Damien Hirst’s The Currency was a referendum on NFTs vs. IRL art. Here are the results

The results are in.

A year ago, Damien Hirst announced an outrageous plan to “challenge the concept of value through money and art,” forcing buyers of his NFT project, The Currency, to choose between owning the physical artwork or the associated digital token decide. Hirst has now announced the final balance sheet on his Twitter account.

So are NFTs the future? Not according to the participants in this particular experiment. A clear majority chose to swap their NFT for the physical Hirst.

The project consisted of 10,000 unique NFTs, each linked to corresponding artworks by the British artist from 2016. The digital tokens were sold through a lottery system for $2,000. Each of the enamel dot painted works on handmade paper has been titled after the artist’s favorite song lyrics: Will be sold complete you smile in our face That old art: You’re always so interesting and where the money was yesterday No two colors used in the artwork are the same, and each is stamped by the artist with a microdot and hologram of Hirst’s visage.

Hirst announced that his collectors would have to make a choice between the physical artwork and its digital version, given a year’s deadline – effectively asking them to vote for the one with more enduring value.

Between July 30 and August 31, 2021, just one month after the project began, 2,036 sales of The Currency generated a whopping $47 million. But over the remaining 11 months, The Currency weakened, with both floor prices and trading volume steadily declining.

In the spring of this year, “crypto winter” hit and the once booming market for NFTs took a hit. By July 2022, mega-platform OpenSea laid off 20 percent of its employees to prepare for a “prolonged downturn.” Throughout June 2022, there were only 170 sales of The Currency, raising $1.4 million.

Works from The Currency, 2021. Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2022.

Ahead of the final selection period, The Currency owners discussed the merits of the two mediums. A post on the Discord server associated with the project listed the benefits of holding NFT including “much quicker and easier to sell” and “you keep the excitement of the project alive”. Disadvantages included “no one knows if NFTs are a fad” and “the NFT and crypto market is extremely volatile”.

As for keeping the physical prints, the pros were “they look even better in person” and “a safe store of wealth that’s likely to increase in value.” Cons included “you have to insure it” and “you lose your place on the wild ride if you give up your nft and you could get massive fomo.”

All in all, Hirst’s project generated sales of around 89 million US dollars. Secondary prices for The Currency NFTs are still around $7,500 – but one of the painted works sold for $26,000 at Phillips London in January.

“The final numbers are: 5,149 physical and 4,851 NFTs (which means I have to burn 4,851 corresponding physical tenders)”, Hirst wroteattaching images of himself sprawled across archival boxes containing vast amounts of works on paper.

However, Hirst himself remains all-in on NFTs. Actually in one Thread after its original announcement, he posted that 1,000 of the remaining NFTs belonged to him personally. He said he kept them “to show my 100 percent support and faith in the NFT world.”

Screenshot of Damien Hirst tweets

Screenshot of a series of tweets by Damien Hirst explaining that he is keeping his personal The Currency NFTs.

Damien Hirst and HENI – the platform that created the project – will be collaborating for an exhibition of the painted works at London’s Newport Street Gallery, which opens on 9 September 2022. The flaming spectacle takes place each day at a designated time with a grand closing event During Frieze week in October, a huge pyre of the remaining works sacrificed by NFT evangelists is displayed.

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