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The Stigma is Off the Chain: NFTs Rebrand and Find new Homes in Prominent Museums

The Stigma is Off the Chain: NFTs Rebrand and Find new Homes in Prominent Museums
March 2, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

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It's not often that a nascent technology requires such a swift rebrand, but for everyone's (least?) favorite three-letter abbreviation, you could make the argument it's not a moment too soon.


There are a lot of pretty ugly three letter combinations in the world, from medical maladies to swear-laden abbreviations, but for many people, non-fungible tokens illicit disdain, fatigue, or mockery. Fraud, overzealous rhetoric, and various misgivings have perhaps quickly sullied the well for a technology that does have merit, even if not yet best used.

In NFT art, the effort to both rebrand and reposition is on. As far as the latter goes, any position that isn't the center of a tweet brimming with Web3-speak, diamond hand emojis, or suggestions that we "have fun being poor" would be quite the upgrade.

Fortunately, prominent collectors and institutions are shooting for a higher bar.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) announced that it acquired a number of notable and valuable NFT pieces via donation. The bulk of the works came from "Cozomo de Medici", a pseudonymous Twitter fixture prevalent in crypto conversation. Included amongst the donations from various parties were a CryptoPunk, the last-minted Chromie Squiggle, other Art Blocks works, a Tom Sachs rocket, and work from World of Women creator Yam Karkai.

Interesting: the announcement and communication from LACMA avoids any use of the term "NFT," opting instead for "blockchain art" or "on-chain art." The choice is an overt acknowledgement that there is indeed a stigma attached to those three letters. That stigma makes it difficult to isolate the art from the controversy.

LACMA isn't the only top tier museum embracing on-chain art, though the others aren't as shy in using the common nomenclature. The Centre Pompidou in Paris, Europe's largest modern art museum, announced the acquisition of 18 NFTs from 13 French and international artists. The works will become part of France's national collection of modern and contemporary art.

The official announcement from Centre Pompidou notes: "The idea is not so much to focus on the cultural phenomenon of "collectibles", collections of images sold by NFT, as to explore the most daring creative uses of these technologies, prompting an original study of the ecosystem of the crypto-economy and its impact on the definitions and contours of artworks, creators, collections and the receiving public."

The first line seems to eschew the idea of PFPs, avatars, and/or large series releases. Nonetheless, Yuga Labs donated CryptoPunk #110 to the museum, while Larva Labs donated Autoglyph #25. Yuga Labs co-founder, Greg Solano, didn't hesitate to claim a victory for Web3 and NFTs: "Seeing CryptoPunk #110 displayed in the Centre Pompidou, arguably the world's most prestigious contemporary art museum, is a great moment for the Web3 and NFT ecosystem, and we're honored to help drive this cultural conversation."

The donation of Punk #110 is part of the Punks Legacy Project, a Yuga Labs initiative aimed at placing the project in museums worldwide. They had previously donated a Punk to Miami's Institute of Contemporary Art.

You'll notice there is perhaps more of a push dynamic than a pull dynamic at play here, with the likes of Yuga and Cozomo de Medici eager to push their collections into esteemed halls and enjoy the positive associations therein. Nonetheless, these museums have accepted the works into their collections, and those votes of confidence could breed greater demand from a larger number of institutions.

Whether labeled as "NFTs" or not, "on-chain art" is being exhibited off-chain in the right places.  We're just relieved that LACMA and Centre Pompidou no longer have to worry about having fun being poor...

Bonus fun fact: did you know that the Centre Pompidou inspired Nike legend Tinker Hatfield's design for the Nike Air Max 1?

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