The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has received an endowment from the William S. Paley (Paley) Foundation to fund digital media activities and digital art acquisitions, potentially NFTs. Since Paley’s death in 1990, 81 works of art have been loaned to MoMa. Now 29 pieces owned by the Paley Foundation will be auctioned by Sotheby’s.
The sale, including works by Picasso and Francis Bacon, could raise $70 million for the endowment. Since the museum focuses on digital art, this suggests that MoMA could jump on board NFT bandwagon.
“We are conscious of the fact that we give an imprimatur when we acquire pieces,” MoMA director Glenn Lowry. Therefore, MoMA did not purchase NFTs in the beginning to prevent the appearance of approval. “But that doesn’t mean we should avoid the domain,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
There is some irony here with a Picasso potentially being sold to buy NFTs. Tron founder Justin Sun was outbid in the famous Beeple NFT auction. So Christie’s sold him a real Picasso instead.
William S. Paley is known for building CBS from a small radio network into a media powerhouse. And he was a MoMA trustee since 1937.
“I know how deeply my friend Bill Paley cared about The Museum of Modern Art and with what devotion he dedicated himself to promoting it,” said Henry Kissinger, who chairs the William S. Paley Foundation. “With this initiative, the foundation will honor his intention and continue his vision for MoMA.”
While it may seem strange to trade a Picasso for a collection of pixels, there are many reasons why MoMA should pursue a digital forward strategy.
Firstly, visitor numbers have fallen sharply, from 3 million annually to 1.65 million last year. Even considering the pandemic, that’s a significant drop. On the other hand, it has seen a lot of success on social media.
The digital content posted on the website and social media platforms has attracted over 35 million people. The museum must find new ways to reach a wider audience to ensure its longevity. Venturing into NFTs and digital art applications would be one such method.
A MoMA metaverse has the potential to bring art to a far wider audience than a physical exhibition.
MoMA has taken a cautious approach to NFTs so far. Apart from contributing data to algorithmically generated works by artist Refik Anadol, it is not involved in other NFT projects. Considering that NFTs have revolutionized how consumers engage with digital art and artistic expression, it is imperative that MoMA expand its expertise in NFTs. After all, the museum’s focus is literally modern art.
The NFT market is dominated by profile pictures such as Bored Apes, sports and games. However, the computer-generated art collection ArtBlocks ranks fifth in total sales at $1.3 billion, according to CryptoSlam.
Sotheby’s involvement is apt, as auction houses have played a key role in the development of NFTs. Sotheby’s famously auctioned Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs for 24 million dollars. And Christie’s The $69 million sale of the Beeple artwork was a key trigger for the NFT boom.
While this sale may not revive the NFT market, it could prove to be a new lease of life for MoMA.