Art and NFTs: Past and Future

How to Cite

McCoy, K. (2022). Art and NFTs: Past and Future. The Columbia Journal of Law & The Arts, 45(3).


I’m going to talk from an artist’s perspective about “Art and NFTs—Past and Future.”  There are a lot of surprising details in the short history of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and some pretty interesting ideas that are ready to unfold in the future. 

As an artist, the work I’ve done has always been media-based, including video, software, and related forms.  Not so long ago, I was making video artworks, akin to short, experimental, independent films.  Along with my partner, Jennifer McCoy, I have produced “net art”—art made for viewing and audience participation on the Internet.  Since all of the work that I—along with my friends and other artists in the community—made was digital and intangible, there was very little way to participate in the art market. There were no tangible works that could be made and sold.  A digital media-based artwork could circulate in non-commercial contexts such as art or film festivals or museum curations, but rarely could it participate in the traditional art market like a painting could.

For example, in 2001, the Whitney Museum of American Art acquired a JavaScript-based project of ours called 201—A Text Algorithm.  A code-based piece can enter the museum, but it is usually through donations and commissions rather than sales.  That was the experience for my friends and me for a long time.   Working with an intangible form are always on the sidelines of the greater visual arts community.  As a result, I—along with many other artists—adopted a strategy of physicalization:  you make your work sculptural and turn your media ideas into objects.  We made physical media sculptures that were met with success.  In 2001, the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased an early work of ours Every Shot, Every Episode, which was recently part of the exhibition Pictures Revisited.  Although Every Shot, Every Episode is a media art piece, it is exhibited sculpturally in the form of a small, wall-mounted suitcase.  In other projects, we created sculptures that included video and kinetics, such as miniature film sets made with small cameras.  One of these is in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) collection and another was purchased by the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art (MUDAM) in Luxembourg.  Although the projects contain software and media, their embodiment as physical objects allows them to be displayed and collected in traditional ways. 

This was the course of my practice in the early 2000s.  To be sure, I used the transition from digital to physical not only as a way to participate in the art market but also for artistic and aesthetic reasons.  This choice certainly allowed my works to be collected and, as a result, a broader conversation about who was buying and supporting new media art began.  It was an exciting time.  But there lingered a real question about how one might make and sell work that is natively digital.
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