Auction house ‘shatters’ history with NFT stunt

February 17, 2022

New Zealand auction house Webb’s encouraged buyers of two historic glass plate negatives – which were also included in the auction as digital assets, NFTs – to ‘crush’ the original plates to “make it permanently digital”.

A print by New Zealand artist Charles Frederick Goldie, likely captured by Rupert Farnall Studios around 100 years ago. This print is part of a lot from Webb’s auction, along with the original glass plate negative, hammer and NFT! Source: Webbs.co.nz

The glass plate negatives are portraits of the famous New Zealand artist, Charles Goldie, likely captured by Rupert Farnall Studios between 1910 and 1920. Webb’s describes the two negatives as having “survived” and “in excellent condition to this day”. The auction of both lots includes the NFT, the original glass plate negative in a custom made pine box, a framed contact print of the image and a “little brass hammer” should the buyer wish to break the glass plates.

“We take something done on a specific day and time and it’s really important to New Zealand history and in a way we make it immortal,” the art chef said at home. Webb’s auction house, Charles Ninow, at Newshub NZ.

Webb’s also encourages the destruction of this “important” historical document, with Ninow quoted later in the article saying, “Perhaps you may wish to make it digital permanently. Crush it? Crush it.’

WTF is an NFT: a reminder

An NFT is a non-fungible token – a one-of-a-kind digital asset that is bought and sold with cryptocurrencies and stored on a blockchain, a secure online data ledger. The NFT craze entered mainstream consciousness last year after Michael Joseph Winkelmann, aka Beeple, sold a piece of digital graphic art in March 2020 for $69.3 million.

Big sellers in the NFT space include memes and tacky graphic art, and there really is no limitation, rhyme, or reason to what might sell. The Associated Press jumped on board the NFT sauce by selling a revamped short video taken from the iconic image of Joe Rosenthal, Raise the flag on Iwo Jima.

The staggering amounts of money some NFTs have sold is mind-boggling, all the more bizarre because they are entirely digital and no physical copies exist. An NFT aficionado might respond by pointing out that all art is only really “worth” the materials used to create it, and the extra value we assign is imaginary – so what’s the big difference?

Some serious art collectors have started including NFTs in their collections. the whole digital art market is starting to look more serious. Although ever since the art world took on NFTs – what it means and how to deal with them – fortunes have been made and lost, and more recently the NFT market has made headlines for fall prey to fraudulent activity and potential copyright infringement.

A long analysis landscape photographers selling NFTs by British photographer Daren Cox, for DIY photographyy, found that in four days in an NFT market, 50 photographers generated around $780,000. This figure is based on what Ethereum was trading against the US dollar at the time, with 390 hands of Ether trading.

Most of the sales were generated by American photographer Ben Strauss, who completed around $51,000 worth of work in just four days; while the lowest was another American photographer, Richard Bernabe, who earned around US$4740. There were a few Aussies in the mix. Steve K, number 25 on the list, made around US$12,000 in four days, as well as Robert Downie, number 35 who made US$8,000 in sales.

Considering how difficult it is to make a living selling artwork/landscape prints, these photographers have well targeted a new source of income. Although it’s not necessarily easy to hustle in the NFT game, and sometimes it’s more about performing stunts to generate hype.

Shattering historical records

Webb basically cashed in on the NFT hype. Hitting an NFT of Charles Goldie’s portraits and providing a hammer to buyers of the original glass plate negatives is tantamount to creating a viral publicity stunt.

How absurd! We no longer only buy digital copies of artwork, but we encourage the destruction of the original version to make the digital version rarer. Has the world gone mad!?

This little stunt paid off for Webb’s. The two lots were auctioned from January 28 to February 1, with an estimated valuation of between NZ$5,000 and NZ$8,000. The second lot, a beautiful photo of Goldie in her studio surrounded by Maori portraits and other paraphernalia, sold for NZ$76,250, while the other portrait sold for NZ$51,250.

It is likely that the glass plate negative and the print alone would fetch no more than NZ$50,000 each. Perhaps this new entrepreneurial approach of including an NFT with existing prints could be the way forward for photography to start selling more in the secondary art market.