Art Basel’s parent company MCH Group and the LUMA Foundation, a Zurich based arts nonprofit, have launched Arcual, a blockchain startup dedicated to the needs of the art world.
Arcual is a new blockchain that makes smart contracts that are specifically constructed for the art world, as opposed to the NFT world. These smart contracts offer artists, galleries, institutions, and collectors a standardized way of logging provenance and sales agreements, while also distributing royalties and providing digital certificates of authenticity.
“Arcual predates the hype of NFTs,” Bernadine Bröcker Wieder, Arcual’s CEO, told ARTnews in a recent interview. “Three and a half years ago a conversation happened between some members of the team at Art Basel and those at the Luma foundation about problems in the art industry and how blockchain could potentially help solve them.”
Arcual is not the first blockchain startup targeting the art world. Last year, Fairchain and Lobus launched; both companies similarly offer art-world specific services through blockchain technology.
However, Arcual is aiming to differentiate itself through two-party verification. Usually, when a smart contract is created, the information input into that contract comes from just one wallet. With digital artworks and NFTs, this is not much of an issue because the work is directly visible. However, with physical artworks, a typical buyer would have no way of knowing if the information in the contract, or the artwork it is referring to, is authentic, beyond trusting the reputation of the contract creator. Arcual requires two parties — typical the artist and the gallery — to create the contract and a certificate of authenticity, thus ensuring that every subsequent buyer receives the authenticated piece.
“The agreement can be made by an artist and a gallery simultaneously so that there’s a certificate of authenticity that ensures the artwork actually exists,” said Bröcker Wieder. “Typically, information entry on decentralized public blockchains are not monitored much and we needed to address that.”
Bröcker Wieder envisions a truly decentralized blockchain ecosystem that does not belong to institutions like MCH Group or LUMA.
“The whole point of this is to be decentralized and that the information can be stored across servers that are hosted with different entities of the art world,” said Bröcker Wieder. “Right now, MCH and LUMA are the nodes that we are starting with, but as more art world participants join in we can build the first actual blockchain ecosystem where the money being circulated goes to the art industry rather than the crypto industry.”
Arcual is being offered to some galleries in beta form.
Arcual’s launch raises some questions about whether or not Art Basel will continue to work with Tezos, who has been their blockchain partner at fairs in Hong Kong, Basel, and Paris. However, a spokesperson for Art Basel wrote in an email to ARTnews that while MCH and Arcual share a parent company, MCH Group, Arcual “does not interfere in any way with Art Basel’s ongoing partnership with Tezos.” The spokesperson continued to write that in fact, Tezos and Art Basel will be partnering again for the upcoming fair in Miami.