The author at Quantus Gallery. All photos: Aiyush Pachnanda
Bad news for NFT haters: what if we told you that the thing you despise most online now exists offline?
If you’ve ever cut the word “NFT” you shouldn’t be reading this right now. I can only assume that you either clicked on it some other way or are a real fan of the crypto and non-fungible token art scene. Or maybe you saw once Paris Hilton talks about Bored Apes in an interview with Jimmy Fallon and were curious how serious these internet images could be. There’s also a chance you’re actually Sally, the super helpful PR lady who hooked us up with the Quantus Gallery team for a little snooping. Anyway, hello, and if you’re at this stage but still have no idea what an NFT is, then here is a child to explain it yours the non-coiners.
As you can probably tell from the title, Quantus Gallery is the UK’s premier NFT art gallery, focusing on exhibition art that was minted on the blockchain more tangibly. Of course, traditional galleries and even Christie’s auction house have dabbled in this new arena, but no other physical space has strictly focused on NFTs in this way before (side note: there have been plenty of purchasable NFT galleries in the metaverse). Apart from the exposure aspect, Quantus also has its own in-house advisory board, where its team of experts can help wealthy newbies decipher exactly what internet image can make them that much richer.
To be as transparent as a PNG, I’m neither pro-NFT nor against them, and despite previously try to sell one for another article, I’m just a humble lurker. Hoping to see Fursona by Lindsay Lohan or one Rare Pepe the Frog NFT ahead of its official opening in March, me and VICE photographer Yushy logged off our work computers and adventured in person to the Fashion Street premises in east London, arriving too early to inadvertently looking at a Roomba through the window.
Inside, we unsurprisingly found ourselves surrounded by screens. Also, it smelled really good, not like the slightly polluted stink of the street outside. Unlike most galleries which require silence, there was music. Whether it was to influence a specific mood, thought, or feeling was unclear, but the last time I heard Goldfrapp’s “Lovelyhead” was in the monkey dust sketches where a recurring character constantly lies to his wife about his whereabouts by stealing plots from well-known works of fiction. (Finally, she leaves him.)
“We have a number of artists that we are currently working with,” says co-founder Josh Sandhu. “Pierre Benjamin is strictly NFT digital art, but we also work with Bluntroller, who have an NFT series but they have physical works supporting them.” Looking at us from behind those monitors were a series of works of art by the infamous Pierre Benjamin, which I instantly recognized as I browsed their Instagram the day before.
His NFT work, of which there are currently over 500, can be described as a Guess Who of historical, political and cultural figures, whose spherical heads and bulging eyes are not too far removed from the realm of Stewie Griffin fan art, although perhaps this pop cultural deja vu is what makes the work worth collecting in the first place.
“[It’s] due to the nature of NFTs being digital and what’s trending right now,” says Sandhu, after asking why it seems there are so many NFT collectibles. “I don’t mean it’s easier – the artwork they make – but they can definitely produce more.” The only physical piece present was Bluntroller’s spray-painted rendition of a policeman riding a space hopper towards a donut. (The space hopper is shaped like a pig.)
Basically, Sandhu explains, the NFT art world is not too different from the traditional art world, it’s just that the exchange of money is more obvious. “An NFT, all it really is is a certificate of authenticity,” he says, adding that the rarity is really what makes owning these images worthwhile. “So if you compare it to the art market [in that there’s] a physical painting that comes with a certificate that verifies who painted it, and that’s what an NFT is.
The only main difference is that the NFT certificate lives permanently on the blockchain, whereas confirming who owns a physical piece of art is usually not that simple. “The benefit of owning it is that you can display it wherever you want, on your Apple Watches, your phone and all kinds of things. It’s about owning the asset.
It’s usually at this point in the speech that a troll right-clicks and saves the work, a joke that points out that virtually anyone can use an image of the work you “own” , regardless of ownership. “If Banksy were to make an NFT, anyone could right-click and save Banksy’s image and say he ‘stole’ the NFT, but he didn’t,” Sandu explains. “They just took a picture.”
To make a traditional comparison, it’s like taking a selfie with Mona Lisa doesn’t mean she’s yours to take home. I sneakily snap a few pics of bobble-headed pal Theresa May on my phone to make the most of the experience anyway. Maybe one day I will sell my NFT picture as NFT.
Theft is actually a real problem in the NFT world, but not for people who save JPEGs to their desktops. Emerging artists – as documented by the Twitter account @NFTvol – now routinely find their work stolen and cashed in by complete strangers looking to bank. But is there a way to tell if a specific NFT isn’t legit? “If the artist is promoting NFTs on their social media, it’s probably real,” says Sandhu. “If they’re not, then that’s a red flag and [you should] maybe ask questions. I’ve seen people buy Banksys, but they didn’t.
After a bit of mooching, it was time to head out the exit and actually process what just happened. Even though the idea of an actual NFT gallery inspires a certain level of dystopian dread, it can only be realistically good that there are in-person spaces where professionals can offer advice in a chaotically unregulated industry. and confusing. Either way, Quantus Gallery is worth checking out if you’re interested in the current state of internet culture — or find yourself in the area with thousands of Ethereum tokens weighing down your crypto wallet.