You know NFTs are a real phenomenon when they make it to a prime time talk show and a clip of Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon discussing them goes viral on Twitter. The weirdly awkward segment shows the pair swapping stories about their Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs, with Hilton explaining how she chose her ape – “I want something that, like, kind of reminds me of me” – before Fallon produces his own and announces the two are now buddies. Cue rapturous applause from an audience that was surely clapping to cover its total bewilderment.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which represent ownership of a digital artwork, are the craze of the moment. Readers will be familiar with the millions of dollars reported to be exchanging hands, as well as the ethical debates around the environmental impact of the Ethereum blockchain that most NFTs are part of.
What felt initially like a fringe movement has become a legitimate medium fast, with NFTs now sold by the likes of Christie’s and Sotheby’s, as well as a huge number of platforms such as the OpenSea marketplace. Celebrities have quickly got on board, buying them as well as minting their own collections. Hilton’s are glossy and pink, and will, if you want her Iconic Crypto Queen portrait, set you back $1m-plus.
As the Hilton and Fallon conversation shows, it’s a medium that can be as befuddling as it is intriguing. Despite its promise, the NFT gold rush has been rapidly subject to the same set of investors, speculators and wealthy people that made the traditional art world problematic. But for many designers and creatives, NFTs are proving a legitimate source of income that takes them away from the demands of commercial clients.
“I used to sell printed posters,” says Alex Trochut, who in 2021 minted his first set of NFTs. According to Trochut, selling posters was small fry, rarely bringing in more than a hundred euros at a time. In contrast, his G (Genesis) NFT sold for 7.5 ETH, equivalent to $19,535 at the time of writing. Trochut is now in Thailand, working on a series of 3D typographic works that read differently depending on the angle they’re viewed from – a visual metaphor for NFTs if ever there was one. He hopes to mint these at a later date.