Artist Damien Hirst embraces NFT trend, but with a spotty twist

The artist is going to force collectors to make a choice between fungible and non-fungible artworks.
The artist is going to force collectors to make a choice between fungible and non-fungible artworks. Photo credit: Supplied / Getty Images

British artist Damien Hirst is the latest celebrity to embrace the non-fungible token (NFT) trend, but as you might expect from the man who showed dead animals in formaldehyde, there's a twist.

His latest project, called "The Currency", involves 10,000 near-identical paintings of spots, FT reported.

Each A4 sheet, named a "Tender" is signed and numbered but also watermarked and has an embedded hologram of the artist making them banknote-like and difficult to copy. They were initially created in 2016.

But each of the signed sheets now corresponds with an NFT, which can be purchased online for US$2000 each, and can be traded as any other NFT.

And then comes the twist - Hirst is going to force owners to make a choice.

Exactly one year after the artworks first go on sale - 2am NZ time on July 15 2022 - collectors will have had to make a decision on whether to keep the NFT or trade it in for one of the paper works.

If the NFT isn't exchanged then the original paper piece it corresponds to will be burned.

"The Currency tests the boundaries of the digital and physical world and our role in both" said a statement. The time limit to initiate an exchange also "ensures that even doing nothing is doing something," it continued.

In a video interview with former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, Hirst acknowledges the choice aspect, hoping the majority of people would choose the fungible artwork instead of the NFT during the "experiment".

"But the purchaser always has a choice," he said. "It's not just 'Where's the value?' It's also 'Where's the joy?'"

The technology link doesn't end there, either.

Each of the paper works has a title created through machine learning - in this case based on some of Hirst's favourite song lyrics. Examples include 'Ours is the tale of the Shire', 'The sky looked tender' and 'I think someone laid down'.

Hirst has previously made his works available to purchase via cryptocurrency, but hasn't sold NFTs before. During that sale he made US$22.4 million after selling 7481 prints, artnet reported.

Former Wimbledon champion Andy Murray recently sold an NFT of the moment he won the Championship for US$178,000 while World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee sold an NFT of the web's source code for US$5.4 million.