Arts patronage has long been dominated by institutions and the wealthy as a means to support, commission, and collect art. Museums, as public institutions, tend to rely on donations by patrons to fill their collection, marking the end of the artwork’s life on the market and cementing the association between the final collector and the artwork, regardless of the provenance record of previous donors. With this in mind and with the internet age upon us, how can blockchain help cultivate a new generation of art patrons?
As of May 2019, the Whitney Museum of American Art's new media portal launched Public Key/ Private Key - a project that addresses art ownership and the future of patronage by distributing donor credits through Monegraph, a blockchain-powered artwork title registry and marketplace launched by Kevin McCoy in 2014.
Members of the public can submit an essay to the artists to become one of fifty donors. Once a donor is selected, the artists will then transfer and record one of the unique Donor Certificates onto the Ethereum blockchain via an OpenLaw-powered smart contract.
Every individual Donor Certificate is recorded on the Ethereum blockchain as a cryptographic ERC-721 Non-Fungible Token (NFT). NFTs are a way of representing unique assets digitally, including works of art or other intellectual property like Public Key/Private Key. Each of the 50 Donor Certificates/NFTs comes with a unique and immutable ID number and message chosen by the artists. By layering a traditional legal agreement on a smart contract, OpenLaw can give full force and effect to the intended terms of the NFT on behalf of the artists.
Donors are then free to transfer, gift, or even sell their ‘Donor’ title to another donor. The changing list of donors will be tracked for six months on the Ethereum blockchain and can be viewed at [URL] . By transferring these tamper-proof Donor Certificates/ NFTs via the blockchain, it is easy to publicly track provenance and ownership of the artwork, challenging the conventional artist-doner-museum model.
Public Key/ Private Key features a unique 16mm film (housed in a classic metal canister) with a blockchain key embedded within it that will physically reside in the Whitney’s collection. As part of an exhibition at the Whitney Museum, the first audience member to take note of and submit the key to the artists will become the fifty-first donor of the artwork.
Multimedia artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy will be joined by Aaron Wright, Founder of OpenLaw and Christiane Paul, Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts at the Whitney Museum of American Art to discuss this exciting initiative that combines an essay contest, a mysterious film, and blockchain technology as an attempt to shift the debate about arts patronage.
1400-1530 I Panel Discussion I Arts Patronage via the Blockchain Ledger: Public Key/ Private Key
Chief Curator Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
Adjunct Curator of Digital Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA