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How Tezos Became the Art World’s Favorite Blockchain

Last Updated December 9, 2023 11:12 AM
James Morales
Last Updated December 9, 2023 11:12 AM
  • Tezos has become the preferred NFT platform for many artists.
  • At Miami Art Week, Tezos and Art Basel put on an extensive program of exhibitions, talks, and performances.
  • The blockchain’s current popularity among artists can be traced back to one of its first NFT platforms, Hic et Nunc.

As an important tool for contemporary artistic practice, NFTs featured prominently at this year’s Miami Art Week. 

Digital works on display included ERC-20s showcased by Trame Paris and Gateway. But although NFTs are most commonly associated with Ethereum token standards, at Art Basel’s Miami Beach event, Tezos reigned supreme.

Art Basel and Tezos Celebrate 3 Years of Partnership

Tezos has been a feature of the Miami art fair since 2021 when renowned digital artists including Mario Klingemann, Helena Sarin, and Matt DesLauriers showcased NFTs minted on the blockchain.

Now, in its third year, the partnership between Tezos and Art Basel put on an extensive program of exhibitions, talks, and performances. And  on December 6, the Tezos art community descended on Miami’s South Beach in one big NFT extravaganza. 

The technology platform’s enduring appeal among artists and collectors is a testament to its thriving ecosystem of NFT marketplaces. More than on any other chain, these are populated strikingly original artworks that continue to push the medium forward.

NFT Platforms Boosted By Artists and Collectors 

Of course, it’s not that there isn’t great art on other blockchains. Nor is the Tezos NFT market devoid of pixelated character jpegs. But it’s hard to imagine some of the most popular collections on OpenSea being displayed in a gallery. (No offense to Pudgy Penguins). Meanwhile, the diversity of Tezos’ artistic offering is unrivaled. 

For collectors, browsing Tezos NFTs can be a uniquely surprising experience thanks to the wide array of original works and a conspicuous absence of bored-looking apes. But why are artists drawn to Tezos in the first place?

The blockchain’s creator community can arguably be traced back to its first NFT marketplace: Hic et Nunc. 

Funded by a Tezos Foundation grant, the Brazilian developer Rafael Lima originally intended to build a decentralized crowdfunding app for the e-sports community. The project soon evolved, however, and Lima launched Hic et Nun as an NFT minting and trading venue in March 2021.

Back then, Ethereum was still running an electricity-guzzling Proof-of-Work consensus mechanism. Amid a red-hot NFT market, the new Tezos-based platform promised a greener, cheaper alternative. 

Before long, a grassroots artistic movement had sprung up around Hic et Nunc, which soon attracted even big-name artists like Mario Klingemann.

As the artist and curator Kika Nicolela told CCN, for many users, including herself the underlying technology didn’t matter that much. Instead, she was drawn to Hic et Nunc’s “organic community,” of artists and collectors

She acknowledged that the platform’s user interface was far from slick. But if anything, this fostered greater community involvement. The early Hic et Nunc invited users to participate in its development through hackathons and an inclusive culture that drew from the open-source software tradition, Nicolela recalled.

Tezos Art After Hic et Nunc

Barely six months after its debut, Lima pulled the plug on Hic et Nun. As the nascent Tezos art community learned of the news, panic set in and users worried that their NFTs had been rendered meaningless strings of code.

Thankfully, Lima’s commitment to decentralization extended to the way Hic et Nun hosted files, which were all uploaded to a distributed storage system known as IPFS (InterPlanetary File System). 

In the end, Hic et Nunc’s collective body of art was brought back from the brink, even though the original website ceased to exist. Through the work of projects like Teia and OBJKT, broken links were repaired, new venues emerged and no one lost their NFT collections.

Today, platforms that rose from the ashes of Hic et Nunc are among the most popular in the Tezos NFT ecosystem. Yet the scrappy, community-centric ethos upon which it was built continues to characterize the space.

Nicolela has now taken up a curatorial role at OBJKT, which has evolved from a simple auction platform for former Hic et Nunc users to an NFT aggregator that lists artworks from across different Tezos-based mints and marketplaces

Nearly 3 years after the first Hic et Nunc NFTs emerged, she observed that the initial emphasis on affordability remains central to Tezos’ enduring appeal. 

“A big part of the community comes from the Global South,” which lacks representation in the traditional art world, she noted. “Those are the artists who cannot afford going to Ethereum and spending 30 bucks, 50, 100 200 [dollars] to mint a piece.”

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