unknown 2 1

New York’s Downtown Art Scene Embraces NFTs with Online Auction Site

If Jean-Michel Basquiat were still alive, he probably would have loved NFTs. And the American painter who captured the hip-hop, graffiti zeitgeist of 1980s’ New York probably would have been all over a new venture called ArtOfficial.

Backed by serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk and developed by art dealer Vito Schnabel, the venture is billed as the first online art auction platform set up by a commercial gallery. It’s set to begin auctioning NFTs of original works by the likes of Francesco Clemente, Gus Van Sant, and Mason Beats. And it comes with the imprimatur of one of the most famous names in the Downtown scene that’s shaped the contemporary art industry over the decades.

Schnabel, the proprietor of eponymous galleries in New York and another in St. Moritz, Switzerland, is the son of famed New York filmmaker and artist Julian Schnabel. His galleries showcase work from an eclectic mix of revered artists, from Laurie Anderson to Man Ray to Dan Flavin. 

With its punny name, ArtOfficial is taking a playful approach to the cross-pollination of fine art and NFTs. The venture has a slew of serious artists lined up to issue their first NFTs, including Clemente, a 69-year-old Italian whose work often reflects themes inspired by India and the East.

One of the first NFTs ArtOfficial will auction is Milarepa’s Dream, a surreal still life and meditation on the Buddhist quest for enlightenment. 

Detail from Clemente’s Milarepa’s Dream

The winning bid will entitle the buyer to a live portrait session with Clemente. 

Other artists set to sell original works on ArtOfficial include Van Sant, the acclaimed director of the films Drugstore Cowboy and Milk, and Beats, the composer for the Grammy-winning opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. Beats will offer an Opera NFT through ArtOfficial in an upcoming auction

Schnabel said NFTs are a natural step for gallerists and their clients. “Nina Simone famously said that ‘an artist’s duty is to reflect the times,’” he said in a statement. “For the many artists we work with across our gallery’s extended community, the times we live in now are being shaped by powerful new tools in the digital realm. These artists are eager to adapt and take chances.”

The deal is also a splashy new venture for Vaynerchuk, the CEO of VaynerMedia and an outsized influencer in books and podcasts. The Belarusian native boasts more than 30 million followers. As an angel investor, it’s not surprising to see Vaynerchuk step up to back ArtOfficial. But his dream asset remains elusive — ownership of the New York Jets, the long suffering NFL franchise.