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The cultural significance of LACMA and Centre Pompidou’s NFT acquisitions

Recent high-profile acquisitions by major museums such as Centre Pampidou hints at the acceptance of blockchain-based digital art by custodians of contemporary art. While cultural institutions still face technical and critical challenges in entering the Web3, their adoptions of NFTs could thrust cryptoculture further into the public eye.

In the past week, two major art museums made respective announcements about acquiring NFT art into their collection.


Last Friday, Centre Pompidou in Paris revealed the acquisition of a series of 18 NFTs by 13 prominent French and international creators. Among the collection is Agnieszka Kurant’s Sentimentite-Mt. Gox. Hack; CryptoPunks #110 and Autoglyph #25 (donated by Yuga Labs); Sarah Meyohas’ Bitchcoin and Cloud of Petals; Rafael Rozendaal’s “Horizon” series; and more.


The works are set to join Europe’s biggest collection of modern and contemporary art, one that includes masterpieces by the likes of modern luminaries such as Vassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, and Frida Kahlo, alongside more contemporary names including Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, Bill Viola, and Vito Acconci, among others. The museum has plans to display the works in an upcoming spring exhibition that will explore the connection between art and blockchain technology.


The acquisition — the first of its kind by a prominent European public museum — is the result of a joint effort between scientific and administrative teams from the French Ministry of Culture and Pompidou's director, Xavier Rey.

Days after Pompidou’s announcement, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) also announced that it has accepted a donation of 22 tokenized artworks from the pseudonymous Cozomo de’ Medici, a prolific Cryptor Twitter figure — who is rumored to be the rapper Snoop Dogg, also a longtime advocate for Web3 and crypto.

The series included some of the most valuable and notable works of NFT, including Art Blocks’ early generative art collections such as Dmitri Cherniak’s "Ringers" and Monica Rizzolli’s "Fragments of an Infinite Field"; Neil Strauss’ Survive All Apocalypses, which is considered the first decentralized book minted on the Ethereum blockchain; Claire Silver’s A.I. art; alongside works by artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang, “World of Women” creator Yam Karkai, noted photographer Justin Aversano, and Matt Hall’s own collection of CryptoPunks.


From cutting edge to canonical

“Web3 is an innovative territory that artists have now seized upon to create original and daring work, and this collection reaffirms our support for artists in their conquest of new means of expression, which is the foundation of modern art,” as noted by Rey.


The fact that prestigious art museums are now collecting NFT art lends credibility to this emerging form of creative expression as a genuine art form, instead of just a technological fad endorsed by shady crypto bros.


Historically, the progression of art has always been intertwined with shifts in culture, technology, and society, and signals from prestigious museums like LACMA and Centre Pompidou — that NFT art is collectible and exhibit-worthy — carries a considerable weight. Being able to reach a wider crowd means more people are educated of the technologies and concepts enabling NFTs, which could create more opportunities for NFT artists and drive the demand of NFTs higher.


While museums, mired with heavy bureaucracy and tendency towards conservatism, aren’t always considered hotbeds of radical progression, history has proven that even established institutions must keep up with the times, or risk irrelevance and become relics of the past. 

Early photography exhibitions like the The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (MoMA) “Photography and the American Scene” (1938) helped legitimize photography as an art form. In 1969, the exhibition "TV as a Creative Medium” at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York City went on to become a seminal exhibition of video art in the U.S . opened at the Howard. Forward-thinking curators at the Everson Museum of Art in the 1960s also helped establish video art as a genre, and set precedent for other institutions like MoMA and Tate for establishing dedicated video art departments. The Smithsonian American Art Museum's pioneering acquisition and display of Nam June Paik's innovative video sculptures starting in the late 1960s, such as the 1965 Magnet TV, was also pivotal, placing media arts in the art canon map at a time when the technology was still nascent.


While acquiring NFTs is an opportunity for museums to stay on the cutting edge, it also presents many technical, legal, and practical challenges. It will take considerable effort for instiutions to get savvy on blockchain technology in order to securely store, display, and conserve NFTs long-term. Then there is legal and regulatory uncertainty around NFT art and Web3 technologies, where the laws are yet to fully develop and it's unclear how copyright issues concerning NFT art may be regulated.


Nevertheless, LACMA and Centre Pompidou’s big splashes into NFT art is a bold bet on the future. 


While naysayers will question the longevity and legitimacy of NFTs, these institutions are staking their cultural authority at the forefront of a new artistic and technological frontier. The outcome — whether it matures and secures a place in the contemporary art discourse, or fizzles out as a historical footnote – remains to be seen. Either way, these museums can lay claim to an early grasp of blockchain art’s potential, as well as seek alternatives to traditional ways of collecting and displaying art.


Taking bold risks are part of what visionary museums are made of, and in their embrace of NFT art, LACMA and Centre Pompidou have made a bet that speaks volumes about culture institutions’ ambition and readiness to evolve.