This NFT company wants to divide a Banksy piece into 10,000 pieces of NFTs

Top Image: Bankxy, "Love is in the Air", 2005.

There is a lot of pride in saying you own a piece of art. It’s one of the reasons why art from established artists can be so high. Part of that cost, like it or not, is bragging rights. But what happens when you share ownership of a famous artist’s work with 9,999 other people?

That’s the question I asked myself when I saw that Particle, a new NFT company started by a former head of contemporary art at Christie’s, was digitally cutting up Banksy’s “Love is in the Air” into 10,000 NFTs or Particles, as per the company’s name. The reason for this, according to Loïc Gouzer (the Christie’s guy), is that he had always wanted to own art, even when he had no money. He wondered if he could own a tiny piece of it.

That’s the main principle of Particle. Instead of having one entity legally owning a piece of art, it’s several thousand. After acquiring $15 million in seed funding from a venture capital firm, the company was able to acquire the Banksy piece at auction for $12.9 million. The work is then divided (digitally, of course, not another “Love is in the Bin” situation) into 10,000 NFTs which sell for around $1,500 each. Technically, each NFT owner will own a tiny piece of the physical work within a 100 x 100 grid. 

The physical work itself is donated to a non-profit under Particle, called Particle Foundation, rendering the physical piece without value, apparently. (Because you can’t have two different values of essentially the same thing.) According to Particle’s website, the Foundation will never sell the physical version. Instead, they will tour it around the world in various exhibitions.

Whether this works in the long term or not, it certainly disrupts how the art world works, maybe even more so than NFT did early this year. The biggest positive from this is easily the democratization of art. There are many important artworks out there that the majority of the world will never see because a private collector has decided to only keep them to themselves. By treating art collection as a community endeavor, it ensures that any artworks Particle acquires will never be locked in a vault.

There’s also the ownership Gouzer mentioned. Buying a Particle feels similar to owning, say, a share in Apple’s stock. You can brag about owning a piece of Apple, but you don’t actually own Apple. You have little to no say in what Apple does. But you can have pride that you own a stake, no matter how tiny, of this giant thing.

But community effort aside, the biggest concern is, unsurprisingly, the same as the concerns towards NFT. What does it actually mean to own a piece of art that you can’t hang in your room? What is the value of something that has been essentially fractured into thousands of pieces? Not to mention that apparently legally, the physical Banksy has no worth anymore, which sounds bonkers and impossible. It still has to be worth something, right? It’s a piece that’s (probably) been touched by Banksy themselves! Intellectually, I know this just means Particle can never legally sell it, but it still feels intuitively wrong.

There’s also the exclusivity factor. There’s a lot of pride in being the only owner of a single thing. That’s one of the reasons why paintings generally sell more than photographs or prints in auctions. It’s much harder to duplicate a painting versus a photograph. When something is no longer individual and unique, it tends to drop in value. From an NFT perspective, the value is almost entirely dependent on which piece the NFT represents. An NFT of one of the colorful flowers or the eye will certainly cost more than an NFT of the plain white background. It could either make it very hard or very easy for the NFT owner to sell their piece if they wanted to.

Oh, another caveat worth mentioning is that, as the original owner and creator of these Particle NFTs, Particle will always receive a small portion of any resale made on every single NFT. Not Banksy. Make what you will of that.

Like with everything NFT-related, it’s up to time to tell us if this is a good idea or not. In the meantime, if you’re excited about this, you can go to Particle’s website and sign up for their waitlist.

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