Ask most people about Japanese art and their first answer would likely be Hokusai, a prolific early 19th Century painter, most famous for the “The Great Wave”. If you’re lucky enough to live in London, then visit – as your author did recently – the British Museum (BM) for an exhibition of some of Hokusai’s rare drawings, on display there until the end of January. Observant visitors, however, will also note that it is possible to purchase a Hokusai. In a first for a major museum anywhere in the world, the BM has partnered with French start-up LaCollection to offer non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for Hokusai’s art. In the interest of future trends research (and a love of art), your author had the fortunate opportunity to catch up with Jean-Sébastien Beaucamps, the founder of LaCollection to learn more.
LaCollection arose out of lockdown. Many people – including Jean-Sébastien (and not to mention your author) – were missing the opportunity to visit art galleries and museums. These organisations were also struggling financially. Et voila… LaCollection was formed. The notion behind the business is very simple: LaCollection offers people the opportunity to build digital collections of art and simultaneously is able to provide a novel funding source for museums.
For those unaware, NFTs can be thought of as synonymous with digital assets. Just like each banknote is a unique fungible token, so each NFT is also unique, differentiated by a watermark (or digital lithography, as the founder of LaCollection calls it). The beauty of owning a NFT of, say, a Hokusai print is that it can be viewed in your house (via a lightbox, transparent screen or similar) as easily as it could be held in a personal collection (similar to if one were collecting stamps) or traded (given each is unique, and a record of it stored on an immutable blockchain). Our sense is that the BM was perhaps earlier to the game than any other major cultural institutions. Based on the success of its venture with LaCollection, more museums and galleries are likely to follow suit soon.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for the potential embedded in NFTs. “People are afraid of what they don’t understand,” per Jean-Sébastien, but perceptions are changing quickly, enabled by high-profile initiatives such as the one pioneered by the BM. At a basic level, many humans have a pathological need to collect, in our view, but the ease of transacting with NFTs and the security which underpins them is helping to break down resistance barriers. Over time, we expect NFTs to be increasingly leveraged for many other transactions, not just digital art. The media and sports industries would seem obvious next candidates, but as Jean-Sébastien puts it, there is “no doubt” that the wave ahead will “touch all industries.” Hokusai – a pioneer in his own era – would have been proud.
The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. The author of this piece has no personal direct investment in the business. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.
Alex Gunz, Fund Manager
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