Non-Fungible Castle Brings Art History Into NFT Future

21st October 2021

Prague’s majesty greets every visitor to walk its streets, iconically etched into every building and artifice, visible even in the streets and sidewalks. A welcome by the city’s nobility is less common, and virtually unprecedented is a nation’s most significant castle as a venue for an NFT conference. This is what the House of Lobkowicz of Bohemian nobility and heritage hosted nonetheless, led by the oldest son William, making their next mark on art history in doing so. Non-Fungible Castle was a five-day NFT exhibition at the Lobkowicz Palace (part of Prague Castle) that culminated in an NFT conference on the 16th of October to facilitate a discussion between traditional art legends and icons from the NFT space.

Photo Credit: House of Lobkowicz

An atmosphere appreciative of culture has defined Prague for over a millennium, maintained and preserved by its scholarly citizens. The Lobkowicz family, in particular, has embodied this ideal, having been custodians of cultural artifacts since Zdenko Adalbert Popel, 1st Prince Lobkowicz (1568–1628) married Polyxena Pernstein in 1603. The family has collected fine art over the centuries, with the Lobkowicz Collections today housing monumental pieces from Velasquez, Canaletto, Bruegel, and many others, constituting one of the most significant fine art collections in private hands worldwide.

Over the past hundred years, the Lobkowicz Collections were appropriated by the Nazis. Maximilian, William Lobkowicz’s great-grandfather, was an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime which led to Max being declared an enemy of the state. After patiently awaiting the Nazi regime’s fall and reassembling the collection in 1945, everything was confiscated once more by the Soviets in 1948. The Lobkowicz Collections have only been reunited once more under the current generations of William Sr. and Jr. after falling into a state of disrepair over the decades. The restoration of these artworks is the current focus of the Lobkowicz family with the goal of preserving, studying, and sharing them with the world. Their fundraising efforts have now also expanded into the world of NFTs.

 


Photo Credit: House of Lobkowicz

The Lobkowicz family drew on their deep connections in the fine art and curatorial realms to host a discussion at the Lobkowicz Palace about how fine art and NFTs can co-exist and flourish in tandem. Such a grand setting inspired awe as people walked into the Palace before the event even began. Seeing art on castle walls dating hundreds of years alongside equally valuable NFTs on screens encapsulated the spirit of the conference.

All attendees assembled for a few words by William Lobkowicz Sr. and then Jr., setting the stage for the proceedings. William Sr. began by referring to Beethoven’s legendary Eroica Symphony, which was initially financed by the Lobkowicz family, saying “Perhaps we’re at the cusp of what Beethoven did in the Lobkowicz Palace in 1804 which was, the world will never be the same after this music is played, maybe this conference will one day be the first step in something new and exciting.” William Sr. introduced his son after giving thanks to his wife, Sandra.

William Jr. first thanked his sister, Ileana, recognizing her as the storyteller of the family and another main force in organizing the conference. William then spoke about how the pandemic has resulted in a third of cultural institutions in the US closing down, as well as a quarter of their counterparts in Europe. 95% of the revenue supporting the Lobkowicz Collections dried up, pushing them to explore alternative means.

This also meant that no one could experience the beauty housed in the collection, which at least was the easier problem to solve. As a result, William started hosting virtual tours for free, focusing on sharing the beauty of their collection, first and foremost, with the world. This went on for months, with William leading tours himself simply because of how much he enjoyed it. William continues to give these tours himself today, happily explaining the history behind every piece in the collection.

William finally came across NFTs six months before Non-Fungible Castle. He immediately recognized the potential of the technology to aid in the Lobkowicz family’s prime focus: restoring the many artworks that they are responsible for and saving them from permanent damage. This is the mission with which William entered the NFT space.

 

Photo Credit: House of Lobkowicz

The first panel, moderated by Anika Meier, was titled “Fine Art and NFTs: Does Art Need Blockchain or Does Blockchain Need Art?” Representatives of the traditional art space included Juan Manuel Sevillano Campalans and Alfred Weidinger, managing directors at Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation and OÖ Landes-Kultur GmbH, both reputable art museums. Both of them have been doing deep research in hopes of determining whether NFTs are “a eureka moment, or a passing event like art has seen over the centuries?” They recognized the value NFTs can offer the traditional art space and were proceeding optimistically yet airing on the side of caution.

The ability of NFTs to certify the originality of artworks was recognized by Juan as a revolutionary application of blockchain technology. His background in the curation of traditional art gave him a particular appreciation for it. Furthermore, the ability to discredit fakes and to discourage forgery, in general, is a concept foreign to the traditional art space. The additional liquidity provided by the art market can be seen as beneficial, but Juan felt that the priorities of the art market might not be aligned with the art world. That remains to be seen.

 

Photo Credit: House of Lobkowicz

NFT artists Jake Al-Haffar and Mitchell F Chan accompanied Juan and Alfred on the first panel. They acknowledged that art galleries have a huge role to play in the adoption of NFTs by virtue of their ability to allow artists to connect with patrons personally. The belief was that the NFT space has been struggling to find good curators and storytellers and that these are gaps that can be filled by bridges between traditional and digital art. On this point all panellists agreed. “The bridge is built; now we have to walk,” said Alfred Weidinger.

The second panel followed, discussing “Investing and Building: How do You Build Responsibly in an Irresponsible World?” Jamie Burke, founder of Outlier Ventures and NFTs.wtf, offered his perspective alongside Dusan Kovacic, CIO at Rockaway Blockchain Fund, Will Papper co-founder of SyndicateDAO, and Maria Shen, Partner at Electric Capital. Kara Miley moderated the ensuing discussion regarding what gives NFTs their value.

Discussing in particular what enabled the art movement to explode on the Ethereum blockchain, Maria Chen ironically attributed the success to constraints embedded into the blockchain itself. High gas fees lead to high prices for NFTs since their sales need to at least cover gas costs. It has also been an ecosystem that has rewarded early adopters, not traditional art figures but new age, memetic community-focused individuals like Beeple. These early adopters accumulated Ether at low prices, giving them a different perspective on what “a few ETH” is worth.

Community was brought up as a main driver of the value of NFTs, a point which most panellists agreed upon. Dusan Kovacic believed instead that the teams behind NFT projects drive most of the value. Papper’s response was that there is potential for communities to coalesce around ideas independently of their creators where none existed before. Burke described NFTs as “a form of social media without the social media platform.” Going on to say that NFTs “can be minted on a platform but they have a life of their own beyond that platform.”


Photo Credit: House of Lobkowicz

The speakers also discussed the potential for NFTs to serve as resumes by recognizing work or participation in a specific effort. These can be decentralized sources of truth to refer to in our march towards Web3 as an overarching ideal. They also offer opportunities to enter communities that are not gated by financial capacity, enabling anyone to join if they can contribute their time and energy. This also emphasizes the importance of earning as a mechanism to facilitate greater adoption and lower barriers to entry.

With the first two panels leaving our minds in overdrive, we all broke for lunch. We were able to obtain exclusive interviews with both William Lobkowicz Jr. and Sr. which will be made available through our digital outlet in the coming days. A second part to this article will also be made available, detailing further the final two panels and some of the incredible takeaways. Additional interviews with remarkable figures will follow, all to be released in your friendly neighbourhood NFTfi news outlet, NFTs.WTF

Links:

Link to Non-Fungible Castle website

Link to House of Lobkowicz website

Link to William Lobkowicz’s Twitter

Link to House of Lobkowicz NFTs on SuperRare

Link to House of Lobkowicz NFTs on OpenSea

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