A few months ago, artist Damien Hirst made headlines when he announced his project called ‘The Currency’. This project saw Hirst ask his buyers to choose between either the physical art that they had purchased from him or the NFTs of the pieces. He claimed that whatever physical pieces were not chosen would be burned.
Now, the project is approaching its conclusion, with Hirst burning thousands of his own art pieces in one of the more controversial and interesting events of the art world this year. In total, the value of all the pieces destroyed is put at £10 million.
For ‘The Currency’, Hirst said he was exploring and making commentary on the modern financial system. Digital assets are ‘burned’ all the time and now, Hirst is doing the same to oil paintings.
“This project explores the boundaries of art and currency — when art changes and becomes a currency, and when currency becomes art. It’s not a coincidence that governments use art on coins and notes,” he said at the time.
The collection initially had 10,000 pieces and the first 1,000 physical pieces left behind were burned this week. 5,149 of his buyers chose to keep the physical artwork while 4,851 opted for NFTs instead. On October 11, 2022, Hirst began burning the paintings that were left behind. The burning took place at his Newport Street Gallery and was also live-streamed online. This will go on until October 30, 2022, when the project will officially end, having kicked off on September 9, 2022.
When Hirst first announced the project, it caused controversy around the world. Many accused him of being wasteful, given the value of the art and also claimed that this was nothing but a publicity stunt. But Hirst has stuck to his guns, saying during the burning event that the art being burned was not being ‘destroyed’ as it still existed in NFT form.
“A lot of people think I’m burning millions of dollars of art but I’m not. I’m completing the transformation of these physical artworks into NFTs by burning the physical versions. The value of art, digital or physical, which is hard to define at the best of times will not be lost; it will be transferred to the NFT as soon as they are burnt,” he said.
Damien Hirst and the Value of NFTs
Whether or not this is an artistic commentary or a publicity stunt, what Hirst is doing has brought up a discussion about the value of art as NFTs. His argument is that the art being burned still ‘exists’, just in NFT form. Some are not convinced of this, however.
Is a digital painting still as valuable as a physical one? After all, people already pay millions for digital art pieces so clearly, they are worth something. It is an age-old debate among artists about what makes art valuable but as NFTs become a part of the scene, even more, it seems they will have to keep fighting for legitimacy.