Ep. 4: Noah Davis

On this Episode of Probably Nothing TZ (@TZhongg) and Alexis Ohanian (@alexisohanian) chat with Noah Davis (@NonFungibleNoah) of Christie's. You'll hear Noah discuss his journey into the NFT space, how NFTs are addressing some traditional problems in art collecting, and what it's taken to convince a historic auction house like Christie's to move into a completely new medium.

In Episode 4 of Probably Nothing TZ (@TZhongg) and Alexis Ohanian (@alexisohanian) chat with Noah Davis (@NonFungibleNoah) of Christie's. Noah is the former Head of Online Sales for contemporary art at Christie's, but is now primarily focused on NFTs and crypto related digital art projects. Noah discusses how he first got into NFTs, and how he was able to convince a 200+ year old company to begin auctioning NFTs this year. TZ, Alexis, and him also discuss a bit of art history, how NFTs align incentives between artists and curators/collectors, and the future of smart contracts in the art world. This wide ranging discussion shows how NFTs are starting to bridge both the fine art world and the crypto community.

Links Mentioned in this Episode
Timestamps

00:30
: Noah Davis intro
01:20: How did Noah convince Christie's to get into NFTs?
02:30: How did Noah first get into NFTs and what helped him understand them?
04:20: What is the future of NFTs in the art world?
06:50: Art Basel NFT prediction?
11:30: What was the internal process on convincing Christie's to do a project with OpenSea?
14:08: wen christie's dao?
16:12: What was the process like of promoting Beeple's sale on Discord?
19:40: What is "absurdist post-war French theater" and why did he study it in school?
24:00: Secondary sales in a world of smart contracts
28:40: Future hope for artist and smart contracts
29:50: Working with artists compared to working with collectors
32:48: Noah's experience in the NFT space
33:34: If you were stranded on an island which NFT would you take from your collection? What about anyone's NFT collection?

Mentions
Show Notes

Who is Noah Davis?
  • Specialist at Christie's in the contemporary arts department with a focus in NFTs.
  • He started working on NFTs in March with his intro to NFTs during the first Beeple @beeple sale.
Getting into NFTs and bringing them to Christie's

How did Noah first get into NFTs?
  • "NFTs really found me."
  • Before he was head of NFTs at Christie’s, he was the head of online sales for contemporary art.
  • He was in the office last January to see an IRL piece of art for an auction. 
    • His colleague, Megan Doyle, brought an NFT opportunity to his attention. She had been contacted by MakersPlace for a possible NFT consignment, and asked Noah if he would be open to putting an NFT in his sale.
  • Noah barely knew about NFTs. 
    • All he really knew was that Beeple sold his NFT at Nifty Gateway for $6 million, and that NFTs are a new asset class running on a blockchain foundation.
  • What drew Noah into NFTs, beyond the art, was the promise of decentralization and the things that blockchain can do. 
    • "We are heading towards a future that will have a foundation in blockchain. You can either end up with the state run dystopian future or you can build one yourself."
    • Noah wants to see a future where there is a decentralized metaverse that is owned by the people for the people. If he can help do that within Christie's, a 200+ year old company, that could be really significant.
Bringing NFTs to Christie’s
  • In the first conversation Noah had with Christie's they mainly talked about cryptocurrency. 
    • Noah knew that some of their top clients were into crypto. He believed that NFTs were the perfect opportunity to jump into the space.
    • The fact that it was ephemeral wasn't daunting to them. 
      • Christie's has sold dinosaur bones. If they can create some kind of excitement around an auction, Christie's will find a way to make it work.
  • "I am really grateful towards Christie's for lending me such a long leash."
  • NFTs have been reliably profitable for Christie's.
  • They are now approaching $120,000,000 in total volume for the year. It's going to be 5% of their turnover.
  • For the first Beeple sale more than 90% of applicants were not previously known to Christie’s. 
    • Although this was more the NFT community and Beeple's community, Noah will continue to set the stage for artist to showcase their work.
How did Noah's college degree in English with a focus on Absurdist post war french theater play a roll in Noah's love for NFTs?
  • The absurdity of selling an asset that doesn't physically exist was extremely attractive to him. 
    • "I think a lot about the theater of the absurd in the context of NFTs. What really drew me in was how counterintuitive NFTs are to the standards of the 21st century contemporary art world."
    • Noah never felt like he completely fit in. He was sort of put off by the pretentious vibes in contemporary art, and how people tend to take themselves too seriously.
  • Eugene Ionesco's play, The Bald Soprano, plays a huge role in understanding Absurdism. 
    • The story behind the play is that one day while Ionesco was learning French and English, he was reading the textbooks and thought it was absurd that they were trying to teach him family dynamics.
    • This then lead him to believe that the foundation of language is super shaky and unreliable.
  • In the play, The Bald Soprano, nothing makes sense. 
    • It is indebted to people that question the moral and aesthetic values, at the time, by way of absurdity.
  • "Ionesco would love NFTs."
NFTs and Art

What is the future of NFTs in the traditional art world?
  • In the traditional art world, you will see a lot more adoption from contemporary artist who dabble on digital media. 
    • The more mega blue chip galleries that jump into NFTs, the more inspired artist will be to take the leap. 
      • To understand and overcome that stigma of NFTs as a step below "intellectually speaking" what contemporary art normally is, is a very challenging medium to master.
    • "As more artist embrace this, we will see really dynamic projects coming forward and new amazing 1 of 1 art work from amazing talented bluechip artist.
      • Right now people like Tom Sachs (@tom_sachs) and Damian Hirst (@hirst_official), are the only real Fine Artists from the blue chip world that have mastered this. 
        • They are playing by the rules of the NFT space, but they are speaking directly to a crypto native audience.
      • However, there will be artist that enter the NFT world, play by the old rules and somehow succeed.
    • It's going to be a difficult bridge to build and the needle has really only been threaded once successfully with Christie's auction of Andy Warhol NFTs with the Andy Warhol foundation. 
      • They tokenized digitally native works that Andy made for the amiga computer.
Art Basel NFT prediction?
  • There will be a base line of friction from two different worlds. That's good because those sparks is where you get something creative. 
    • “There will be a lot of chatter around NFTs for sure.”
    • Christies is collaborating with NFTnow during Art Basel to host an event. They have built a, 2400 square foot, space in a bank building and repurposed it as an art gallery. 
      • Superrare and Collector 33 will have a presence there.
    • “To see all this art, in this environment, is going to be interesting because we haven't really nailed the exhibition component of NFTs yet.”
      • They have learned a lot and they are going to be applying all of it in Miami.
      • You need to correctly activate the immersive quality of some of these artworks.
Christie's and OpenSea sale?
  • So far all the NFT sales Noah has conducted at Christie's have been off-chain, and because they are off-chain it is hyper manual. 
    • All of the movement of the tokens are analog and payment is pretty clumsy.
    • "It's like we are operating in this new dimension, but we are still pushing the buttons and pulling the string from the old one."
    • This is their first collab with Opensea, if it goes well there is no reason why Christie's should auction their NFTs off chain.
  • There will still be a place for traditional auctions, like the Beeple (@beeple) one they recently sold. But, if they are selling an ether rock and they are marketing that to a crypto native audience they can't get away with off chain.
When's Christies DAO?
  • "The idea of a DAO is an incredible thing."
    • As much as Noah is really fighting to push things forward. There are things he wants to be really careful with. 
      • Like building in the metaverse and thinking about airdrops.
    • Regulation is going to catch up with us and until these unknown areas are become more defined. There's no reason for a corporation like Christie's to dive in the front.
NFT space and Artists

What was the process of promoting Beeple's sale on Discord?
  • Noah wasn't really involved in the promotion of the first Beeple sale. 
    • At the time he was going more of the traditional media route, and still learning about NFTs and crypto.
    • "The first time I heard someone refer to Ethereum as ETH, I took a beat and I had no idea what that meant, I didn't know what it was. I bought my first Ethereum in April."
  • Noah didn't join Discord until after the Beeple sale. Because he hasn't used social media in a long time, he was very cautious. 
    • Justin Aversano (@justinaversano) invited Noah into Cryptopunk's Discord channel to promote the sale of a Cryptopunk that Christie's was having in May.
  • He felt like he didn't belong there. He felt like he was the corporate salesman.
  • Now he has his ens name in his username. But it took the same push to get him on Twitter too.
  • Noah was so scared, his username was "Noah the Poser".
Secondary Sales in a world on Smart Contracts.
  • The first big contemporary art auction took place in the 80s. 
    • The artist themselves were at the auction, and they accosted the seller because he bought the photos for $1,000's and he was selling them for $10,000's.
    • "There was an intense animosity at the moment between the artist and the collector because it felt like it was deeply unfair, and it is."
    • There are certain places in Europe that already have a resale royalty, and California was really pushing for this too.
  • Noah strongly believes that artist should absolutely have these royalties. 
    • With NFTs and blockchain, the artist and the creator have complete control over this.
    • "The blockchain doesn't care. What you tell it to do, it is going to execute it. It is never going to make a mistake"
      • If you program it with protocols that are fair, those will be the rules forever.
    • Right now is the time to make sure that these rules make sense, are fair, and are equitable.
  • Artist should own their smart contract, and have their own independence so that they can never get duped. 
    • That kind of responsibility and independence is very admirable. It is the way forward. 
      • Manifold is behind a lot of artist's smart contracts. 
        • Their philosophy is that artist should own their own smart contract.
Working with artists
  • "I love artists. I like to make art when I am not working for Christie’s."
  • Noah used to only get involved with the collectors or estates, and rarely with artists. Unless they were complaining, which is reasonable. 
    • When contemporary art comes to auction it is usually not under the best circumstances. 
      • There's an industry term referred to as the "three D's". Divorce, debt, and death are the three major driving forces that bring contemporary art to auction.
    • You are starting from a place of negativity.
  • Working with artists, however, is all about positivity. 
    • Noah feels such an incredible bond with the artists, like Beeple.
    • He's made art with Fewocious (@fewocious) and has had lunch with Joshua Davis (@JoshuaDavis).
    • "I hang out with these guys and it just feels right."
    • Before he felt weird and almost felt like the enemy. Now he feels like he is helping these artist tell their stories.
  • "The NFT space is magical. Everything I felt frustrated with in the contemporary art world is not at play in this space."
If you were stranded on an Island and you could only take one NFT from your collection or any collection, which would you take?
  • From Noah's collection, he would take his CrypToadz or his Deadfella.
  • From any collection, Noah would take CryptoPunk 4301. It's from the collection of Sov.eth. It's a wild white hair with VR and pink lipstick. Noah was glowing while he was talking about this.

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