Over this past weekend, the NFT artist Claire Silver had some of the worst few days of her life. She went from believing that her work would be exhibited at the Louvre, the world’s most visited museum, to getting a public bashing when it was revealed that that was not, in fact, the case. Branded as a scammer by those in the NFT community and a fool by everybody else, the reigning takeaway from commentators was that Silver should have never believed her works could be shown in the Louvre. But why not?
To start at the beginning: Silver, who recently got representation with major talent agency WME, was approached by the organizers of Paris Blockchain Week with an invitation to exhibit her art as part of the conference, scheduled for the end of March. In its fourth edition, Paris Blockchain Week is held at the Le Carrousel du Louvre, an underground shopping mall named after two near by landmarks, the Place du Carrousel and the Louvre.
Silver alleges that the organizers of Paris Blockchain Week misrepresented the location of their sponsored exhibit, making it sound as if Louvre were participating and her work would be displayed in the museum’s hallowed galleries. Excited at what she thought would be the peak event of her career, Silver tweeted out that she would be exhibiting at the Louvre. Soon after, Variety picked up the story. Incredulous as to the artist’s claims, Zachary Small, a frequent contributor to the New York Times, reached out to representatives of the Louvre who confirmed that the museum was not planning on exhibiting Silver’s work.
In a now deleted series of tweets, Silver wrote that Paris Blockchain Weekend had misrepresented the opportunity and that after the past two years, where artists in the NFT scene were granted sudden entree into the highest echelons of the art world, anything seemed possible.
Silver’s NFTs sold at Sotheby’s last year as part of a contemporary art day auction, and her work entered LACMA’s permanent collection earlier this year. Her peers have not just made gobs of money but have been the subjects of exhibitions at respected galleries like Pace and have been collected by major museums, including the Palais de Tokyo and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, and the Uffizi Gallery have worked with NFT entrepreneurs to sell NFTs. Tezos is a leading partner for Art Basel’s four fairs around the world, and Art Basel’s parent company, MCH Group, has developed its own blockchain.
The come up was swift and extreme for artists who have operated outside of the art world for the majority of their careers. For Silver, the sudden change in fortune was even more marked. In her interview with Variety, she described having experienced childhood poverty in the “cornfield town” she grew up in, though she did not specify which one.
In the end, Silver was a victim of the ecosystem that made her. The fortunes of those in the NFT scene was made by harnessing a single, precious resource: hardcore believing. Artists and sellers of NFTs had to convince buyers that these pieces of digital art, mere JPEGs, could be worth something, and that meant a lot of evangelizing. Per the slew of press releases that have hit my inbox over the past three years, every project was the most exciting, most groundbreaking, most promising collection to have ever been created.
Whether or not those claims amounted to a scam or a life-changing deal depended on the seemingly random whims of the NFT community. Why did one animal PFP collection, like Pudgy Penguins, do better than another? Why were respected artists with deep backgrounds in digital art, like Harm Van Den Dorpel and Rhea Myers, failing to match the prices of pictures of apes in different outfits? People took advantage of that crapshoot to overpromise—sometimes those promises came true, as evinced by the small crop of NFT millionaires.
And some people, of course, just straight up lied about things, running away with the money and never following through on whatever continued “utility” they had offered. In one case, the 17-year old creator of an NFT collection called “Iconics” managed to get collectors to purchase more than $100,000 worth of NFTs in a pre-sale; when the date came for the creator to send over the NFT, all the collectors found in their Ether wallets were a bunch of copy and pasted emojis.
HODL—crypto vernacular for “hold” as in, don’t sell—changed the world by shaping a new and radical digital economy that advocated the recognition of these work’s long-term value and thereby forcing fine art museums to open up to the visual culture being fomented online lest they too miss out. Silver believed because believing brought her this far. But belief has its limits.