Thu, Apr 25, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Tokenizing the art world

A Taiwanese startup has developed the technology to enable anyone to blockchain their property and creations, not only providing a built-in certificate of authenticity but also the technology to divide the piece into digital tokens that can be bought in small increments

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A graphic representing the decentralized network of blockchained data.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Patrick Lee (李紹榮) doesn’t know what blockchain is. The 71-year-old artist knows what it can do, however, and is eager to be at the forefront, or rather a guinea pig, for the fast-evolving technology that only extended its reach into the art world last year.

“It’s a new marketing channel,” Lee says. “I know it divides my work into many shares so more people, or people who couldn’t afford it before, can own part of it.”

If Lee is a guinea pig, it helps that he has an experimenter he fully trusts — his friend Lai Chih-hsing (來智行) is CEO of TokenBacon, a Taiwanese startup that says it has developed the world’s first blockchain interface that allows anyone to instantly and affordably tokenize their property, either physical or intellectual, instead of having to rely on blockchain experts.

Blockchain is, simply put, a time-stamped digital record of data that is managed across a cluster of computers instead of being centralized in one entity. All records of past modifications and transactions are transparent, thus one cannot change the information without leaving a trace.

There’s nothing more important in the art market than authenticity and intellectual property rights, and keeping such a record serves as a digital certificate that can always be traced back to the creator or collector who blockchained the artwork. If the artwork is fake, the unfortunate buyer can trace it back to the person who originally created the certificate. Lai says that anything can be tokenized with TokenBacon’s technology.

“Even your girlfriend’s photo,” Lai says, though it’s up to the market to determine if it has any value.

Lee’s iconic print A Time to Drink, which shows longtime adversaries Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Mao Zedong (毛澤東) drinking Taiwan Beer, has been divided into 396,000 digital tokens worth US$1 each, with every token carrying the blockchained information of authenticity. This not only makes Lee’s art more affordable, as someone can buy a fraction of the painting in token form, but also prevents his work from being copied or altered as any changes will be reflected in the blockchain.


Lai says that while people saw the possible uses for blockchain when it first appeared, its uses were mostly limited to digital currency and smart contracts since the technology was so new. Even last year, he says, TokenBacon would not have been able to create their product as it would take too much time and money to tokenize just one piece of property.

Last September, about 30 percent of Andy Warhol’s 14 Small Electric Chairs became the world’s first artwork to be tokenized and sold on blockchain. Lai says that such feats have been mostly one-off projects due to the time and cost to accomplish the feat. Furthermore, they say their technology is the first to be able to easily take the blockchain information and manifest it as a small photo of Lee’s painting, serving as a concrete “certificate” of authenticity for the artwork.

“Before, if you wanted to divide a painting into many shares, you had to find a lawyer to notarize each portion before distributing it,” TokenBacon regional manager Sunny Lin (林善理) says.

Hannah Liu (劉家榮), a spokesperson for Art Emperor (帝圖), which runs online galleries, art sales as well as online and offline auctions, says that most auctioned pieces are extremely high-priced works that have stood the test of time — meaning that the creator is unlikely to be alive. These works have gone through many hands, requiring expert authentication. In this case, it’s impossible to achieve blockchain’s purported ethos of decentralization since a central authority is still needed.

This story has been viewed 4361 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top