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NFT Briefing: Follow the Artists

Much of the hype surrounding NFTs focuses on avatar collections, but should investors be looking elsewhere? Chris Williams argues that following the top NFT artists could be a winning strategy for investors.

NFT Briefing: Follow the Artists
Photo: Fidenza/Tyler Hobbs/Art Blocks

Key Takeaways

  • Avatar collections have dominated the NFT space since the space boomed in 2021.
  • The hype surrounding avatar collections often fades.
  • Investing in leading crypto artists is another way to gain exposure to the nascent technology.

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The most successful NFT artists could become household names in 10 or 20 years.

Finding the Leading NFT Artists

The 2021 bull run gave NFT speculators countless chances to make it. After that historic Beeple sale, Bored Ape Yacht Club’s memorable launch spawned all manner of avatar-based collections that found success by borrowing from a template Larva Labs mastered with CryptoPunks. Everyone talked about how the NFT avatar niche was about fostering community vibes, but in reality, most have trended toward zero and no one cares about them any more. As if any further proof was needed that NFTs are more about money than community, people stopped “wearing” their pieces on social media once their prices plummeted because they no longer had flex value.

Still, it’s hard to deny that ape holders won last year after a series of celebrity buy-ins (or sponsorships?), major partnerships with global powerhouses, multiple airdrops, plans for a shiny Metaverse world, and more besides (full disclosure: I own some Otherside land, not because I care about or believe in the BAYC ecosystem, but because I know that many others do). A handful of others like Azuki and Moonbirds also saw parabolic rallies earlier this year, though they didn’t last. Now, the focus is on the latest rehashes of DeGods (i.e. y00ts), Milady Maker (i.e. Lasogette), and Azuki (i.e. DigiDaigaku).

CryptoPunk #8857, a pioneer of the NFT avatar trend (Source: Larva Labs

Do you see where I’m going with this? Like everything else in crypto, narratives drive everything and new projects can very quickly go in and out of fashion, which means you need to exit the door quickly to avoid the risk of holding the bag. And there’s often little that distinguishes one from the next. On a recent UpOnly podcast, Cobie, Ledger, and their guests described NFTs as “altcoins with pictures,” and I can see where they’re coming from. Or I can when it comes to avatar collections, at least. 

For the past 18 months, the NFT space has rarely looked beyond the CryptoPunks playbook, but there’s a lot of real art to be found if you do even a little bit of digging beneath the surface. And the good news is that while everyone is busy hyping the latest avatar set, some of this art is getting overlooked.

I’m not here to tell you which NFTs are going to end up in galleries in the future because it’s not like I have a crystal ball, but if you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention to NFTs since 2021, you’ll already know about stuff like Fidenza and Twin Flames. These collections are massively down from their highs and still out of reach to most people, but they won’t be the only NFTs that people value in 10 or 20 years.

I realize it’s easy to dismiss the idea of building a collection when so many of the top collectors are just early Ethereum whales who diversified into JPEGs once prices surged. If you don’t have a huge stack but want to build a collection of genuine blue chips, you need to go and find the next
Fidenza. Clues like trading volumes and price performance in downtrends will help you, but more importantly, you need to pick creative masterworks by artists that are pioneering a style and look like they could be on their way to the stratosphere (or if you’re no good at scouting talent, consider buying into a cheaper collection from an artist that’s already leading the field—some Picassos are worth a lot more than others, but you would bite my arm off for any of them if I offered you one for free).

With prices down and sentiment waning, I’m currently mulling a few generative pieces by names like Emily Xie, William Mapan, and—yes— Tyler Hobbs with a view to holding for at least five years. Barely anyone is talking about them on NFT Twitter or outside the cryptosphere today, but I reckon a lot more will be in 2030 and beyond.

Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author of this piece owned some Otherside NFTs, ETH, and several other cryptocurrencies. 

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