channels and get inspiration from it.”
APENFT is one of the first organizations working to display artwork in the metaverse. In January 2022, it announced the opening of Second Lives, an NFT art exhibition taking place in the APENFT Art Museum virtual museum hosted by the blockchain-based metaverse art platform Cryptovoxel. The show featured compositions by established digital artists such as Beeple, Fewocious, and Pak.
Sun has also innovated in this nascent space at the intersection of traditional and digital art through the NFT-ization of “Femme nue couchée au collier”; the work’s digital format was converted into a unique NFT using smart contract technology, then stored on TRON’s public blockchain, marking the first digital show of Picasso’s work on a blockchain.
For Justin Sun, this connection of NFTs and traditional works marks the inception of a new approach to collecting suited to a younger, internet-savvy generation of investors and collectors emerging from the cryptocurrency and broader technology industries.
“I believe NFT art is the art for our generation,” said Sun in an interview for Sotheby’s A Life Less Ordinary series. “Don’t think about whether I’m going to win or lose the game. Let’s just become a part of history. Just participate in history.”
Justin Sun: ‘I’m Enjoying This New Identity as a Collector’
Justin Sun has many identities. In addition to his role as one of the more visible, foundational entrepreneurs in the blockchain industry, he recently became a diplomat, serving as the permanent representative of Grenada to the World Trade Organization, a role in which he’s working toward utilizing blockchain technology to catalyze global economic growth. Now, with his foray into serious art collecting, Sun has added art connoisseur to his many identities. As he explained, there are some interesting parallels that connect his many pursuits in the NFT and blockchain space.
“I am enjoying this new identity as a collector. In fact, I personally find there are many similarities between investing in crypto and blockchain and collecting art,” said Sun. “Cryptocurrency and art, as asset classes, are both highly risky and volatile. Therefore, at the end of the day, you have to buy what you believe in and think is valuable. I always make a parallel between Picasso, as a pioneer of Cubism, and EtherRocks, which have been identified as one of the earliest NFTs on the blockchain by crypto-archaeologists. I believe EtherRocks are to NFT history what Picasso’s contribution and significance as an artist is to art history.”
The Future of NFTs
Prior to 2021, few in the art world were thinking about blockchain applications and the potential of NFTs, but the explosion of value and popularity of NFT art has changed the outlook of a younger generation of collectors and artists. Sun noted that total sales of NFTs eclipsed $25 billion in 2021, with 70% of buyers of NFTs first-time auction buyers and 50% under the age of 40.
In Sun’s opinion, the current influx of NFTs into the art world is an important demonstration of a valuable use case for NFTs, but only one of many applications of what could be a potentially revolutionary technology.
“There are enormous possibilities for combinations in the ecosystem of NFTs, such as GameFi [the combination of gaming and decentralized finance] and NFT collateralized lending, et cetera. The economic value behind NFTs is used to provide continuous asset liquidity. If such a combination can succeed and have a practical business model, the NFT scene will look very different.”