Not Fungible is a story-based NFT art curator bringing timeless masterpieces to the art industry. To help promote the next generation of art curation, Not Fungible runs the artist incubator, gathering the best talent in the space to learn, engage and curate exceptional work. The strands coalesce in the metaverse at Not Fungible’s landmark “Arts Complex” in Decentraland, home to exclusive events and the best NFT art gallery in the industry.
Ahead of Not Fungible’s next drop with MakersPlace, a collaboration with Javier Arrés, we caught up with NF cofounder Steve Wand to get some insight into how this 21st-century arts organization came to be.
MP: Can you tell me about a little bit about your background and how you came to start Not Fungible?
SW: I got into Bitcoin quite early. In 2012, I heard about it and did some research. I thought it was weird how a bank didn’t issue and governments could make it illegal, so I dismissed it for about six months until I saw someone on LinkedIn post something else about it. I looked into it again, this time doing a deeper dive, and that triggered everything for me. So I was pretty heavy into Bitcoin starting in around 2013.
Then, in 2015, I started going to a lot of conferences. At those conferences, everyone there was very early; there were like 15 vendors. There would usually be a guy or a girl who was selling a few pieces of crypto-themed art. Usually, you’d pay them in BTC because they didn’t want fiat; they were against the whole system. I’m on the same page, which is why I was buying the art.
So I started collecting physical art that was thematically about crypto. NFTs weren’t a thing back then, and if they were, there were only a handful of people who cared.
Then, in 2017, I met Troy of cryptoart.com at the Satoshi Roundtable at the Texas Bitcoin Conference, which is how I first learned about NFTs, which people had been talking about as the COA (certificate of authenticity) of the future.
When I started buying Josie’s work on Consensys in 2018, you would get the NFT as the COA, and they were free. I thought it was fantastic to have this COA that couldn’t be faked. So I was collecting NFTs from the beginning just because I thought it was fun and I saw deep messages in it, just from a life perspective, and it’s a future I want to see for my kids.
I discovered all of these different NFTs platforms, and I just started buying more. This was before the whole pfp thing, so it was just art. And I mean, I didn’t collect hundreds, I collected thousands of NFTs. Then, when Crypto Twitter became a thing, or on Clubhouse, people started to reach out to me about my collection. Or back in the day, when I would something like 1 or 3 ETH on a piece, people would think I was insane, but I was buying Alotta Money or Lucho. Try to get their work for 1 or 3 ETH right now.
People just assumed I was some bigwig collector, which I didn’t see myself as. I just liked the art. I couldn’t believe people were making it. And it’s all on chain. I started becoming a bit of an advocate, advising new artists in the space with things like, “Don’t go post a piece on KnownOrigin and then three weeks later pull it off and put it on OpenSea.” It was coaching, feedback, from a collector’s perspective.
When Clubhouse became a big thing, I would get 80–100 different people DMing every day with questions. A lot of it turned out to be scams, so I just stopped reading them, but when I was, I would read every single one. When it wasn’t a scam, it was usually one of the same three or four questions, things like “Do I need a wallet?” or “How do I price my work?”
Since everybody had the same questions, Jason Cassidy (Not Fungible co-founder) suggested that we make one common spot for people to come to where we could educate them and provide some best practices and suggestions and have an open forum where everyone gets a chance to speak.
From this, we had the idea of the incubator, but as a company, you need bread and butter to keep things afloat. And that’s when we came up with the different lines Chronicles Series. Some of those were focused on the blue-chip artists in the space, artists who were in it when things were happening.
A lot of new entrants in the space don’t even hold BTC. They don’t care about Satoshi. A lot of them are just focused on ETH, and some of them not even that — just Tezos and Solana. So a lot of them have no idea what it took to get here, how ETH was spawned when Vitalik read the whitepaper, how smart contracts kicked off Cryptokitties and the birth of collectibles. I want everyone to know the history of the space; even if it’s only 12 years, it’s deep and important.
So the incubator has always been intended to help artists navigate the space, whether that deals with pricing, edition sizing, collector relations, where to mint.
Some of these artists, like Jay Marino or Alan Bolton, I’d reach out to, like, “What are you doing? You’re charging next to nothing and have magnificent skills. You should know what you’re worth and price accordingly.”
Being around as long as I have and having bought on all of the platforms, I have relationships with the founders there, and I started talking to them about how to fast-track some of these artists who we thought should be superstars. The incubator was to lift those up while, on the other side of the business, creating solid art by well-established artists who are going to be here long term. So hopefully, the collectors’ investments are also appreciating because they’re going to be here honing their skills and coming up with bigger and better things in the future. We wanted to do both [the incubator and the commissions].
The lineup we’ve got for Chronicles is fantastic. And Crypto Wars — I know you just interviewed Tyrone; he did an awesome job on one of our Crypto Wars pieces.
We have a policy: we don’t want to flood the market. We don’t want to make a ton of things. The way we do it is we only make five mints for each. The first edition goes to the artist because it’s the most valuable. Editions 2 and 3 sit in our vault for a minimum of three years, though it’ll probably be longer. Only number 4 and 5 are sold. Number 5 is sold six months after Number 4. If the artist is holding theirs, it signals to the community that those two, numbers 4 and 5, are their only foreseeable chance to get the piece.
We wanted to make sure that the artists — if they weren’t there for the year they were portraying — that we worked very closely with them to give them as much information as possible. Because Jay and I were pretty much there from 2012 on. From 2008 to 2011, we’ve read and gotten a lot of word of mouth from people we’ve known over the years, and we reach out to them to summarize what had happened in the years we missed. I think the best artists to depict what we wanted to depict. We’re very proud of who we’ve been able to work with. We got to work with Alotta Money before his unfortunate passing.
We assigned more recent years to some of the newer entrants to space. If Josie reads this — I haven’t asked her yet — but we do want a female to do one of these things, that’s where we’re lacking. Josie knows me, I’m one of her earliest collectors. So Josie, if you’re reading this, you should know that I’ll be hitting you up soon.
We’ve got an awesome lineup of unreleased pieces that MakersPlace and us will work closely to release at the right time, with enough space between releases.
MP: Tell me about your Metaverse Gallery. What kinds of events happen there, and what plans do you have for the gallery as a whole?
NF: We’ve definitely had a huge Metaverse play. We have an enormous art complex built on an 18-parcel estate in Decentraland that’s got 462 frames in it. We host a lot of events in the metaverse. We have some plans for the DCL Music Festival.
To give you some background, I was very early on the Metaverse. When I first looked into it, I was completely drawn to it. I just saw the potential and thought, I can’t imagine where it’s going to go if it’s done right. And thankfully, it’s totally on course and developing beautifully. So we were in DCL in 2019, on our own side server for six months before they went live at NFT.NYC in 2020.
I was an early land investor in all four Metaverses. We started building early with NFT Studios, which used to be Vox Architects. I can say nothing but good words about them. They’re easy to work with, and they pull off fantastic work. They built three different complexes in DCL. They went live about four and a half months ago.
We held job fairs there. We hired our marketing person from a job fair we did in DCL. We set up this parcel of the estate with banners and kiosk booths, the whole thing. We had about 18 people apply, which meant they were savvy to begin with. They had to sign in with a wallet and show up in the Metaverse, so there were some minimum requirements just to apply. And we got to meet some incredibly talented, smart people in the Metaverse.
As for the buildings themselves, there are two outer towers and a middle building, where we keep ongoing stuff. Tower Number One typically has one of our series (Chronicles, Crypto Wars, Emotions), and we’re reeling a couple of new series in the coming weeks and months.
And then building number three [the second tower] has 13 floors and 13 frames on each floor. We just hosted an event there with wearables and POAP drops. One of the 100 people who claimed a wearable for a given artist that week receives the physical wearable.
We definitely want to highlight the incubator artists as much as possible. Over the last two months, we’ve released a combination of 15 different wearables for all the artists that we worked with in the incubator and two artists involved in the Chronicle series, Javier Arres and Smearballz.
We’re trying to get as much exposure for the artists we work with in the Metaverse. We are Metaverse-focused, and we’re the kind of a platform where skillful artists who are just not getting to where they should be can come, and we can help you.
We’re big fans of MakersPlace. You guys were very early to the Metaverse too. Our spaces are right down the street from each other.
MP: Where do you see the biggest opportunity for NFT technology in the near future, perhaps outside of art?
We’re definitely seeing web3 touch all different aspects of culture, all different age groups and interest groups. I would like to think the NFTs will help usher in more tools for decentralization. I’d like to see a blend of available options that doesn’t discount web2 but it also doesn’t water down web3 and drag it back three steps, which will just prolong its being heavily adopted.
So I would like to see more decentralization and more education around the space. With costs coming down, more people from different backgrounds can enter the space. There’s some amazing young artists out there right now, but they don’t have the resources to make big moves.
With the metaverse converging on gaming, we want to make wearables dynamic. Maybe your shirt might react to the price of ETH. Or someone’s horse could be skinned entirely with a piece of art, or the horse is itself designed by an artist, not to look like a horse, per se, but to be an art piece. We’re going to see the pre-Merge phase as this golden era, like comic books or movies before the introduction of color.
The other thing is about how we appreciate art. With traditional art, I can’t see most of it. It’s locked away. At best, most of the good stuff is in a museum somewhere in the world.
In this new world, for example, in Somnium Space, where only my wallet can display that piece — let’s say the crypto equivalent of the Mona Lisa is in Somnium Space. There are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people in the metaverse. That’s 1000x more impactful as a collector than having it in your home, and you can, what? Just show it to your friends at a dinner party. Maybe the fact that you own the piece is indexed online somewhere, but no one ever sees that piece or appreciates it.
If someone wants to make shirts or display it in a museum, it’s fine. As they know that I own the original owner, they can do anything they like with it. It doesn’t matter to me whatsoever. I don’t need any revenue shares or anything. It’s known and verified on the blockchain that I own this. To me, that’s a significant thing that I couldn’t do ten years ago. Just think of what we can do in five to ten more years.