The boom in contemporary NFT art sales over the last two years has created some eye catching headlines and auction prices, and something of a gold rush to get involved. Unlike traditional artforms such as oil painting, interesting NFTs can be created with little or no artistic ability, and as such a number of celebrities with no known skills as painters, sculptors, or digital artists, who we would never normally see selling work in an art gallery, have started trying their hands at NFTs.
There are always occasional celebrities with an interest in other artforms; actors who shoot great photography, or musicians who also paint, but there hasn’t been quite such an intersection of celebrity culture and the art markets since the rise of pop art. As people figure out how best to get involved in this new market and try to find ways to catch some of those big sales numbers themselves, it seems like a pattern that is unlikely to change,.
The enthusiastic adopters of NFTs, and success stories
Many celebrity NFTs are put together by a third party company, or represent something of a simple toe dipped in the water, but many are making much more of a commitment to the artform. Rapper Snoop Dogg released a range of artworks inspired by his youth, along with a new song called NFT, all provided in a limited 48 hour sale which saw pieces selling for over $100,000. He is currently working on a metaverse project including virtual property, with one collector spending $450,000 to be Snoop’s virtual neighbour.
The DJ and music producer Steve Aoki is a solid advocate of NFTs, and partnered with contemporary 3D visual artist Antonio Tudisco on a range which sold for over $4.29 million; unsurprisingly he is working on more NFT projects. Musician Grimes, also well known as Elon Musk’s ex-partner, teamed up with her brother Mac on a range of digital artworks which sold for a total of $6 million, with individual pieces selling for more than $300,000.
And there are some surprise faces here too; less current, less tech-associated celebrities, such as actress Lindsay Lohan; long left on the fringes of celebrity culture, Lohan has embraced NFTs and cryptocurrency, minting her own token for $50,000 and releasing a music video NFT with DJ Manuel Riva which raised $85,000. Another unexpected name is the actor John Cleese, who minted a crude drawing of the Brooklyn Bridge which went on to sell for $36,000, causing Cleese to comment, “The world has gone terminally insane.”
But where does it end? The answer may be in the re-sale market
A second pattern has begun to emerge though; after the initial hype, PR, and fanbase excitement over the launch of an NFT has died down, and the successful buyer decides to try re-selling it, ideally at a profit. One NFT from a limited edition of 303 by Grimes sold originally for $7,500, but only raised $1,200 when it went back onto the market a second time. A piece by rapper A$AP Rocky went from $2,000 to $900 and pieces by Shawn Mendes halved in value, but in Mendes project lies a clue; the original sale raised over $1 million in ten minutes, but nearly all of the buyers were using normal fiat currency rather than cryptocurrency.
These projects aren’t attracting the current NFT or contemporary art markets, or introducing new people to them, they are just selling to current fans prepared to pay much more for them than they are worth to anyone who isn’t a fan. For some celebrity NFT projects even the fans don’t turn out; Ellen DeGeneres sold only half of her collection, whilst John Cena sold just 37 NFTs out of 500.
Ultimately, the serious NFT market is only interested in serious digital art; and that can work for celebrities if they approach their project in the right way, are seen to be embracing the NFT community, and bringing their fanbase into that community. Paris Hilton has embraced the artform as a way to express a range of random thoughts and concepts, and sees NFTs as a democratisation of art. She put together a collection in collaboration with designer Blake Kathryn; it sold out for over $1 million, and the first piece to go onto the resale market gained 20% in value.
Just how the celebrity and NFT worlds will settle down together remains to be seen; the format is a great way to leverage more money from your fanbase, but in terms of gaining all the benefits of NFTs and the respect of the contemporary NFT art market, it takes putting some effort in.