Famed artist Laurie Simmons and influential art market figure Amy Cappellazzo think that artists need to “pay attention to NFTs” and blockchain, and that the new phenomenon cannot be “brushed aside.”
Speaking at the spring luncheon for the American Friends of the Israel Museum at the Rainbow Room on Tuesday, Simmons and Cappellazzo engaged in a wide-ranging discussion that was mostly in a format Cappellazzo likened to Vogue’s ever-popular “73 Questions” interviews with celebrities.
After Simmons answered a series of rapid fire questions—What was your first thought today? Kittens or puppies?—Cappellazzo opened up to questions from the audience. The first was the one on every casual art watcher’s mind: “What do you think of NFTs?”
While Simmons and Cappellazzo were cagey at first, more or less saying they’re watching with interest but not ready to jump in the pool themselves, they both eventually signed on to the liberating potential of the blockchain, if not quite NFTs themselves.
“I’m more interested in NFTs as vehicles or mechanisms than actual end-art forms,” Cappellazzo said. “But I do think every artist these days needs to pay attention to NFTs because it’s the only way to track the work—on the blockchain—as it goes through the world. They’ll be able to get royalties, if they design it with that mechanism. It’s of incredible importance to artists.”
Simmons, who noted that she is an adviser to Fairchain, a New York–based startup that uses blockchain for title management, art authentication, and transaction documentation, agreed with Cappellazzo. Simmons added that the question of tracking provenance and ensuring artists receive royalties has been a topic of conversation among major artists since at least the 1970s.
“I do think the blockchain is really important for artists,” Simmons said.
Simmons is a photographer and filmmaker primarily known for feminist work that incorporates dummies, dolls, and objects that make reference to domestic scenes. She came to fame in the 1970s as part of the Pictures Generation, alongside artists like Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger.
Cappellazzo is cofounder of art advisory firm Art Intelligence Global. She was previously the chairman of Sotheby’s global fine arts division, having joined the auction house in 2016 when it acquired her firm, Art Agency, Partners, for $85 million. She previously held positions at Christie’s and the Rubell Collection in Miami and was named one of the most powerful women in 2019 by Crain’s New York.
As Artnet News noted in a feature on Fairchain, Robert Rauschenberg, along with other artists, successfully lobbied California to pass the Resale Royalty Act in 1977, which required artists to receive a royalty payment if an artwork was resold in California or if the seller was based there. That law was struck down in 2018.
Cappellazzo hasn’t shied away from talking about crypto in the past. In an interview with the Financial Times last year, she suggested that the art world has always dealt with an “alternative currency.”
“There’s a lot of talk about the rise of NFTs, but I feel like I’ve been in the crypto business for about 20 years. Jeff Koons is an alternative currency, so is Andy Warhol and Mark Bradford, it’s just a case of reading each market,” she told the FT.
Here’s the exchange in full:
Laurie Simmons: I will say, I get DMed on my Instagram probably every other day and I’ve had so many offers or proposals. For me, I don’t do anything until (a) I have an idea and (b) I understand it. I’m not there yet personally, but I’m certainly watching with great interest … There are people who think this is the future and there are people that think this is a trend that will be gone next month. I don’t think we know, but I think this is all part of the crazy ride and shake-up that we’re experiencing.
Amy Cappellazzo: I liken it to the idea that it is 1990 and we’re all sitting around talking about this thing called the World Wide Web. We’re like, “Oh my god, you’re going to be able to ask it a question and it will give you a reasonably accurate answer? That’s crazy.” And we probably wouldn’t believe that we’d all be carrying around personal computers connected to all of our financial information and personal information. We wouldn’t believe—
Audience member: But do you think this is real art?
Cappellazzo: I’m more interested in NFTs as vehicles or mechanisms than actual end-art forms. I do think that there are artists who are digital natives, they’ve only ever made art in the digital world and that’s all they do. They don’t paint, they don’t draw, they don’t sculpt. They only work in digital formats. For them, that’s the format. And maybe some of us are more tied to the physical, old-fashioned plastic arts, as they say. But I do think every artist these days needs to pay attention to NFTs because it’s the only way to track the work—on the blockchain—as it goes through the world. They’ll be able to get royalties, if they design it with that mechanism. It’s of incredible importance to artists.
You can not want a first-mover advantage … you can say, I want a second-mover advantage on that. But I don’t think you can brush it aside … I think there are certain … I think we all learned during the pandemic that there are certain things about physical presence that are less relevant than we thought they were. We all learned to adjust without certain physical realities …
Simmons: I do think the blockchain is really important for artists. Full disclosure: I advise a company called Fairchain and it’s a bunch of young kids from Stanford who are figuring out a way to do something about resale and artist royalties. Imagine your painting is a puppy and you are putting a chip in it and you can trace that painting when it changes hands, wherever it is in the market, and artists will be given a small royalty when it changes hands. This is something that people started talking about when I came to New York in the 70s. I remember Rauschenberg … and all of these different people at the time who were trying to nail down some laws for royalties and artists rights. …
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