NFTs are changing the art market

At first glance, the Caldwell Gallery Hudson on Warren Street looks traditional. A variety of paintings line the walls, from genre scenes and portraits to abstract work and surrealism. But at the back of the gallery are two flat-screen monitors, one containing information about digital artworks issued as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, and the other displaying NFTs owned by the gallery.

Their NFT business is a year old company called CGH Blockchain. “The art market has changed dramatically,” says Jay Caldwell, the gallery’s director, who bought his first NFT in 2018. “We had to adapt or die. Our interest in traditional art remains, but we added to it.

Caldwell points to the exponential growth of NFTs. In 2020, worldwide sales reached $95 million. By 2021, that figure has risen to $25 billion. That annual total was eclipsed in the first two months of 2022, with sales hitting $26 billion.

Feel confused? Here is a quick introduction. NFTs are unique units of digital data that represent art and its underlying intellectual and creative property. Blockchains are public electronic ledgers that record the provenance and scarcity of digital assets. These ledgers are immutable, distributed, and exist on a network, so no one can manipulate them.

When you purchase an NFT, a smart contract is created that points to the location of the NFT on the blockchain, which is then stored in a digital wallet. Ethereum is the main blockchain for art.

Ready for a little more? You may have heard of the Metaverse, shared virtual worlds where people can virtually interact with each other – think “The Matrix” before Keanu Reeves became The One. NFT owners can display their digital artwork in Metaverse galleries, and CGH Blockchain has an online gallery that can be navigated with a mouse and up and down arrows.

In other words, guests at an actual dinner party might admire a physical piece of art in your home hanging over the fireplace, but in the future, that art display and interaction could take place virtually.

“We are in the midst of a sea change”

NFTs currently on sale at CGH Blockchain include “Self-Love Overdose III” by Simone Garcia, featured here.

“Self-Love Overdose III” by Simone Garcia

The profile of NFTs increased significantly in March 2021 when Christie’s auctioned its first-ever purely digital work of art with a unique NFT. “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS,” a conglomeration of 5,000 images, was created by artist Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, who created one digital image a day for 13.5 years. “EVERYDAYS” sold for a staggering $69 million, leading Christie’s to name him one of the three most valuable living artists. Just six months earlier, Beeple was selling its digital prints for the full price of $100.

“Since that sale, things have moved on so quickly,” Caldwell says. “It bifurcated the art world. Living artists with studio practices have added NFTs, which allow them to rotate and create new angles for their work.

A flashing NFT on the screen of CGH Blockchain by artist Jessica Goehring features Caldwell himself. Goehring was soliciting selfies for an NFT project, so Caldwell sent him one which he took in front of a painting by JMW Turner at the Clark Art Institute. Goehring electronically smudged Caldwell’s face using a beauty app.

NFTs currently for sale on CGH Blockchain include “Self-Love Overdose III” by Simone Garcia, two versions of “OG Crystals” by Michael Joo and Danil Krivoruchko, and 24 video NFTs by Nikolena Kovalenko, made alongside 24 oil paintings. oil that she exhibited in the gallery last fall in her exhibition “Utopian Reefscape”.


Although blockchain ledgers are inherently transparent, there have been instances where unscrupulous parties have promoted NFT projects promising utilitarian and philanthropic aspects, minted and sold the collection, and then executed what this is called a “rug draw”, transferring the earnings to personal crypto wallets and abandoning the project.

“These rug pulls attract disproportionate attention from the press, but most of the NFT projects being launched are led by serious founders interested in helping artists and benefiting worthwhile causes,” says Caldwell. “Part of the service we offer our customers is a carefully selected group of top NFTs.”

Nothing in the history of the Caldwell Gallery predicts its leap into the world of zeros and ones. Founded by Joe and Marcy Caldwell, Jay’s parents, in Syracuse in 1973, the gallery deals with painting, sculpture and drawing dating from approximately the 19th to the 20th century. Jay joined the business in 1985 after graduating with an economics degree from Dartmouth and managed it alongside his father until his death in 2017 aged 88.

Jay Caldwell of Caldwell Gallery Hudson became involved with NFTs for social as well as commercial reasons – he loves how they provide opportunities for artists working outside the mainstream.  “It gives them access to capital and allows them to pursue their dreams,” he says.

Jay Caldwell of Caldwell Gallery Hudson became involved with NFTs for social as well as commercial reasons – he loves how they provide opportunities for artists working outside the mainstream. “It gives them access to capital and allows them to pursue their dreams,” he says.

Michael Falkenstein

The Caldwells ran the business from their home in Syracuse until 2013 when, at the suggestion of a friend, they took the big step and opened a physical business in Hudson. It shares the building with a cafe/motorcycle gear store called Moto Coffee Machine. “This is our first experience as traders,” says Jay Caldwell.

Caldwell says they have placed works in 25 major museums over the years, including a recent sale of a surreal painting by Eugene Berman at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum.

Caldwell became involved with NFTs for social as well as commercial reasons – he loves how they provide opportunities for artists working outside the mainstream. “It gives them access to capital and allows them to pursue their dreams,” he says.

Caldwell also notes that many NFTs have a charitable component, with artists donating a percentage of their earnings to a social cause or nonprofit. For example, 25% of sales from artist Mieke Marple’s Medusa Collection, a series of 2,500 unique NFTs, benefits TeachRock, a free program for teachers that uses the history of popular music and culture to involve the students. Twenty percent of paint and NFT sales from Kovalenka’s “Utopian Reefscape” project went to the ocean conservation group Coral Reef Alliance.

For those who think NFTs might be a fad, like Beanie Babies, Caldwell disagrees.

“We are in the midst of a sea change in the way people interact socially, politically and economically,” he says, pointing to NFT broadcasts at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Francisco Carolinum Linz, a museum in Austria. . “We won’t be going back.”

Michelle Falkenstein is a freelance journalist who writes about culture, food, and anything that catches her eye. [email protected], @michellefalkenstein

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