How NFTs Are Changing the Traditional Art World

An interview with NY art collector Steven Abraham 

About Steven Abraham 

Steven and his wife Lisa own the Young – Abraham art collection in Brooklyn NY, which is focused on displaying, promoting, and championing the work of Black and Asian artists, as well as the artists themselves – via gallery showings, interviews, and written content. 

A self-described art outsider, Steven bought his first piece of art when he realized that being wealthy was not a prerequisite to owning art. Since then Steven and Lisa have amassed a sizable collection that they display publicly and even loan out as part of their mission to increase awareness, to provide advocacy, and ensure equity for the artists that they support and the NYC art community as a whole.

About NFTs

NFTs (Non-FungibleTokens) are digital content pieces (art, trading cards, collectible animals) that are bought, sold, and traded on blockchain networks.  Non-fungible means that each piece is unique and can’t be duplicated.  Because of this, certain NFTs can become more scarce than others and that scarcity can help to increase the value of a particular NFT.   Also, because they are on the blockchain, there is always a public record of a piece’s movement which helps to confirm authentication of a piece. These factors are some of what makes NFTs one of the hottest items in crypto right now.

Rochelle: What are the main barriers to purchasing art in the traditional art world? 

Steven: Reputable galleries will usually make an effort to vet those that acquire works from them in terms of their reputation and credibility. Many galleries, and even artists, want to know who are the other artists in the collector’s collection because curation is quite an integral part of a gallery’s process.

Rochelle: How do you like to pick the art you purchase? 

Steven: We feel it is important to have a strong connection with the artists and works we acquire and feel an urgency to uplift minoritized voices. So in terms of the process to select a work, we normally are connected with an artist through a studio visit or IG (or both), and will acquire works both based off of that, our own research, and of course the work itself. Being able to deep-dive into the work with the person who created it is one of the big joys in collecting contemporary art for us.

Rochelle: How do you discover new artists?

Steven: As we built relationships with galleries over the years, they have helped give us recommendations. But mostly instagram, to be honest.

Rochelle: Tell me about the shift from this traditional art collection world to what you’re seeing with NFTs.

Steven: I feel like the audience for NFTs, the first wave at least, are people who are already involved in the new collecting culture (whether it’s sneakers, designer toys, memorabilia, and etc. I think people are seeing NFTs more as an asset than actual art, which translates into how some of these platforms are presenting those pieces.  

“NFTs are more like an Instagram feed than a proper art curation.”

NFTs are presented more like an Instagram feed than a proper art curation. Even before NFTs, collecting digital art has always been a hurdle for art collectors who just don’t understand how online art can be enjoyed or displayed. Which makes me think that NFT art is just another way to store your assets instead of an actual art collection, at the moment at least.  

“NFT art is just another way to store your assets instead of an actual art collection, at the moment at least. “

Rochelle: What do you think would be the ideal progression of NFTs if it were to enhance the art world?

Steven: With NFTs, there’s two branches.  There’s the art branch and the tech/startup branch.  

Looking at the art branch from the mindset of traditional art practitioner — it’s usually a little bit slower. Galleries often look for collectors that intend to keep works for a long time, sometimes enforcing this in writing, because the pace of an artist’s career is very important to their long-term success.

On the startup tech side, it’s hard to maintain that because flipping is actually how their stream of cash comes in. 

So, there is that dual mentality that needs to be a little bit more reconciled. I think that partnerships with galleries to ideate on ways to release work by a certain artist instead of just piece by piece perhaps? Partnering with galleries creates that credibility and I think that will attract more of the traditional art audience.  

Rochelle: Do you think NFT collectibles like CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shots belong to the same world as art NFTs? 

Steven: I don’t think they should, but the mentality of people currently collecting both types is probably the same in that it ends up being a gamification of assets. 

“The biggest difference between the traditional art world and NFTs is the pace. NFTs have become hot potatoes – and no one wants to be the last one holding it.”

Rochelle: Do you feel like moving art collections over to blockchain and the digital world makes purchasing art more arbitrary or speculative? 

Steven: I think that the big difference is the pace of it. You never know who’s gonna blow up in the regular art world either – a lot of it has to do with who’s buying the art, how credible the artist is and what connections they have. 

It seems to be the same thing in the NFT market but the pace is like a week instead of a year or two. If someone is buying an NFT art piece and sees it as an asset, it means that they have to be ready to watch the ups and downs. They have to stay at their computer to be ready to release it at the right hour because they don’t want to be the last one holding the hot potato before the new hot thing comes around. Or they have to just really like it.

“Everything starts with this insane hype – then it plateaus a bit. So I’m waiting for the space to mature because I’m seeing so many possibilities for artists to gain from tying their art to blockchain technology. “

Rochelle: If the NFT space matures, do you think artists can operate in a more meritocratic system where it’s less about networking?

Steven: Yes, definitely. I think that’s actually one of the most exciting parts that attracted me to it. Everything starts with this insane hype – then it plateaus a bit. So I’m waiting for the space to mature because I’m seeing so many possibilities for artists to gain from tying their art to blockchain technology. 

For instance, I am excited for the possibility of using Smart Contracts to embed resale clauses that can be used to give royalty percentages back to the original artist upon resales. I am also excited for amazing new artists to use the space to create something that transcends the novelty of new tech, and really anchor it back to human connection and strong narratives.

Rochelle: What is the downside of a less-hyped NFT world for art collections?

Steven: I’m not really sure. It circles back to why people are even collecting art in the first place. Me and my wife have a rule of thumb – if all the artworks in our collection was worth nothing in the end, would we still be okay with it? That helps us assess why we’re collecting art in the first place. 

If NFTs are to become mature art in the future, buyers will have to grapple with that question as well.

Rochelle: Of the artists that you work with, how many are already dabbling into the NFT world?

Steven: Two – out of like sixty. I‘m seeing a lot of people on Instagram asking “If I do an NFT will you guys buy it?” 

Follow Steven on Instagram! 

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