Which NFT are you looking for? NFT-linked digital art works have rocked the marketplace with eye-popping deals. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Sotheby’s doing its bit for NFTs? You read that right.

Why would one of the world’s most venerated names in auctioning fine art and antiques want to be in the new-fangled world of digital art with its non-fungible tokens (or NFTs)? Shouldn’t they be in two parallel art universes?

Last week, Sotheby’s confirmed its association with Saudi Arabia’s Visual Arts Commission of the Ministry of Culture in Riyadh for a digital arts forum, which starts today (February 25). This is where it gets particularly interesting – the forum will be accompanied by the Kingdom’s first showcasing of NFTs.

Sebastian Fahey
"We’re constantly adding new - often unexpected - categories to the now huge array of things that we offer," said Fahey.

Sotheby’s Sebastian Fahey, who is the Managing Director for the EMEA territory, gives his take on why Sotheby’s and NFTs are such a good fit after all.

Shouldn’t Sotheby’s auctions be about selling something that holds its value across time? Why get into NFTs where no base price has been set until now?

You could say we’d be doing our history a disservice by not jumping in. This is just what we’ve been doing since 1744 - watching the market, identifying the next big thing, and delivering just what our clients are looking for at any given moment. When you think about it: When we started out in 1744, we sold nothing but books. It was not until over a 100 years later, in 1883, that we made the decision to start selling paintings. The change of tack caused a sensation, but change like that is what our business is about.

We’re constantly adding new - often unexpected - categories to the now huge array of things that we offer. There is a huge business opportunity: NFTs are allowing us to expand our reach and welcome new people into the collecting community, many of whom migrate into other fields and will become the big collectors.

Crucially, it’s another opportunity for us to service our clients, deliver what they want, and introduce them to new and exciting collecting fields. Sotheby’s brings expertise via our dedicated specialists, who are researching and collaborating with those at the forefront of this space.

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We offer expert curation and authentication in order to help our collectors confidently navigate this new medium with the surety that comes with our brand.

Has Sotheby’s held NFT themed auctions elsewhere? How do you come up with a certain lot price for a still untested asset?

Over the course of the last year, Sotheby’s – and the art world at large – witnessed a meteoric rise in NFTs. Since its debut auction in April 2021, Sotheby’s sales in this category have achieved approximately $100 million for 100 NFTs, setting multiple benchmarks along the way, including records for a single CryptoPunk ($11.8 million) and the highest total for an NFT auction here, which included 101 Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs ($24.39 million for a single lot).

We vet the art we offer for its artistic quality ---- as well as vetting it from a compliance standpoint. The rules for NFTs are no different from those we have for anything else we offer. All NFTs featured on Sotheby’s Metaverse or sold in Sotheby’s auctions are carefully selected by Sotheby’s NFT specialists.

For Saudi Arabia, how will you curate the selected artists and their digital offerings? Which is the priciest NFT being offered at the Saudi event?

The Kingdom’s first showcase of NFTs will present the two most popular ways of displaying digital art – physical display (with projectors and screens), and a metaverse display. Curated as a fulsome survey of NFTs to those who might not be familiar, the artworks cover the main aspects – from the Early NFT to the Pop Digital genre and Collectibles. These are on loan from international collectors, as well as a gallery.

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We are excited to be part of Saudi Arabia’s first foray into the world of NFTs and digital art, a move that positions Saudi Arabia as a centre for digital innovation. As such, it was important we spotlight local artists.

We are including an NFT by the emerging Saudi artist Ahaad Al Amoudi, who lives and works in Jeddah. The panel discussions will also include two Saudi artists, Al Amoudi herself, but also local visual artist Rashed Al Shashai.

Will this be an annual event?

Vision 2030 and the Ministry of Culture has set out an ambitious roadmap for the cultural and artistic development of the country. As part of this, the Visual Arts Commission is engaged in progressive education art programmes to which we are lending our support – as for many years, we have been committed to investing in education.

The circumstances around this partnership were particularly fortuitous. In late 2021, a delegation from Sotheby’s visited Riyadh for the opening of the Diriyah Biennale and were very much impressed by what they saw. This felt like the perfect setting for launching the first showcase of NFTs in the Kingdom.