NFT Art Exists Digitally. Collectors Want To Put Them On The Wall
Storing art on a hard drive isn’t doing it anymore for collectors.
Storing art on a hard drive isn’t doing it anymore for collectors.
Art collectors and cryptocurrency investors went wild last year buying art that exists only in the digital world. Now, Desiree Casoni, a collector in Key Biscayne, Fla., is trying to figure out how to hang all her new purchases on the wall.
Ms. Casoni owns more than 500 digital artworks with her investor husband, Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile. Bored of swiping through their collection on a cellphone or laptop, the couple initially retooled a few television sets throughout their home, but that meant downloading files onto thumb drives and plugging them in. Ms. Casoni said they next dabbled with digital picture frames designed to run looping slideshows of family photographs, but said some of these models didn’t allow them to resize or crop images.
“I don’t want to look like we live in Best Buy, with chunky black screens all over,” said Ms. Casoni.
The couple even experimented by setting a projector on a plinth in a corner of their living room and pointing it at a blank canvas hanging on a facing wall. When they turn the projector off, digital pieces such as “Elephant Dreams II,” a surrealist pink landscape by Andrés Reisinger and RAC, disappear. When it does, the white canvas alone “looks minimalist,” she said.
Collectors spent $21 billion trading digital art and collectibles last year, up from $67 million in 2020, according to digital-analytics firm DappRadar. Most of these digital artworks were attached to NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, which act as vouchers of authenticity on the blockchain for virtual goods, such as digital art.
As it turns out, those adventurous enough to buy the most cutting-edge digital media still crave some kind of real-world way to show it off at home.
Collectors say they want their physical frames and displays to match the “wow” factor of their digital art. Stephen Zautke, an investor building a house in Puerto Rico, said he plans to blanket a wall in the entry of his new home with a 6-foot-square, micro-LED screen. It is specifically designed to show highly detailed images—in his case, Refik Anadol’s digital 3-D tank of sloshing colors, “Quantum Memories Probability.”
Art adviser Yvonne Force Villareal recently advocated the same wall-size screen idea on her Instagram account, posting a video extolling the vast screen in the studio of her artist husband Leo Villareal, who just released a series of NFTs.
Steven Sacks, who runs New York’s bitforms gallery, said he has been inundated with calls from collectors seeking to frame digital works. Mr. Sacks said he tells them it is possible to get an 8-foot-wide television screen for around $14,000, though custom jobs by digital signage companies can top $150,000. He said he doesn’t recommend converting ordinary TVs that might cost a couple hundred bucks into art displays because it diminishes how the artwork is perceived.
“You shouldn’t want to turn on the football game after you click off your $100,000 artwork,” he said. “That does a disservice to the art.”
So is keeping your NFT collection locked on your cellphone, says Aaron Cunningham, a Berlin-based developer who is selling framed spots within his digital museum, Musee Dezentral, where people can exhibit their digital art. “It’s one thing to look at it on your phone, but great art needs to be elevated beyond the swipe and like,” Mr. Cunningham said.
One startup, Framed, is selling NFTs that mimic ornate picture frames. They are formatted to attach to other digital artworks so that the pair can be posted together. Tokenframe, meanwhile, lets collectors upload their NFTs directly to its physical frames. “At this point, the world is so inundated with NFTs—how can you differentiate yours to signal its worth?” said Sven Palys, Framed’s founder.
Major collectors and artists say the answer, perhaps ironically, is to go for an even more analog look. In another area of Ms. Casoni’s Florida living room sits a blue device by Swedish designer Love Hulten that evokes a vintage arcade game, only the screen shows a video-sound piece called “I Miss You” by the artists Vini Naso and Yambo. The image depicts a floating couple in an embrace, and people can turn the device’s knobs to zoom in or out.
Mr. Hulten and artist Lirona collaborated on “synth#boi,” a limestone piece whose round screen is attached to a synthesizer keyboard. Press the keys, and portions of a cheery robot face illuminate the screen. Mr. Hulten said he designed his display “in symbiosis with her art piece.” The edition of 10 quickly sold out at roughly $65,000 apiece.
Mike Winkelmann, who goes by Beeple, is another artist known for teaming with a partner to build displays for his tokenized art. In the past, he enlisted New York-based Infinite Objects to encase his work permanently within sheets of clear acrylic, objects the company calls video prints. Infinite Objects said it has shipped more than 50,000 units by him and other artists since it launched two years ago.
Recently, when Mr. Winkelmann wanted to go bigger to create his first sculpture, “HUMAN ONE,” the artist used mahogany to build a boxlike structure around a quartet of LG TV screens, which he positioned vertically. The revolving result ended up looking something similar to a phone booth, but with screens projecting a video of a man in a space suit walking in a loop. (Infinite Objects said it recently launched its own line of larger screens.)
Ryan Zurrer, a digital-art collector based in Zug, Switzerland, paid $28.9 million for “HUMAN ONE,” but he hasn’t had it shipped home yet. He already has another 80 NFT artworks but displays only a handful at home. He cites environmental reasons for not running screens all the time.
Mr. Zurrer keeps eight pieces by Mad Dog Jones, Mr. Anadol and Beeple lined up on a shelf behind his desk in his home office. To be able to turn them all on with the flip of a light switch, he had to sync them using a hidden “bucket of wires.”
The rest of his home? It remains NFT-free, he says, “until my wife finds one she likes enough to live with.”
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Passionate about both decor and travel? Design industry pros are leading global tours to share their secret shopping sources—and help you score one-of-a-kind pieces.
WHEN MELANIE BURNS of Oklahoma City first entered the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, she was stunned by its sheer size and the pathways winding through its tented structures like a tangle of yarn. Though well-traveled and an old hand at hunting one-of-a-kind objets, she’d never experienced such an onslaught of potential riches. “The bazaar is intimidating,” she said, “the size of about five football fields.”
She had expert allies, however: Clare Louise Frost and Elizabeth Hewitt of Tamam, a lifestyle brand and Manhattan store specialising in Turkish antiques and their own collections. The duo led Ms. Burns to a shop layered deep behind other shops. “It was no more than about 14 feet square, and stacked high with the most beautiful hand-woven vintage tapestries I’ve ever seen,” Ms. Burns recalled. “I would never have tackled the place without these women. They are walking encyclopedias, they speak the language and when you shop with them, you don’t overpay.”
Ms. Frost, who calls the bazaar “her second home,” lived in Istanbul for nine years, and her business partners, Ms. Hewitt and Hüseyin Kaplan, still live there. Together they host trips to Turkey, capped at 14 participants, all eager to buy décor to take back home. Overseas shopping sprees like this are an increasingly popular new category of travel. Interior-design pros immerse travellers in a country’s culture and guide them to fabulous finds, whether an ornate vintage camel bag from Turkey or a contemporary French sculpture.
Indagare, a travel company in Manhattan, is seeing a growing market for overseas shopping trips. The 30 Insider Journey trips it ran in 2022, including seven design-centred jaunts, drew 540 travellers, twice as many as in 2019. Sicily, Japan and Mallorca are locales Indagare is eyeing for future design trips. Penta, a magazine that, like The Wall Street Journal, is published by Dow Jones & Co., has a partnership with Indagare to organise trips.
“Covid taught us we need to go when we have the opportunity,” said Grant K. Gibson, a San Francisco interior designer who himself has led eight trips to India and two to Morocco and is adding excursions to Egypt, Mexico and Turkey.
Trips are as cultural as they are commercial. Before Mr. Gibson’s group of 10 globetrotters start looking for linens or bargaining for bowls, they tour Jaipur by electric rickshaw and visit a textile museum. “I want them to understand the history and know where design ideas come from,” he said. Cynthia Smith, a biotech exec from San Francisco who traveled with Mr. Gibson to Morocco, came home with pottery in a vibrant green glaze unique to Tamegroute, a village that edges the Sahara. “Everyone asks me about the vase, and I have a story to tell about Tamegroute pottery,” she said. “It gives character to my house.”
The packages don’t come cheap—from around $4,000 to $18,000 (not including flights) depending on location and length—but offer you insider access. Designer Chloe Mackintosh of Boxwood Avenue Interiors in Reno, Nev., is leading her first trip this year to parts of Italy and France she knows well. One focus will be the weekend antique markets in L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue, in southeast France, but she’ll also introduce guests to local artisans, including a fifth-generation ceramist. Her group will take a pottery-making class to understand the process behind the product.
Known as “the huntress” because of her many years buying and selling vintage furniture, Ariene C. Bethea says people began asking her to lead a trip so they could hunt alongside her. The owner of Dressing Rooms Interiors, a shop and design studio in Charlotte, N.C., teamed with TrovaTrip to create a journey to the Paris flea markets this May. With Ms. Bethea’s input, the Portland, Ore., group-travel managers lined up accommodations, vendors, translators and tickets to museums. “I plan to help my guests shop, give them ideas and help them learn to tell stories in a space,” said Ms. Bethea, known for her playful use of colours, bold patterns and culturally inspired designs.
Lodging on these guided forays offers design cred, too. Ms. Mackintosh has reserved an entire 16-room château in the French countryside for just 12 people. Tamam’s Istanbul guests stay in a marble-floored hotel that was a late 19th-century Ottoman bank—with a vault that doubles as a wine cellar—and for excursions to Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey, they bed down in a traditional cavelike home carved out of soft rock.
On a trip to the South of France with Los Angeles-based designer Kathryn M. Ireland, visitors stay in Ms. Ireland’s farmhouse near Toulouse. Her trademark fabrics and colourful Bohemian and English-country style are on display in every bedroom lamp shade and living room chair. “Guests shop my house, and then I point them in the right direction to buy similar things,” she said. Ms. Ireland has been leading groups (a maximum of 10 people) for over a decade, taking them to neighbours’ villas, antique markets and out-of-the-way bakeries and bee yards.
Abby Landers first visited Ms. Ireland’s home as a high-school senior, traveling with her mother. Now five years out of college and living in Boston, she recently returned. “Kathryn embraced us, and she has been a mentor for me ever since.” Inspired by that first trip, Ms. Landers earned a master’s degree in interior architecture, and her current boss is someone she met on that trip. “You’re there for a week, and it’s a whirlwind of meeting artists and artisans, all friends of Kathryn’s.”
Kirstan Barnett, a tech investor from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., traveled to Tangier with Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of Indagare. Ms. Barnett was particularly moved by dinner at the 300-year-old, whitewashed, riad-style residence of Jamie Creel and Marco Scarani, two of the many designers she met at private events. The home was so richly layered and eclectic, she said, it inspired her to approach her own décor more bravely and reject the notion that a room must adhere to one style.
Some pros who organise such tours offer itinerary planning to folks who don’t want to travel with strangers. Mr. Gibson recently created a program for a group of four going to Jaipur. Though he won’t be joining them, he’s chosen the lodging and booked the restaurants and the experiences.
Travelers laser-focused on in-the-know shopping minus the touring can hire Chicago-based Skin Interior Design in cities such as London, Paris and Milan. The company arranges excursions so clients are shown exactly what they want—whether French midcentury chairs or Venetian-glass chandeliers. “We have an education in art history and antiques, and we help find pieces that keep value,” said Lauren Lozano Ziol, one of the founders. A recent two-day antique-furniture and art expedition in London cost $10,000.
How to get all the booty home? Mr. Gibson advises guests to travel with at least one empty suitcase. Bulky items can be packed and airfreighted home using DHL or FedEx. (Most carriers will pick up at the hotel.) Some vendors ship direct to the States from their stores at reasonable rates. For those who travel with Tamam to Turkey, easy shipping—including having your purchases collected from the vendors—is one of the perks. Ms. Burns, who bought ceramics, four suzani bedspreads and six rugs, said Tamam handled shipping for about $400. “Some of my things arrived before I even got home,” she said.
Five 2023 trips abroad devised and helmed by interiors experts imparting their insider info
Ready to shop your way around the world? Here are just some of the available packages that focus on home design. Prices are per person and generally include accommodations, meals and beverages, guided touring, activities and local transportation.
The owner of Dressing Rooms Interiors, a vintage-home-furnishings boutique and design studio in Charlotte, N.C., Ariene C. Bethea takes travellers shopping the Paris vintage markets and art galleries and on visits to lesser-known museums such as the Museum Nationale Gustave Moreau. Also on the agenda: a foray to Versailles and its gardens, a tour of Montmartre street art and a tasting at the Museum of Wine. From $3,649, Trips.TrovaTrip.com
Chloe Mackintosh, owner of Boxwood Avenue Interiors, a Reno, Nev., studio and shop, leads a 4-night trip in Florence, Italy. Travelers stay at the five-star Il Salviatino, a restored 15th-century villa that mixes Renaissance and contemporary décor. Along with shopping excursions, antiquing and a workshop at a local artisan’s studio, the trip includes wine tasting and cooking lessons. Florence, from $5,500, Learn.BoxwoodAvenue.com
Designer Clare Louise Frost, Tulu Textiles owner Elizabeth Hewitt and carpet dealer Hüseyin Kaplan teamed up to create Tamam, located in Manhattan and Istanbul and specialising in antique and vintage Turkish textiles, rugs and ceramics. Travelers tour Istanbul, Konya and Cappadocia, shopping the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar and visiting textiles and antique dealers. Plus: a hot-air-balloon ride and cooking class. Tamam in Turkey, from $3,600, Shop-Tamam.com
In London, South African interior designer Serena Crawford guides travellers through Kensington Palace’s Sunken Garden (Diana’s favourite) as well as shops such as heritage brand Fortnum & Mason. In the university town of Oxford, architectural highlights range from medieval to modern, and in the bucolic Cotswolds, guests visit private homes and gardens of renowned interior designers. London & the Cotswolds with Serena Crawford, from $15,350, Indagare.com
Los Angeles-based designer Kathryn M. Ireland takes you on private museum tours, flea market hunts and a trend-spotting tour of design fair Maison et Objet in Paris (ticket not included), followed by leisurely days in the French countryside at her farmhouse outside Toulouse. Paris & La Castellane, from $7,900, Paris hotel not included, KathrynIreland.com
San Francisco interior designer Grant K. Gibson shares his passion for India with a guided tour of Jaipur and Taj Mahal. Participants stay in a guesthouse once part of a maharajah’s gardens; enjoy traditional Indian feasts; learn the history of block printing; rendezvous with rescue elephants; and conquer the chaotic bazaar, comprising flower and spice markets and rug and textiles vendors. Travel with Grant from $9,500, GrantKGibson.com
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