Josh Sandhu – Quantus Gallery
Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock for the past year or so, chances are you’ve been hearing the term NFT thrown about a lot.
If despite all the hype and plethora of articles floating around the internet you are still confused about non-fungible tokens and unsure whether they are a fad or the future of the creative industry, fear not, we are here to (try and) straighten it all out.
Let’s start from the basics: what’s an NFT?
Simply put, NFTs are digital representations (or tokens) of an asset such as a digital artwork that can be bought and sold using cryptocurrencies. NFTs are created and stored on a blockchain – that is to say, a shared, decentralised and immutable ledger of transactions across a peer-to-peer network.
The term non-fungible refers to the asset being unique (unlike cryptocurrencies, which are fungible), meaning each NFT is given a distinct identification code that distinguishes it from any other non-fungible token in order to prevent replication.
NFTs made their debut in 2014 when artist Kevin McCoy and entrepreneur Anil Dash released the first non-fungible token, Quantum, but it was only in 2021 that they broke through into the mainstream catching the attention of collectors worldwide.
Quicker than you can say Bitcoin, NFTs went from strength to strength, and in March of last year, a non-fungible token by Beeple, Everydays: The First 5000 Days, was auctioned at Christie’s for $69.3 million. To this day it remains the most expensive NFT ever sold.
As with all rapidly growing technologies, NFTs’ exploding popularity has not been without controversy, and concerns have been raised about the reliability of blockchain ledgers, the environmental impact of non-fungible tokens themselves and the high volatility of the crypto-market.
Critics have also argued that, while NFTs were originally created to give digital artists control over their work and help them protect their intellectual property, non-fungible tokens have become yet another way of exploiting creative professionals.
To get a handle on the crypto-signed intangibles that have been taking the art and collectables world by storm, we reached out to Josh Sandhu – a connoisseur of all things crypto and one of the founders, along with James Ryan and Ryan Marsh, of Quantus Gallery, Europe’s first non-fungible token advisory.
Hello Josh, thank you for finding time for 1883 Magazine.
My first question is, how did Quantus Gallery come to be?
The idea for the gallery came about last year. The NFT market was getting a lot of coverage and you were hearing story after story about these “digital JPEGs” selling for millions. Beyond the sensational, it was actually something that spawned out of a traditional gallery. Originally, us three partners were exploring the idea of a more street art-based gallery.
In the background, I’d personally been involved in some NFT projects and would on occasion tell my business partner James Ryan about them, and about what was happening in the wider cryptocurrency market. The third piece of the puzzle was Ryan Marsh, he comes from the finance sector, and there were some frank discussions and decisions about this new industry and how these new technologies were shaping the world.
With Meta making moves in this direction, Microsoft, and Twitter, we decided to shift gears and create an NFT gallery with an advisory arm. James coming from the traditional art sector, myself with cryptocurrency and Ryan with his network and financial acumen, it seemed like the time was right and Quantus Gallery was born. Shortly after that decision was made, the ball started rolling and we secured a premises on Fashion Street, right around the corner from Spitalfields market.
And what sets Quantus apart from other art galleries?
The vast majority of galleries are strictly traditional galleries. There have been a handful that have run NFT exhibitions, but what sets us apart from them is that we’ve said we’re an NFT gallery and advisory service. So with that, comes representing purely digital artists along with traditional ones who wish to explore these new mediums and ways to represent their works.
In many respects, we’re replicating what traditional and legacy galleries have done, but we’re adding legitimacy to the digital realm in a tangible way, a way that’s familiar and not distant. A way that is social and core to the human experience.
Pierre Benjamin, Mona Lisa, 2022
Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? What got you interested in non-fungible tokens? And what is your role at Quantus?
I’ve come from a design and development background, it’s something that I always had an interest in and something that I really quite enjoyed. The creative process and problem solving is incredibly rewarding.
As for non-fungible tokens, I’d been dabbling in cryptocurrency for a good while and when NFTs become a thing, I didn’t think much of them beyond an interesting use case. Then the market got larger and it started getting adopted by larger entities in interesting ways so just like cryptocurrency, it seemed like things were pointing in the direction where it was getting taken seriously.
I also thought that there was always a segment of artists that used their talents for personal works, but the bulk of their time was spent working on art for commercial properties in the game and film industry. Obviously some of these industries can be rather brutal and when I saw some familiar names in the VFX industry get recognition from a much wider audience beyond their peers, I understood how this could really transform the art market.
Tell us about your first exhibition featuring the work of digital sculptor Pierre Benjamin.
Pierre Benjamin and his Crypto Stars were the very first collection for the gallery to be sold. We wanted to create the feeling of a gallery space that people are familiar with so we displayed his and a number of others artists works on the opening night.
We had 36 screens that rotated with artwork, a DJ booth with drinks and canapés on the go.
We wanted it to have a slightly different feeling so in some respects there was more of a party atmosphere and that is something that will continue. It was a wonderfully successful evening with lots of buzz. Clients of the gallery got to mingle, meet some influences in the space, some of the artists and ultimately really connect with the vision of Quantus itself.
Pierre’s works are still on display alongside a handful of our other artists like Glen Fox, Bluntroller, Finn Stone, Bubba2000, and Stony. Daily, the gallery itself can get quite busy with people walking in and asking about NFTs themselves or just getting a bit of a guided tour. There’s always a good reaction to Pierre’s works though, and the very first one you see as you walk through the doors is the one of our Prime Minister which usually gets a laugh.
Non-fungible tokens exist in a digital form and, usually, are not tied to any physical item/artwork. I wonder, what made you decide to set up a physical gallery space dedicated to something as intangible and ethereal as NFTs?
We felt we needed that physical space. We wanted to make a statement about this sector and say it really isn’t any different. This is art, and the way art is displayed is through a gallery or a museum.
There’s also a community and event aspect that’s incredibly important in the art world. Exhibitions and events allow artists to meet collectors and it allows collectors to expand and meet other likeminded individuals and form relationships with them. The NFT world is very community oriented, so on that basis alone it really supports the idea of creating a community of sorts. To blend traditional elements with these pieces that are computer generated.
Since they first emerged in 2014, NFTs have certainly polarised the arts sector. What are in your view the most important things that the art world – and NFTs’ detractors in particular – still needs to understand about “crypto-art”?
I think what people need to understand first and foremost is that for the first time in the history of the art market, digital artists have been able to enter it. That is a revolution in many ways. There’s been a bit of backlash from some in the traditional industry for a whole host of reasons, but I see this branch as an evolution. It’s not taking anything away from the legacy industry, it’s just adding to it. It’s a different dimension with different artists, some of which would never have been able to perhaps make it as an ‘artist’.
Certainly, it’s upset the established order and the way it functions is different enough. Consider even the way a traditional gallery would represent an artist and the type of people who would normally collect and support galleries. No doubt there’s a crossover and many galleries, traditional artists, and auction houses are muddying that water.
As with all new technologies, there is still some confusion that needs to be dispelled about how NFTs work. Can you help us clear things up?
I totally understand the confusion. Frankly, there’s a ton of misinformation out there and that complicates things. I think the simplest explanation is that the blockchain is simply a digital ledger. Within that ledger you can have certain tokens written on it, information that can’t ever be altered or changed. Where NFTs come into this, is that they act almost as certificates of authenticity and ownership.
So let’s say you managed to purchase an NFT by Damien Hirst. Well, what exactly do you get? Can’t anyone just save the pictures or videos on their computer? To answer the latter question first, of course they can. But the entire point really, and especially when it comes to the art market, is that whilst anyone can make a copy, save a copy or take a picture of a copy, they don’t have the rights to it. They don’t own it. And ownership is what makes a market. And that is what you get.
The idea of copies isn’t anything new to this space. Unauthorised print runs have been a reality since print was invented.
The other point I think is worth mentioning is that there really seems to be willingness to understand how exactly these systems work and bring out the philosophical side of things as to how we assign value to anything. These are interesting topics of discussion, no doubt. But I think if you asked the average person how the financial system is structured and how it works, they would be quite clueless. It just does what it’s supposed to, most of the time at least. And it’s really because it’s all so new that people are analysing and trying to understand what is happening.
While non-fungible tokens are safely stored on a blockchain – that is to say, a shared, decentralised and immutable ledger of transactions across a peer-to-peer network – the actual work an NFT represents is often stored off the blockchain. This raises the question: what do we actually buy when we buy an NFT?
Following on from my previous answer, it’s a bit of data that shows who owns the digital asset it is pointing to. It shows where it was created and by whom. It shows all the previous owners, the provenance if you will. And ultimately it allows you as an owner to verify whether you have something authentic or not. Something that can be directly traced back to the artist.
And since data stored outside a blockchain do not benefit from blockchains’ security, is it safe to invest in NFTs?
It’s not uncommon for some projects to update their smart contracts and reissue NFTs. It’s worth pointing out too that there are other layer-2 solutions for Ethereum in development that will allow gigabytes of data to be stored on-chain and I think that’s likely going to be the norm as this technology continues to develop. At least for the art market.
Safety concerns should always be a priority. Certainly the idea that you’re buying a certificate that says you own something that is hosted elsewhere might be a cause for concern, but large companies are in a constant state of development to ensure the artworks are safely stored and we’re also seeing insurance companies start to explore and cover these assets.
As with any emerging and speculative market, there needs to be security, and part of that is brought about from state regulators and we can already see a shift in direction to look and set standards for them at a governmental level.
Which ownership rights are we entitled to when we purchase an NFT? How does the NFT technology guarantee “digital ownership” for creators and buyers?
It simply depends project to project and artist to artist. The lovely thing about NFTs is that you can really do whatever you want to as a creator. If an artist wanted to pass on IP rights then that is absolutely possible. If they wanted to offer royalties in some fashion, they could do that too. I’m immediately thinking of Gala Music and their plans for a decentralised music platform where music tracks are NFTs and as a supporter of an artist, you get to share in some of the revenue generated.
As for how the NFT guarantees digital ownership, well the NFT itself is what proves that. It acts like that certificate of authenticity first and foremost and that is tied to an account owned by you.
Pierre Benjamin, Florence Nightingale, 2022
Non-fungible tokens have a large environmental impact: it has been estimated that an NFT releases approximately 92 times more carbon emissions than a physical piece of art. Is there a way we can reduce the carbon footprint of NFTs?
Absolutely. When NFT and Crypto detractors make the point about the impact these technologies are having on the climate, well, they’re absolutely right. There’s no running away from that fact. Ethereum as a blockchain is terribly damaging but it’s not a conversation that has been happening since this market started to flourish.
There is no shortage of blockchains that are green and layer-2 solutions for Ethereum in particular that aren’t contributing to the destruction of our environment. I know a handful of people personally that only buy “green” NFTs for this very reason. Again though, whilst we can make individual choices, the primary responsibility lays on
Governmental organisations to come up with standards and make sure those standards are met. If we just rely on ourselves then frankly things will change but at a much slower pace.
Cryptocurrency and Non-fungible tokens are still very much at their infancy, as the technology develops it will no doubt become more efficient, but there are certainly ways we can help that happen faster.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in starting their own NFT art collection?
Art can be a whole lot of fun, and when you start collecting it and supporting artists, you can absolutely get lost in that world and sometimes make a career of it. It also depends how you’re approaching it too though, whether you want to be a collector or an investor. Or perhaps a mixture of both. There’s plentiful folks who are very much in this space and it’s worth listening to and getting an understanding of how the market functions and why.
Don’t get caught in the hype though, try to be measured and sensible. So many people get burned along the way so baby steps before you start jumping in.
And what’s your best advice for artists who want to experiment with crypto-art?
My general advice is to really see what the market is doing and come up with a concept that is unique. If you can partner with other artists then you should absolutely do that. Explore ideas, have a little fun with it and see if you can build and cater to a community. That’s really what it’s about. Just do it!
And finally, what does the future hold for Quantus Gallery?
We’re going to be hosting more events, exhibitions and branching out into a monthly workshop that will give a good overview of NFTs, what they are, and really help educate audiences who are curious about these assets and digital art.
We’re also going to be putting on a number of shows in Jersey over the next four months which is really thrilling.
Beyond that though will be the launch of our platform, announcing partnerships and other exciting things that I’m not yet allowed to talk about. Really though, we want to become a permanent fixture and a hub of the digital realm.
Quantus Gallery, 11-29 Fashion Street, London, E1 6PX
Words and interview by Jacopo Nuvolari