La Foundation Louis Vuitton (which is housed in a building designed by Frank Gehry) has an exhibition on right now that displays the art collection of two brothers: Mikhaïl Abramovitch Morozov (1870-1903) et Ivan Abramovitch Morozov (1871-1921). The collection contains mostly early modernist work from the late 19th century and includes pieces by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, as well as others, including some Russian avant-garde work. We went through the exhibition last week when we were in Paris. Partially to see the collection and partially to see the architecture, which is, you know, very Frank Gehry. See above photo.
As I was going through the exhibition I was reminded of how much I like the Impressionist movement. I like the work, but I also really love the story. The Impressionist movement started in Paris in the late 1800s and many consider it to mark the beginning of modern art. It broke free of tradition and violated the rules of what was considered to be proper art work at the time in France.
Because of this, the Impressionists were heavily criticized at the outset. So much so that they were routinely rejected from exhibiting in the traditionally accepted art venues in Paris. The annual Salon de Paris was the big and most prestigious one as I understand it. This forced the group to organize their own exhibitions and circumvent the incumbents in order to get their work out into the world, which is pretty much what any “startup” has to do. Obviously the rest is history and now people to go to museums like La Foundation Louis Vuitton to look at Impressionist art work and talk amongst their friends about how we don’t make art like they used to back in the late 19th century.
I mention all of this because of what is happening today in the world of NFTs. Non-fungible tokens and their application to digital art feels to me like history is repeating itself. We are at the dawn of something new and a lot of people seem to think that what’s happening today is pretty stupid: Why pay thousands or even millions for a JPEG? I can just download a copy to my computer for free. This is not art. How do you even display it? I don’t get it.
I am sure that most of the NFTs that people are buying today will go to $0 in value; just like a lot of the paint that has gone onto canvasses over the years hasn’t created much value. Art is a funny thing. But that doesn’t mean that cultural value will not be created over time. When people are talking and they think what you’re doing is dumb, you may actually be on to something. The Impressionists taught us this important lesson well over a century ago.
Photo: La Foundation Louis Vuitton