Visual arts

Launch of the first NFT art forum in Saudi Arabia

Sotheby’s and the Visual Arts Commission of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture have announced a new digital arts forum in the kingdom as part of the ongoing public program for the Diriyah Biennale.

The conference, dubbed the Digital Art Forum, which is a first of its kind for the kingdom, will be held from February 25-27 in Riyadh’s Jax district where the biennial art exhibition is held which opened in December.

What to expect from Saudi Arabia’s premier digital art forum

The program includes an exhibition of artwork from big names in the crypto art world, including anonymous artist Pak, whose NFT project Fusion sold for $91.8 million on Nifty Gateway in December; Michah Dowbak, also known as Mad Dog Jones, whose self-replicating cyberpunk creation REPLICATOR sold at Phillips for $4.1 million last year; and Erick Calderon, or Snowfro, whose works are also on display at the new Seattle NFT Museum.

Scroll through the gallery above to see photos of artworks that will be included in the exhibit.

Ahaad Al Amoudi, a Saudi artist who ventured into NFTs via Kuwait’s Bawa Gallery in April 2021, is also participating.

A line of NFT and blockchain technology experts will be speaking at the forum, the details of which have been loosely outlined so far. These include Anne Spalter, an American artist who works with digital media and who also developed the digital fine arts programs at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Micol, the founder of Vertical CryptoArt, which offers, among many services, NFT advice and custody advice, is also scheduled to speak. Most recently, the company presented a two-day pop-up exhibition of 18 artists at Frieze Los Angeles.

The forum will cover broad topics within digital art, including an examination of the evolution of the NFT ecosystem and art movements within it, as well as Saudi-specific buying habits and trends. saudi.

See photos of the opening of the Diriyah Biennale here:

Educational aspects of the forum will include workshops on how to explore the metaverse, how to set up a wallet, and how to buy an NFT. However, the program does not appear to address recent issues in the crypto space, such as the proliferation of scams and environmental concerns surrounding blockchain technology.

How the idea for the forum took shape

Despite increasing reports of fraudulent schemes in the crypto art space, interest in digital art and NFTs is not waning in the Middle East. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, NFT art exhibitions continue to be presented and Art Dubai has added a section dedicated to digital art to its program coming up in March.

Sotheby’s interest in the kingdom grew after a delegation from the auction house visited Riyadh for the opening of the Diriyah Biennale in December. A spokesperson explained that the exhibition “appears to be the perfect setting to launch the first showcase of NFTs in the kingdom”.

Part of the purpose of being in Saudi Arabia, the spokesperson said, is to “support” the Visual Arts Commission’s education programs around art.

Since April last year, Sotheby’s has stepped up its involvement in digital art. So far, the auction house says its sales in the NFT category have reached around $100 million for 100 works.

Over the past few months, Sotheby’s has opened an NFT department and launched a dedicated platform called Sotheby’s Metaverse. Two of its employees, Sebastian Fahey, executive director of Sotheby’s Metaverse, and Michael Bouhanna, co-head of digital art sales, will speak at panels for the forum in Saudi Arabia.

Recent concerns about NFTs

Despite the rise of NFTs, developments in digital art have not been without problems. Among them are reports of scams where developers promise investors digital collectibles and other benefits such as giveaways and metaverse activities, accepting money before disappearing, and cutting off forms of communication, including including Twitter and Discord accounts.

Last week, UK tax authority HM Revenue and Customs arrested three people on suspicion of £1.4 million ($1.9 million) VAT fraud involving 250 bogus companies. The authority seized three works supported by NFT as part of the investigation.

A recent US Treasury study noted how the nature of NFTs could facilitate the movement of illicit funds. “The ability to transfer certain NFTs through the Internet without regard to geographic distance…makes digital art almost instantly susceptible to exploitation by those seeking to launder the illicit proceeds of crime, as the movement of value can be accomplished without incur potential financial, regulatory or investigative costs of physical shipping,” the report explains.

The rules for NFTs are no different than those we have for anything we offer


He also said that criminals could use NFT purchases for “self-laundering”, allowing them to “transact with themselves to create sales records on the blockchain”.

These problems are most apparent when it comes to sales and transactions from anonymous or less reputable institutions.

In many ways, the promise of NFTs to democratize the art market has been blunted, as it seems that mediators, such as auction houses and galleries, are still handling the biggest deals in the space. and rely on their verification processes to reassure potential buyers.

In the case of Sotheby’s, for example, a spokesperson pointed out that NFTs sold through its Metaverse and auctions have been screened by their specialists to ensure they are authentic, a process similar to works of art and physical objects.

“The rules for NFTs are no different than we have for anything we offer,” the Sotheby’s rep said.

Updated: February 20, 2022, 9:00 a.m.