The very question that NFTs might someday replace museums seems like something nobody would ever utter out loud. Museums are the bedrock of some of the most famous cities in the world.
There’s no way that something that boils down to a piece of code will ever replace the experience of walking down the long hallways of the Louvre or the Smithsonian – the feeling of your feet against the tile floors, mingling with the other tourists and staring in awe at the magnificent works of art. Or will it?
But it wasn’t that long ago that museums were thought of as a complete waste of space. It was preposterous to think that artworks could be appreciated by the average person. Kings and queens thought art was not for commoners. To think otherwise was simply beyond belief! Beautiful art was created for the nobility, and as such, art was kept in private collections, away from anyone except the most discerning eye.
In fact, the world’s most important museums didn’t start opening until the 18th century. The British Museum opened in 1753. The Louvre in 1793. The Museo del Prado in 1819 and the Metropolitan in New York in 1870.
In this light, museums aren’t the eternal institutions that most people think of them as, and therefore there could be potential disruption as new technology becomes wildly adopted.
And no other technology has had the type of impact that NFTs have had on the art and collectible space. Blockchain-based collectibles are completely shifting how society values ownership.
The initial reaction most people have when looking at NFTs on their phone is: ‘I’d rather see the real thing.” And I get it. Who wouldn’t want to see the Statue of David in person as opposed to a picture of it on the phone?
It takes only two seconds to Google a picture, yet people line up for hours to get a glimpse of it in real life. The Googled picture doesn’t strike awe, wonderment, or take away one’s breath. But standing in front of the chiselled features, David’s eyes staring into the distance, one can’t help but feel something that goes beyond the boundaries of time and beauty.
But people who think that this is the only way to view art don’t understand where blockchain, AI, and NFT technology is heading and how the metaverse will shake up how we interact and operate in the world to the core.
Let’s flip the question for a moment and imagine a Star Trek-like future. Why would you want to travel somewhere, line up, and purchase a ticket to see something that would take you only a few moments to see inside the metaverse? The experience would be exactly the same. There would be literally no difference.
In fact, the metaverse experience might even be better as you would be able to touch the Statue of David or even put it in your bedroom.
Already there is an arms race to control the untapped metaverse. And whether Mark Zuckerberg, NVIDIA, the Winklevoss twins or someone else will build and control it, NFTs will certainly be a prominent part. You’ll be able to view huge lifelike collections of NFTs just as you might view the Statue of David.
You will be able to jump into the metaverse, pay for entrance to a virtual space with cryptocurrency and view some of the most famous NFTS that helped shape the space and have come a part of NFT history. (Image seeing a collection of Bored Ape Yacht Club on display as part of the rise of NFTs?)
Detractors of NFTs say that the artwork is nothing special. To some, it’s like seeing an original Pollock – because let’s face it: the difference between a Pollock and paint splatter can be interpreted as only being Pollock himself. The thing is that art is open to interpretation and if someone can find value in a Jackson Pollock painting, why cannot one find value in an NFT?
No matter which side of the fence you sit on, we are only at the very beginning of blockchain technology and who can tell where it will lead us or how it can turn out? Nobody knows – not even Mark Zuckerberg, but I for one, am excited to find out.
Museums don’t need to be obsolete. They can use blockchain technology to their advantage. In fact, a few renowned art collections and museums have already taken the initiative.
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence recently sold a digital version of Michelangelo's "Doni Tondo" as an NFT; Saint Petersburg's Hermitage Museum announced its plan to auction its collection of masterpieces as NFTs, while the British Museum hopes to sell over a hundred of its Hokusai artworks as NFTs.
These examples show that some can see the potential and opportunity presented by NFTs – even for older institutions. The key for museums to adapt to this new landscape is taking advantage of NFTs' unique properties – provable scarcity, ownership, and provenance. Doing so allows these institutions to better showcase their collection for both patrons and art enthusiasts.
More importantly, it allows art museums to thrive amidst the uncertainty of a digital future by embracing the technology changing it.
It’s not a matter of whether NFTs will become as big of a draw for art enthusiasts as museums but when. The art world is changing, and with it, the way that museums operate must change. NFTs provide a way for these institutions to embrace the digital world while still holding onto their traditions.
By using NFTs, art museums can create new experiences for their patrons and give art enthusiasts a better understanding of their collections. They can then monetize their collections in ways that were not possible before.
Instead of sticking to a risk-averse approach, museums will survive the threat of getting upended by NFTs and the metaverse only by embracing what blockchain technology has to offer. Gone are the days when museums are the sole keepers of our artistic heritage and culture.
NFTs allow for a complete digital experience that will allow art lovers to feel deeply connected to the artwork as if it was right in front of them in the physical world. The art world is changing and these venerable institutions must as well if they are to survive.