After Beeple’s ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days’, sold for $69 million at auction in 2021, everyone was left asking the same question: are NFTs a fad or are they here to stay? One year on, we have our answer. Sotheby’s recently launched its metaverse, NFT-only galleries are opening, and these digital tokens are beginning to inform the strategies of major institutions, including the British Museum. As every corner of the art world engages with NFTs, there are new career opportunities on offer. But, to succeed in this exciting new space, what key skills do you need and where exactly can you work?
Art fairs are opening their doors to NFTs, which made their debut at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2021. Partnering with Tezos, an energy-efficient open-source blockchain, this prestigious fair presented guests with a curated NFT art experience designed to explore “the new digital frontier”, titled “Human + Machine”. This June will also see the inaugural edition of nAF, a new fair designed to “bridge the gap” between digital and physical art worlds in a bespoke metaverse. A collaborative approach and project management skills are paramount to working at high-profile fairs such as these, which require buy-in from big brands spanning art, events, tech and finance.
Commercial galleries are also leaping on the trend towards the digital. While traditional players such as Pace Gallery are launching dedicated NFT platforms and online salesrooms, a new type of NFT-only gallery is also arriving in town. In London, Quantus Gallery are working with the likes of Damien Hirst on digital collections, while New York’s Herr Gallery have feminist artist Julie Harvey on their books.
To bring a new audience of younger, digital-savvy collectors into these spaces, employees will need strong marketing minds. Gallery Managers, Assistants and Associates will need to be experts in popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Discord, Telegram and Reddit, among others, using these to ensure online sales.
Speaking of social media, NFTs are headed to Instagram. Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the major social media platform will be integrating NFTs into its package within the next ‘several months’, proving that these tokens will extend far beyond the traditional white cube. Galleries will need to keep up, and graduates can help traditional dealers navigate this rapidly evolving new world.
Auction houses, which have offered the most traditional of career opportunities, are already advertising for NFT specialists in London and New York, as well as Social Media Associates. With curated crypto sales and the launch of Sotheby’s new metaverse, professionals will not only need an understanding of NFT terminology but must be able to communicate this to the auction houses’ long-standing clients, for whom it may be overwhelming.
Michael Bouhanna and Max Moore, co-head of Digital Art Sales at Sotheby's, have explained how the auction house’s entire strategy will need to change with the arrival of NFTs. In an interview for Wunderman Thompson, they said that the metaverse will act as a bridge for both audiences, old and new:
“Our positioning in this new market is a bridge between the NFT audience and the traditional audience. We’re talking to both audiences at the same time, and I think it's helped because we see traditional clients getting into NFTS and some NFT collectors and crypto-native clients getting into our traditional sales and buying traditional works.”
Sotheby’s Bouhanna adds that “NFTs are not only for contemporary art or digital art. They open up so many opportunities in different categories. We have departments and expertise in luxury, books, science and pop culture, so we are able to answer NFT project requests for different categories in addition to digital art or music”.
He’s definitely on the money: from sneakers to streetwear, dresses to football collections, luxury brands are pairing the physical with the digital. Gucci’s first NFT was a fashion film inspired by its Aria collection – it sold at auction for $25,000. Selfridges, too, are launching an NFT exhibition featuring a Paco Rabanne collection. Accessorizing the market, luxury NFTs, bridge tradition and innovation – anyone entering this sphere will need to be both creative and commercially minded.
Understanding new business models and income-streams is equally important in the non-profit sector. Surprising to some, museums, public galleries and other cultural institutions are looking to leverage this new digital asset class to secure their own futures. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence recently sold an NFT of Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo for $170,000, while the British Museum is issuing digital art tokens from its collection, including Hokusai postcards. It's obvious that pandemic-hit institutions will need NFT-literate graduates willing to lead them into new markets to keep their historic collections secure.
Entrepreneurs in the market
Beyond big names, this tech-driven new art world also needs, and is open to, ambitious entrepreneurs. Margarita Kiryushkina and Jessica Tatievski, two Sotheby’s Institute alumnae, have founded Neue Project, an advisory for those interested in NFTs and Web3.
“As of right now, the NFT market is considered the ‘wild west,’ allowing artists, builders, and collectors to experiment and let their creativity become the strongest asset towards problem-solving and establishing new standards within the space,” Tatievski said.
“The growth and progress within the industry are incredibly exciting,” Moshy added. “There’s definitely an energy in working in an industry that is booming. And it’s not just a group of rag-tag believers, either. The world’s largest financial institutions, the most powerful governments, the oldest auction houses are involved. Watching all of these industries and players pour into the same space is fascinating.”
Joining them in this innovative space is another Sotheby’s Institute alumna, Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt. This serial tech-entrepreneur’s latest endeavor has led her to found and act as CEO of blockchain.art (BCA), a curated crypto art market. In the eyes of Steinbrecher-Pfandt, there are some key skills that people will need to successfully operate in the art and tech market:
“An ability to learn, an understanding of the pain points of all participants in the art ecosystem (she says after running 10 years of art fairs), having a long and mid-term perspective vs a short term and Embracing tech for what it can do right now, and understanding that tech is constantly evolving” is key.”
She has been meeting a lot of institutions that are “getting excited for technology and blockchain” and says that “2022 will be a key year for the art industry to embrace NFTs” and expects “many artists, galleries and museums to launch their participation”.
Staying Up to Date on NFTs
If you want to work in this rapidly changing space, it’s essential that you stay up to date with developments and build a strong knowledge of cryptocurrency and blockchain-related terminologies and trends. There are numbers of publications (which also offer opportunities for digital art writers) including Sotheby’s Institute of Art’s own magazine, Made in Bed, which covers NFT news. Click here to read more.
NFTs need new graduates
Above all, it’s clear that the NFT space needs new digitally-literate graduates, who are equipped to take a lead in bridging the spheres of art, tech and finance. To succeed in this constantly evolving sphere, you will need to be informed and passionate about NFTs, be able to pitch them to traditional and new clients, and collaborate with partners beyond the traditional boundaries of the art world. With innumerable potential opportunities on offer, a career in NFTs looks both promising and hugely exciting.