Women in Crypto vol. II Blockchain and digital art explained by curator and NFT expert Abigail Miller

In the second article of the Women in Crypto series, we will dig into how galleries are approaching NFTs and what are the different types of tokens that we should know about. To do so, I have interviewed Abigail Miller, blockchain expert, and Curator at Institut London, whose work with artists and galleries bridges art and technology in the digital era:

While I curate and plan exhibitions, I also am managing artist and collector outreach and communication. It is a role that has a lot of moving parts in managing events partnerships and maintaining IRL events. … What is most important to me is working with artists to create projects that they are passionate about and continue to push the frontiers of contemporary art.

Her journey began far from the artistic world, but with the NFT era, the two environments of technology and art converged. 

Women in Crypto is a project that wants to open the doors of this world that still seems dominated by male personalities to all female entrepreneurs who want to discover new ways to invest and innovate their businesses. 

What is an NFT? Why invest in Crypto Art? What are the risks and the opportunities for a business that wants to use this type of technology?
In this series of articles, we will give voice to the female protagonists of the new digital age: crypto experts, NFT artists, and entrepreneurs in the art world will talk to us about their experiences and explain how this new world works.

Hello Abigail, it is a pleasure to talk to you! Can you tell us about your journey in the art world? What was your first approach to NFTs?

“My career didn’t originate in the art world. I originally worked in politics and national security working and studying in the Blockchain and nuclear weapons sector. While working abroad in Russia as a Fulbright and with the US State Department, I increasingly worked with artists and cultural diplomacy. I always was geared towards art and graduated with an Art History minor but being from Nebraska I never fully thought an individual could make a career in the arts.

I made the shift into art and graduate with a Master’s from Courtauld. I was investing and collecting personally since 2018, but only enter professionally in the last year. During Covid, my blockchain background collided with my art career as the world continued to move into the digital space. Now I am lucky enough to use both expertise daily.”

penguin - Artwork
e-ternity official, penguin | Avaliable here on Artsted.com

Let’s take a step back, can you explain briefly to our readers what is an NFT? How does the blockchain work?

“The blockchain is quite simple and complex at the same time.

The most basic way I explain the blockchain is the web of value exchanges. An NFT is a token that you can sell and track. You can essentially attach anything to the token and all transactions are public. This makes it extremely valuable in selling art to track provenance, markets, and then also the preservation of digital art.

We are now witnessing a boom in the market because artists and galleries have a formal mechanism to sell digital work now instead of relying on a ‘gentleman’s agreement.’ Now digital art ownership can be authenticated.”

The blockchain is the engine of the whole system, a technology that consists of decentralized data storage, where information and transactions are recorded and stored in numerous computers in a continuous encryption process. Blockchain technology is used by different cryptocurrencies, each with its own specific characteristics.

The process that creates each new NFT is called minting. It essentially is a trial-and-error cryptography process where a series of computers decentralized all over the world confirm the authenticity of each new set of data. At the end of this process, a specific set of information is connected with a code and it becomes the NFT. We can see it as a new “block” in the “chain”.

In other words, the blockchain is a register where chronologically each transaction is written permanently and is publicly listed online, meaning that everybody can see the price, date, and parties of the transaction. This decentralized and transparent system works well with the art world, which struggled before with too-personalized transactions, very un-transparent, and in the hands of gatekeepers.

This changed a lot in the mechanism by which artists, galleries, and collectors could interact with one another.

Ziemowit Fincek, Great Mother IV | Avaliable here on Artsted.com

How did Covid change galleries and what is the role of NFTs in this new setting? How did the relationship between galleries and collectors? What are the perspectives of contemporary art galleries at this moment?

“I think Covid has changed the role of a gallery but also solidified its necessity in the space. Artists need mentors and can not be expected to navigate on their own and manage a community, collectors, marketing, and sales. It can be too much for one person to perfectly manage without expertise.”

“Furthermore, artists are struggling to control their markets and grow at a good pace. I think this year we will see a lot of artists who have priced themselves too high. In my opinion, this is where galleries are needed to help advise and also continue to contextualize their work in art history and the art market. (…) There is a shift in the art world and this tech can be used in a variety of facets. Overall, I see the art world embracing technology more and more.”

XAARCHIVE, Honguera | Avaliable here on Artsted.com

Even though NFTs are considered a way to do art, how they are bought and sold resembles more stock trading than artistic productions, with NFTs being re-sold (on average) after 33 days. Why is this happening and what are the implications for the art system?

“This statistic is quite overarching in the full market and is geared towards PFPs and collectible trading. Institut focuses on original 1 of 1 NFTs by artists and provides a platform for artists to be fully recognized for their artistic practice. At this moment, I don’t compare the market of collectibles to the market of 1 of 1 NFTs. There is a completely different approach to collecting and community.”

Livia Ribichini, DREAMSCREENS | Avaliable here on Artsted.com

But let’s take a step back, NFT is a technology, it would not be completely wrong to say that anything could be an NFT. There are several uses of blockchain technologies that produce different types of non-fungible tokens.

Bored Ape Yacht Club, Bored Ape #3398, 2021
Bored Ape Yacht Club, BORED APE #3398, 2021

The categories worth mentioning in this space are three:

1. Collectibles

Famous examples like Cryptokitties, Crypto Punks, or BAYC belong to this type. This type of NFT can be sold as digital trading cards or kept as collectibles in the owner’s wallet. They are collectibles and they are worth a lot of money, but you’ll agree with me in not considering this typology “art”.

A digital artwork by Beeple fetched the equivalent of $69.3 million when it was bought in an online auction by an investor known only by a pseudonym and paid for with cryptocurrency. Here is a detail from the work, “Everydays — The First 5000 Days.”
Beeple, Everydays — The First 5000 Days, 2020 (detail)

2. Artworks, the “1 of 1 NFT” type

1/1 NFT art is a unique, one-of-a-kind digital collectible where no other exists other than the piece itself. It’s difficult to find other comparable items because of how special it is and how rare it becomes due to the limited supply. A ‘one of one NFT,’ is when a single non-fungible token is available for a unique asset based on its mint number. Multiple NFTs become a collection, and a collection can have multiple editions; however, there can only be 1/1 or 1/10, or 1/100. In this category, we can find artworks, photography, etc.

3. Social and Utility token

These tokens are not simply pieces of art or collectible cards, but they also have extra functions. They allow the owner to access benefits or gifts, and access to private communities, they can be used in gaming and even as tickets for physical events.

About the fast pace at which NFTs are traded today, Abigail continued:

Within the art sector, many collectors are long-term holders and don’t like the floor prices or market caps. I do think the integration of artist royalties will create a more healthy secondary market in which the artist also benefits from sales. This is why there isn’t a negative connotation to flipping artworks because the artist still benefits and the transactions are public. I think we will see more collectors entering the market rather than the space continuing to be gatekept
From Aschersleben to unkwown black hole - Artwork
Ziemowit Fincek, From Aschersleben to unknown black hole | Avaliable here on Artsted.com

What do you think about the possibility to visit a gallery entirely in the metaverse? Are the opportunities for collectors in this new environment?

For me, the metaverse is not a 3d online world, but rather when your online presence becomes just as important as your real-life presence. We already live in the metaverse on social media and other apps. We stare are our phones and screens more than our walls, so for me, it makes sense for my art collection to exist in a digital realm.

I think there are so many opportunities right now in the metaverse- may it be building a digital art gallery or being able to collect art anywhere in the world without leaving your home. There are no longer physical limitations on how much you can collect.

Written by
Alice Asia Bergagnin