Blockchain Art Exchange, Interview with Founder and CEO Sascha Bailey

Sascha Bailey is an experienced Chief Executive Officer with a significant history of working in the art industry. He has curated over 10 exhibitions in London and worked with a long list of artists including Damien Hirst, Tony Craig, David Bailey and Brain Clarke. Son to photographer David Bailey, Sascha has been brought up in the art world and has since used his expertise to found businesses Something Else Collective and Quite Useless, an online platform for artists and events management.  His latest venture the Blockchain Art Exchange, is a place where artists can make unique ‘digital prints’ from any artwork. Their aim is to decentralise the art industry, supporting the shift towards the ‘digital and intangible future.’

Hi Sascha, thank you for speaking with us.

Can you tell us a bit about your background in the arts?

I grew up surrounded by the arts. I was always in art galleries and interacting with Artists; which lead to work experience and intern roles at some of the major UK galleries including the Gagosian gallery and Blain Southern gallery. As my knowledge of the art world developed, I realised that I wanted to pursue a career in managing Artists; which has allowed me to work closely with emerging Artists, helping them to develop their style and careers, whilst curating 15 shows in central London along the way.

And your company Quite Useless?

Quite Useless was founded to help artists that showed great promise but did not have the support, structure or guidance to kick start their careers. Acting as a type of talent agency, Quite Useless helps up and coming artists showcase their works in affluent environments.

In the visual arts there are not the same management agency’s as in other artistic industries, so we thought that visual artists needed a type of managing company. I still work as the CEO to date. The name is a reference to an Oscar Wild quote.

You have lots of curatorial experience, what prompted you to make the leap to start a blockchain based company?

I’ve been following blockchain since late 2013 just before the Mt Gox crash. The idea of blockchain and the community behind it really inspired me and it became a passion. I started thinking about how art transactions could be tracked to prove provenance and how it could be used to track and protect digital file transfers. I think the most important thing is to remember that this is about empowering the arts with blockchain, so really its still an art-based business.

What do you hope to achieve with your new project Blockchain Art Exchange?

We want to add buyer confidence, transparency and real industry standards to help self-regulate in this new frontier; for example, providing objective grading on file type works such as a quality check which is carried out on all physical artwork.

To give you an idea of why this is important, JPEG file types degrade a bit each time they are re-saved. Artwork for investment should be able to retain its integrity forever.

We also want to open art up to all levels of investment, with as few hurdles as possible and lastly, we want to empower young artists with a new way of publishing their works. Whilst providing a way of archiving art and artefacts at a high quality; so that even if the physical work is destroyed we have a digital back up.

And how does it work?

All artwork uploaded to our system is graded on the objective values of the file, then it is tokenized as an ERC-721 token with these gradings as attributes. If the artist is totally new to the artworld, the grading also determines their starting price, or if the artist is more established, we work out an average based on their public sale figures. All works are then sold by auction. The token also contains a link to the file on the IPFS which changes when the token is exchanged. When someone buys an artwork, they receive a token which gives the owner access to the artwork file. We are developing an app to work with Smart TV’s so that buyers can view their artwork. Some artists may also choose to allow buyers to print off artworks as well, but this is down to each artist discretion.

What blockchain do you use and why?

We are using Ethereum, partly due to its age, team and the number of platforms already running on it. But also, because it allows us to use the ERC-721 token standard which means we become part of an ecosystem with 3rd party exchanges already in existence. I think one of the most important things blockchain can solve for digital art, is that you have the freedom to sell it on different platforms and aren’t locked into any one platform, just like with physical art.

Can you talk us through your artist selection process?

For the Blockchain Art Exchange we only select our ambassador’s and headline artists, we really want it to be an open censorship free platform where anyone can get involved and upload. Of course, we have rules, but only pertaining to copyrighted material or illegal content.

When I’m curating I look at the finish of the work, the concept and the feeling it gives me, these three aspects carry over into any style, for example; Basquiat may be a messy painter but there is a certain crispness to his works, the same crispness in finish can be said of almost any great artist. Then the concept is really important too, does it really connect to the work? Is it interesting and powerful? Finally, how does it make me feel? It doesn’t matter if it makes you angry, happy or any other emotion as long as it doesn’t leave you cold.

Why do you think people want to buy a unique ‘digital print’?

I think for the same reason they buy any scarce collectable thing, people aren’t buying crypto kitties for over 100k because they are pretty, they are spending that amount because they think it’s a long-term investment. For the first time ever, digital artists can make unique artworks which are protected from copying. Photography, video art and VR artworks are all massively affected by this, it creates a totally new way of publishing art, and that’s very exciting.

The blockchain industry is rapidly growing across many sectors but there is still a lack of confidence in the technology. Why do you think this is?

I think the lack of visible consumer use cases plays a major part. There are a lot of scams and wallet hacks which make headlines and the volatility of the crypto market attached to blockchain. It’s similar to the internet. When it was new people didn’t trust it and its wasn’t the safest place, 10 years ago people would say “don’t trust what you read online”, now everything is researched online. People take a little while to trust new things, however, very soon blockchain will be a massive part of all our lives, both in visible and unnoticed ways.

In what ways do you think millennials are changing the art world?

I’m not sure they are, I think technology and better ways of doing things evolve over time across all industries and this time it just happens to affect the art industry. I will say that art is overdue for a new movement, since the YBA there hasn’t been many really ground breaking artistic movements. Not to say there hasn’t be great art made, but there hasn’t been a real movement of amazing new artists that create a new way art is expressed.

Recent reports have shown an increase in millennials buying art. Do you think this can be attributed to the surge in new online platforms offering increased transparency through use of the blockchain?

I think the blockchain art market has only just begun, so I think it would be generous to attribute it to just that.

In my experience younger people are becoming more interested in art in general, along with all kinds of asset investment. One of the things that Crypto did really well was to introduce a lot of young people to the idea of investing in art, party due to how accessible it is in comparison to buying stocks.

It’s only natural that these same people will become interested in other kinds of investment. Also, one of the few markets with higher margins of profit than crypto is the art and collectables market; you can buy an artwork for almost nothing and sell it for 1millon plus. Not many industries have such high possibilities of profit on a single low-cost item, and that makes art both attractive as an investment and exciting due to the highly subjective nature of it.

And finally, what are your hopes for Blockchain Art Exchange?

I hope that it contributes to the artists career and that it helps increase interest in art both as an investment and something to be enjoyed. Also, I hope that it provides standards and transparency to digital art being sold so that buyers really understand the quality of what they are purchasing.

We launch our beta in December, right now we have a pre-order campaign running where early adopters can benefit by getting premium artwork at discounted rates, we call it an IAO (initial art offering).


Cover image: Sascha Bailey, Founder and CEO of Blockchain Art Exchange