Pin It
Damien Hirst with The Currency artworks
Via Instagram/@damienhirst

Are NFTs better than real artworks? Not according to Damien Hirst fans

The artist forced collectors to choose between physical artworks and digital tokens for his latest project, The Currency – now, the results are in

It may seem like NFTs have eclipsed the traditional art world, with cartoonish avatars and digital doodles replacing painting, sculpture, and photography as the dominant art forms du jour. In fact, works like Matthew Griffin’s Pickle or Maurizio Cattelan’s infamous banana – which see artists sell a deed to basically nothing – might even suggest that the Wild West attitude of Web3 has infected the art world itself. In reality, though, the promised revolution hasn’t arrived just yet.

Case in point: Damien Hirst’s latest art project-slash-social experiment-slash-multicoloured cash grab, The Currency. Originally announced a year ago, the collection comprises 10,000 individual, hand-painted polka dot artworks. Each tied to a corresponding NFT, the works on paper were raffled off via a lottery system on Heni, for $2,000 a pop.

The catch? Buyers were only allowed to keep one or the other: the physical artwork or the digital token that was created to represent it. Remaining artworks, which were kept in a “secure vault” in the interim, would be burned (in case you’re wondering, “burning” an NFT involves sending it to an address where it can no longer be accessed, since it’s impossible to delete them off the blockchain).

Now, a year on, Hirst has revealed the results of The Currency, effectively charting his fans’ faith in NFTs. “The final numbers are: 5,149 physicals and 4,851 NFTs (meaning I will have to burn 4,851 corresponding physical Tenders),” he says in a recent Twitter post. Of the NFTs, however, 1,000 still belong to Hirst himself, bringing the number bought by other collectors down to 3,851 – significantly lower than the number who decided to hold onto the physical artworks.

Hirst himself says that he had a hard time choosing. “I have been all over the fucking shop with my decision making, trying to work out what I should do,” he adds in a series of follow-up tweets. “In the beginning, I had thought I would definitely chose all physical… Then I thought half-half and then I felt I had to keep all my 1,000 as NFTs and then all paper again and round and round I’ve gone, head in a spin.” 

“I believe in art and art in all its forms but in the end I thought fuck it!” he adds. “This zone is so fucking exciting and the one I know least about and I love this NFT community it blows my mind.”

The fact that Damien Hirst finds the NFT space “so fucking exciting” might have something to do with the fact that The Currency generated around $47 million in sales in just the first month, and went on to generate around $89 million, despite sales drying up during this year’s trillion-dollar crypto crash. 

Of course, only time will tell who made the right choice, investment-wise. If basic NFT artworks do turn out to be a short-lived fad on the way to something more interesting (fingers crossed lol), then those holding physical copies can rest easy knowing that they have a verified piece from a big-name artist like Hirst. Plus, they can hang it on their wall in the meantime – perfect if you enjoy staring at hundreds of different-coloured dots. 

On the other hand, no one really knows where NFTs will go from here, and if a single CryptoPunk can go for nearly $12 million, then who’s to say that the Damien Hirst degens won’t see their risk pay off? “I have no idea what the future holds, whether the NFTs or physicals are going to be more valuable or less,” says Hirst. “But that is art! The fun, part of the journey and maybe the point of the whole project. Even after one year, I feel the journey is just beginning.”