Israel Set to Hold Its First NFT Auction as Local Artists Embrace New Technology

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The first auction of NFT works in Israel will be held this month, as many artists and collectors embrace the emerging technology.

The May 30 auction, hosted by the Herzliya-based Tiroche Auction House, is dedicated to contemporary art and will be held in collaboration with prominent art galleries from across the country.

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are one-of-a-kind blockchain-based digital assets – videos, animations, images, videos or songs – that can be bought, traded or sold. Though the market for them remains speculative, owners of NFTs claim unique ownership rights over the digital tokens that they have purchased.

A screenshot of a video NFT work titled “Netflix” by artist #TAG (Ruben Karapetyan), which will be at the May 30 auction. (Courtesy)

Similar to cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, NFTs reside as data on a blockchain – a secure digital public ledger – but their value is set by the highest bidder. Artists wishing to sell their work as NFTs must first register with a marketplace, then create digital tokens on a blockchain and list them for auction.

According to Amitai Hazan Tiroche, managing director of Tiroche Auction own the company, the May 30 event represents not only Israel’s first NFT auction, but also its first auction geared entirely toward contemporary art.

“It’s a kind of retrospective exhibition of the most established and respected artists in the contemporary art industry,” he told The Media Line.

In all, 120 works – both NFTs and traditional pieces – will go under the hammer. The NFTs are by pioneers in the industry: Koketit, Shirley Shor, #TAG, and Moran Victoria Sabbag. In addition, dozens of non-NFT artworks also will be auctioned off, including by Zoya Cherkassky, Sigalit Landau, Michal Rovner, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, Adi Nes and Ron Arad.

Those wishing to purchase NFTs in the auction will be able to do so by paying with cryptocurrency or shekels and dollars.

Last year, digital artist Mike Winkelmann – better known as Beeple – sold an NFT piece for a record-breaking $69 million at a Christie’s auction.

Since then, a growing number of artists and high-tech professionals have begun working in the NFT industry and collectors are showing an interest in purchasing their works as an investment.

A screen capture of artist Shirley Shor’s NFT video work “Strange Days” (2018-2022). Sound by Dror Rada. (Courtesy)

“Everyone can see an NFT, everyone can use it but only one person is the legal owner of this token,” Hazan Tiroche explained. “It’s almost like buying the certificate [of authenticity]. Once you buy an NFT, you can only enjoy it in your digital wallet.”

Since the concept of digital ownership may be difficult for some collectors to understand, Tiroche Auction House also will provide an electronic screen displaying the video art of the NFT purchased. The screen can then be hung on the buyer’s wall.

Some have criticized the sudden popularity of NFTs and warned that the industry is a bubble or even a scam. Others have argued that copyright claims are unenforceable since digital images can easily be seen and shared for free.

As the owner of Israel’s largest auction house, where does Hazan Tiroche see the whole NFT trend heading?

“There’s so much noise and so many people doing NFTs that it’s difficult to focus on those 1% of very talented and successful creators,” he said. “I do think that NFTs are the future. Facebook decided to change their name to Meta because the next world is going to be in the ‘Metaverse’ and people will wear glasses and go with their avatars to digital malls and buy digital real estate. Maybe we can’t understand it today, just like people in 1996 didn’t understand the internet.”

The term metaverse initially was coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science-fiction novel “Snow Crash.” It refers to an immersive virtual reality world, branded by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg as “the future of the internet.” Such a platform will rely on virtual reality, or VR, and augmented reality, or AR, headsets to transport users to a three-dimensional, virtual space.

Shirley Shor, an Israeli new media artist, is among the pioneers in the NFT arena whose work will be sold at the upcoming Tiroche auction. Her video and sound installation, “Strange Days” (2018-2022), explores the relationship of the human body to machines, and how the two have begun to merge as technology rapidly develops.

Shor has worked as a digital artist for the last 25 years.

“When the NFT arrived, it was supernatural,” Shor told The Media Line. “It was another platform to execute some of my work.”

Like Hazan Tiroche, she believes that the potential for NFTs is huge and that humanity is on the cusp of a new – and virtual – era.

“When someone would ask what the internet was 30 years ago, we didn’t really know what it was,” Shor related. “The internet as a concept is going to change.”

More and more artists are selling their work as NFTs because the technology has enabled creators to make a decent living without the need for an intermediary like an agent or art gallery, she said. In fact, NFT data company Nonfungible.com reported that over $17 billion in NFT trades were made in 2021, up from $82 million a year earlier.

Shor believes that NFTs will evolve and eventually become part of serious art collections that people will display on their virtual properties in the metaverse.

“Right now, it’s all very chaotic; we’re all making history in real time,” she said. “Traditional art collectors are aware that the NFT is here to stay so they will need to get used to it.”


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