Let’s say you bought an NFT. Not because you want to make a ton of money and you’re just going to flip it – we’ll call those people the JPEG flippers – and not because someone sold you a big idea about “community” and you didn’t buy an NFT as a link to a Discord – that’s the yacht club goers – but you bought it because you just made the thing look nice. Maybe you are a collector, maybe this is the first valuable piece you ever acquired. Anyway, you bought it not to sell or use it. You bought it to look at it. You want to hang it in your house!
On the one hand, you have plenty of ways to showcase your digital art. After all, it’s just a photo. (You could even — gasping — just print it out and hang it on your wall.) Pretty much any screen you have will display it just fine, and it’s always on your phone anyway. But your 50-inch LCD panel won’t do the piece justice, not really.
As NFT art gains in value and artists become more concerned with how their digital art appears in the real world, how to display your digital collection has become more complicated. Galleries that want to promote digital art need to think not only about the devices they use, but also about the way they light their gallery and how people move through it. Artists, who used to have their work always retain the form in which it was created, now have to think about both digital and physical versions of their creations. Art collectors are often faced with a whole new set of decisions about how to display their pieces. And you thought NFTs were complicated.
Scott Gralnick has been thinking about NFT displays for a while now. He is now the co-founder of Lago, a company building a $9,000 NFT frame designed for high-end collectors, but he’s been in crypto and Web3 for nearly a decade. When he spoke to his fellow crypto whales, Gralnick said, the same thing kept coming up. “I have a multimillion dollar collection,” they said, “and I had to retrofit it into a TV. I don’t want to show it on my computer, I don’t want people to see my phone, how do I get this into my house ?”
Gralnick and his co-founders wanted to build something for those people, but also something that could entice traditional art buyers—who might not have gotten the idea of phone-bound art at all—to step into the NFT space. “I had friends who did dinners at Christie’s and Phillips and Sotheby’s, and they get NFTs, they get beat up artwork,” Gralnick said. “But each time it came down to one question: how am I enjoying this at home?”
Gralnick now calls the Lago frame a “mass consumption” tool of NFTs, which is quite a bit to say about a $9,000 frame. The team wanted to make absolutely sure you couldn’t confuse the frame with a TV, so they chose a 33-inch 1920 x 1920 square screen. An optional camera sits below the frame, just above an optional soundbar, which both artists can use to augment their pieces. “Maybe they’re building something that’s unlockable,” Gralnick said by way of explanation. “If I do the correct move sequence, it will unlock. Or maybe I’ll turn around and actively throw it to the other frame.” You can use the Lago frame to display a single NFT, or use the accompanying mobile app to browse your entire collection, or, if you’re so inclined, showcase a varying array of pieces curated by NFT influencers.(Gralnick says that these come with clear cues about which pieces you do and don’t own, so don’t pretend that monkey is yours.) In that sense, the frame can be both a display and a distribution channel — an NFT museum in your own home.
Astronomical price and all, Lago sold his entire stock in pre-orders. Not surprisingly, the dedicated NFT display is a booming industry. Token frames displays run from 10 to 55 inches and cost up to $2,777. Netgear has turned its digital picture frame business into an NFT one – and its Meural displays are running up to $599.95. Canvia has made a similar spindle. block frame and danvas and others are all making similar promises about their luxury digital art displays, although most startups are still firmly in the hype and pre-order phase. For the DIY crowd, you can use: a Raspberry Pi and the TokenCast protocol to build your own NFT display cheaply.
Because all you technically need to get into the business is an LCD display — and not even a particularly high-end display — space startups have come and gone quickly. Qonos, for example, launched in 2021 and said it had sold out its first batch of frames that had access to the owner’s own collection plus an entire gallery of Qonos curated artwork. Now there is practically no sign of Qonos left over a private Squarespace website† (Qonos founder Moe Levin did not respond to a request for comment.)
Joe Saavedra, the founder of Infinite Objects, thinks this is all a bit much. A lot of companies, he says, “really make televisions that do a lot less than a television. And in the end it’s a gallery, a slideshow of your NFTs, so it doesn’t matter if this NFT you paid $10,000 for and it was an Airdrop , they’re all right next to each other. And you just swipe through them.” When he started building an NFT frame, he wanted to build the least interactive, least gadget-like thing he could make.
Infinite Objects started with “printing video,” which basically means embedding a display in a simple frame, looping a single video forever within that frame, and sending it to you. “When you take it out of the box, it turns on in your hand,” Saveedra says. “It has no buttons or switches, there is no interface at all.” The result is much closer to a painting straight out of Harry Potter – a moving piece in a fixed object hanging on the wall or on your shelf.
Saveedra now does the same with NFTs. Infinite Objects teamed up with Mike Winkelmann, who you may know as Beeple, to create and ship physical versions of every NFT Winkelmann sold. It also works with Dapper Labs and is the official frame of NBA Top Shots. Printing your NFT starts at about $120. You can buy frames from 6.4 to 11.4 inches high, the displays surrounded by bamboo or acrylic. The screens themselves aren’t particularly impressive – 1024 x 576 on the largest model, lower resolution than the original iPad in 2011 – but Saveedra seems to find the existence of a durable physical object the most important thing. “If it’s on a TV, I can just turn it over, right?” he says. “Okay, cool, next.”
Steve Sacks, the founder of bitforms gallery, which has presented digital art for two decades, also falls for the “don’t just put it on a TV” side of the equation. “You don’t want to go to the NBA playoffs and then turn on your $100,000 artwork,” he says. “That takes away so many things.”
Some artists, Sacks said, care deeply about the screen their artworks end up on. They dictate a specific resolution and aspect ratio, even the size at which their piece should be displayed. Others even go so far as to create the object on which their work is to be displayed. In that case, Sacks says: “The artist provides us with a sculpture. The art is not just the content; it is the object that belongs to it.” But many of the things bitforms show and sell are what he calls “unframed works,” where the file is sold and the buyer can view it however they want.
In London’s Quantus Gallery, things work a little differently. Quantus co-founder Josh Sandhu says that as the team geared up for the first NFT exhibit, they tested six or seven different TVs. Now 36 Samsung Frame sets line the walls, some vertical and some horizontal. “The matte look is a lot like a real print,” Sandhu said. “They are of decent quality.” Quantus wants to experiment with other display ideas — Sandhu wants to build a wall of retro TVs, hold a VR exhibit, and come up with holograms — but for now, TVs will do.
This is the thing about NFT art and how we display it. In the end, it’s not a question of graphic fidelity or pixel density, but of a purpose. Do you buy an NFT so you can watch the JPEG all the time? Or is an NFT about your relationship with the artist, with other collectors, even with the underlying technology? And perhaps just as importantly, who decides? With physical art, most of these decisions are made when the art is created, and as it changes hands, it becomes impossible to track and control. NFTs and the blockchain are all about tracking; artists can know exactly who owns their work and collectors can know exactly who made it. So whose art is it anyway?
No one I spoke to claimed to know the answer. And almost everyone said that’s part of the fun. NFTs have one clear use. They are a deed of origin, a claim of ownership and authenticity that was never possible before. Artists will appreciate the technology for this. (And for the ridiculous sums of money they make minting NFTs.) As prices and enthusiasm plummet and JPEG flippers and yacht clubbers disappear from view, the arts crowd is beginning to figure out how the digital and physical art worlds interact. work in . And exactly what resolution is needed for that.